The second week of the USXC season brought the circuit to a brand-new venue: Devils Lake, North Dakota. In a twist of fate, poor ice conditions led to the race being held in the ditches and fields north of town; this region happens to sport the most snowfall in the state, although that isn’t saying too much for what’s shaped up to be a pretty typical El Nino year for the Northern Plains.
Despite the lack of snow and overall warmth this winter, Mother Nature brought in the coldest temperatures of the year for the weekend (-15F at start). Along with intermittent clouds and winds that prolonged snow dust along certain stretches of the course, the weather would challenge all who were involved.
Weather didn’t pose the only challenge. While some broad stretches of ditch and field were tame, other sections had the usual hazards such as large approaches and hidden obstacles in the cattails. With relatively low-snow conditions, however, there was little margin for error as the course quickly evolved. While this aspect of the weekend reminded me of Thief River Falls last season, it was several narrow drainage ditches on day one that posed the biggest problem for racers. Quickly developing snow conditions and perhaps a simple underestimation of these features led to hazards that didn’t match the course markers. Unfortunately, these obstacles occurred along the stretch of course where snow dust easily hung in the air creating a dangerous combination.
A seemingly tame section of course quickly eroded as the first half dozen riders collapsed snow into a hidden ditch. Nels Wicklund (#220) was next in line, and snow-dust hid the now present danger. What followed was pure chaos. Snow dust continued to hang in the air, and the majority of the next 5-10 riders all crashed before Wicklund could be extracated. Wicklund was uninjured, although his machine was finished along with those of Adam Mach (#27, Arctic Cat), and Andrew Diekmann (#47X, Polaris).
The end result of the first day was some hair-raising experiences, a number of DNFs, bruises, and several more serious injuries. Most notably, Benjamin Langaas came down awkwardly on Bobby Menne’s machine and had to be taken to the hospital. As a testament to the XC racing community, however, pro riders Wesley Selby, Bobby Menne, and Ross Erdman all stayed with Ben till he could be taken away. Junior rider Tyler Brown also hit a drainage ditch and suffered a broken leg. Best wishes to the two of them for a speedy recovery!
The second day was less eventful and was primarily a battle of attrition. While the ditches and cattails were still unforgiving, the course had several peaceful sections through fields and ponds. By the closing of the second day, the pro category was marked by 4 DNFs, all sorts of time credits to be figured out, and less than two minute of time separating the top four after 250 miles of racing. With efficient riding on day two, karma would be kind to Wes Selby who took the checkered flag for his first Pro 600 victory of the season. These miles will serve as good practice for the next month of racing, which as of now, should see similar snow conditions.
In the amateur ranks, it was Taylor Bunke making a point with wins in the I-500 and Semi Pro Stock classes. Bunke ended the first day sitting in first place in the I-500 class and second in the Semi Pro class, finishing seven seconds behind Christian Brothers Racing driver, Ryan Trout. On the second day, the two left side by side. Bunke followed Trout for the first couple miles until Trout crashed and Bunke capitalized on the mistake. Trout would also get passed by Alex Hetteen. Bunke kept his lead all the way to the checkers winning the Semi Pro class by less than a minute, and the I-500 class by almost seven minutes.
For more information on upcoming events and the full list of results, visit https://usxcracing.com/main/