Lucas Borkowski is a natural and has been grinding the gravel roads around Louisburg to prep for the upcoming cyclocross season. Steve Van Nieuwenhuyse has been breaking in his cyclocross bike and honing his skills at the Vaught Cyclocross Practice Compound. Each decided to save $695 and skip The Jeremy Powers’ Cyclocross Camp and just dive straight into the J-Pow / FasCat Cyclocross Season Kick Off Race on Sunday, August 30, in Longmont, CO.
Borkowski, fresh off of his Category 3 Kansas State MTB Championship, and Van Nieuwenhuyse, aka El Burro, made the long trip to Boulder to test their skills against the altitude and rival cyclocross racers of the Centennial State. Having it in their heads that the 5,000+ feet of elevation was going to be a factor come race day, the duo chose to get into town several days early in hopes to acclimate their bodies to this change of altitude, as well as enjoy some great Colorado scenery. Little did they know that their home state of Kansas was holding a trump card they would play during race day.
Anyone familiar with cyclocross knows that Mother Nature is always up for a good time when it comes to pestering racers and, for this trip, she was kind enough to add some unseasonably warm weather to the mix. With mid-to-high 90-degree temperatures in the forecast, the Kansas riders sat down the night before to discuss a race day plan. Both Borkowski and Van Nieuwenhuyse quickly realized that the hotter than normal temperatures would work to their advantage.
“They may have the altitude training, but we have a full summer of Kansas heat and humidity that is way worse than this,” Van Nieuwenhuyse exclaimed. Borkowski quickly agreed and knew exactly what it took to compete in these hot conditions. Both riders felt that this edge would play into their strengths. Unfortunately for Van Nieuwenhuyse, the affects of the altitude would hit the morning of race day, and he was overcome by dizziness and nausea. Luckily, a 2:00 PM race start allowed for just enough time for him to recover, and they headed to the race.
Arriving early to the venue, each took the time to walk the course and check it out. It was quickly learned that the course held several features that would force riders off their bikes, and this only means one thing: an opportunity to both gain or lose time. All cyclocross racers know that most races are won or lost by seconds on each lap, and it was clear that the technical aspects of this course would test even the most experienced racers. A steep earthen ditch, which contained a ledge, approximately 38″ in height, was discovered and noted as one of these areas. Borkowski could not have known how this feature would affect his upcoming race, or perhaps he may have studied it further.
Three-time national cyclocross champion Jeremy Powers raced later in the day in the A group. The race was not sanctioned, so they put everyone in A, B, or C groups, based on their racing category. Category A was Pro, 1’s & top 2’s. Category B was mid-Category 2’s down through Category 3’s. Category C was everyone else: Categories 4 and 5 and beginners.
The scheduled hour-long Category C race lined up in the chute and Borkowski and Van Nieuwenhuyse were the benefactors of early registration, which allowed them into the front two rows via call-ups. This was a huge advantage, as the total race field contained more than 120 riders! The race organizer later communicated, “The ‘C’ saw the largest field size in Colorado history, with an estimated 30 racers competing in their first ever cyclocross event.”
While El Burro (the transformation from Van Nieuwenhuyse to El Burro happens when the race starts) was all but over his earlier bout of altitude sickness, Borkowski was not yet over his recent episode of “holeshot-itis” suffered during the Kansas MTB championship race, and he took off like a bolt at the sound of the horn.
“I wasn’t really going that hard and realized that the holeshot into the first series of turns was possible,” Borkowski stated. He then added, “If no one was going to work to take it, I certainly was!”
Lap one: enter the Ledge. Borkowski hit the ditch section in the lead and dismounted to clear it. “I was passed by a rider who used a MTB skill trick, and he rode that ledge” Borkowski relinquished the lead at that point, never to regain it. “After that, I rode that ledge every other lap,” Borkowski commented.
As they expected, the heat took a massive toll on the field, and he sat in to manage the next 50 minuets of racing. Borkowski used the hot Kansas summer training to finish 3rd overall while El Burro finished several minutes behind him in 13th place…just about where they both started! If Colorado pre-season is any test for Cyclocross, then Kansas is the place to be!