The Mallard Park course venue is ~100 acres of grass hill side located on the north boundary of Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge bordered by agricultural fields. The park is fairly new, so the sparsely planted trees are immature with ~4″ trunks. This means 100% of the race course can be viewed from several locations within the park.
In addition to large gazebos accompanied by already locked for the season flush toilet facilities located at both the top and bottom of the park, there is a concrete amphitheater built into a ~15 foot high embankment adjacent to the lower gazebo. The pitch of the main hill is a modest ~6-8%, but the pitch of the backside of the amphitheater is twice that with provision for three off-camber side-hill S-turns and integral high speed U-turn.
The vertical drop of the main hill is ~50 feet, and the course included four back-to-back ascents / descents of this hill. A single full legal height barrier was placed at the bottom of the second descent, and this barrier and the entire hill side section were within full view of the finish line, lower gazebo and parking lot. This was not only a fan friendly course layout but it also enabled the announcers to see and comment on more of the race action. Their heckling of the racers would have been more effective, if they had placed an amplifier and a second set of speakers at the top of the course, perhaps powered from the upper gazebo.
The biggest crowd pleaser was Nick Lee in the Men Cat1-2-3 race who successfully jumped the barrier every lap on Day2. Nobody else attempted to jump the barrier, but it still provided ample challenge for all the riders and continuous entertainment for the fans, especially when two riders leapt the barrier at the same time.
The Hillside Section was separated from the Amphitheater Section by five flattish straightaways with intervening U-turns / S-turn. Head wind and drafting were significant in these straightaways, especially on Day2 with the stronger wind and reversed course direction. Some of the best racing action occurred on the backside of the amphitheater, as the steep off-camber turns were the most technically challenging on the course surprising riders on the first lap and causing numerous near-crashes.
The grass was long and thick enough that it was significantly slower off the ridden line, hence passing required extra effort. The park harbors a healthy rodent population (no doubt from the surrounding agricultural fields), so “rodent ruts” are prevalent, and these ruts dictated racer line in places and increased course roughness off the ridden line.
The weather was seasonably cool and breezy, but not really crossy (i.e., the course was not slippery wet, and there was no mud). Saturday’s race weather was low to mid 50F with 10-15mph wind (arm warmer weather), and Sunday’s race weather was mid to upper 40F with 15-20mph wind (arm warmer and leg warmer weather). Sunday’s weather drove the Master Men to huddle together on the leeward side of the restroom facility until after the Women’s race start (i.e., 3 minute delay between Women’s race start and Master Men race start).
Broken Spoke Cycling deserves many kudos for the RFID / pneumatic race timing system they have developed. It still has some bugs, but race results are now typically posted within ~30 minutes after the last racer finishes, and they include a feature that I really appreciate, individual lap times for every racer that enable comparisons to all competitors in all races for the day’s event. One remaining problem is the plastic substrate for the RFID tag is not strong enough to withstand transport via bike racks at interstate travel speed. This led to race start delays, as there is currently a restriction in that replacement tags can only be programmed between races.
After the 1/2Km start sprint on the paved park service road, the course was nearly 100% grass (except for ~100m of paved pathway) with only a single barrier per lap, and no loose sand / dirt nor run-ups. As usual, Sunday’s course was essentially the Saturday course, but run in the opposite direction. The climbs, the technical turns AND the straightaways provided adequate cyclo-cross challenge. The course and wind favored the strongman type of rider, as the climbs were ~1 minute or less immediately followed by descents, and the wind combined with slow course conditions demanded strength in the straightaways.
Mallard Park is a wonderful location to base road bike rides. Meet-up with the rest of your group before the ride; refresh in the flush toilet restrooms, and fill the water bottles; paved parking lot that is free and reasonably safe and secure; picnic after the ride. There are many scenic, natural and historical / archeological low traffic bike ride routes in the area. These range from a lap around Lake Lowell to rides along either side of the Snake River between the bridges for ID-45 and ID-55 to exploration of the intervening wine region.
Author: Fritz Stafford
Published: December 12, 2015