Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Northwest (rite of) Passage

Long on the list and the lore of cyclocross culture and racing is Portland, Oregon's Cross Crusade race series. For over 20 years, the series has produced some of the most iconic and weird images, experiences, and stories in U.S. 'cross history, most notably featuring its two classic characters: rain and mud. Evol racing team rider Josh Whitney made the trek last week for the first time to get a taste of the good stuff.

"The scene here is just unbelievable. Participation and fun are paramount, but the competition across all categories is no joke." Portland has done something special over the years creating a rich and engaging scene when it comes to cyclocross. Fields for the opening weekend at the Alpenrose Dairy were massive, from a field of 60 singlespeeders to nearly a dozen in the unicycle category to the men's master B categories, which exceeded 200 total riders. "It literally felt like a nationals-level production," said Josh.

Racing on Saturday got underway after evening and morning rains provided ample moisture to make the course technical and demanding. While the skies cleared midday, 10 minutes before the elite race, a dark cloud dropped buckets of rain and let up just as the whistle blew. Starting from the back row, Josh worked his way up through the field of 70 riders, avoiding numerous crashes through the first few laps. "The first lap was nuts ... so many people and super challenging conditions. Flying into the Alpenrose Velodrome was nuts as the concrete mixed with grass and mud was like ice. But I was loving every minute of it, the mud and grease was actually really fun, and once we got a few laps in things seemed to dry out just slightly to those perfect, dreamy cross conditions. And with the Clement PDX tubulars, you could really drift and lean into the corners and know that when you needed them to, they would hook up and hold perfectly." At the front, Carl Decker and Chris Jones battled for the pole position, with Josh finishing a respectable 15th on the day.

Maybe it was the numerous local brews consumed that night or just the hard effort on that day, but Sunday was a rough one. Josh failed to take advantage of the call-up and spent the first half of Sunday's race battling for a top-10, only to fade in the second half of the race to 20th. Sunday featured the classic Alpenrose course, with the "choose your own adventure" double staircase, velodrome barriers, off-camber descent/run-up, and another 30-degree hill run-up that was actually rideable. "Initially I felt great and was just off the back of the front group of eight or so, but then with 3 or 4 laps to go, my back had had enough and I was struggling to ignore the pain. My pace slowed and I couldn't maintain position and drifted backwards down the line. Regardless, going one for two on the weekend was a success and just getting to experience the Portland scene, spend some time with friends made the trip totally worth it."

Big thanks to Brett & The Clymb Cyclocross team for the support.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Triple race weekend in Northern Colorado

Cross of the North keeps growing, and this year was no exception as the race expanded to three races, with the addition of a night race

Ken, Melissa, and Jess braved the cold, muddy evening to notch top-10 finishes, including Melissa's third place result.

"I was looking forward racing under the lights," Jess said. "It was my first time! It was a blast. There were some sections on the course where it was pitch black. You just had to go for it, trust it and follow the line. I truly loved every minute of it. I hope they have racing under the lights next year."

On Saturday, the women's team was out in force, with Melissa finishing fourth, Kate taking eighth, Kristin right behind in ninth, and Jess finishing 11th.

Kate was loving the course. "Saturday's course was tacky and fast — with the exception of one big mud pit from the nearby bike washes!" she said. "I had a blast powering through the goopy mess." And indeed, she was one of the few ladies to ride the entire section.

In the men's race, Spencer was second, Ken was ninth, and recent addition to the Evol team, Michael Burleigh was 13th.

"After a successful road season, there's nothing like 'cross to shrink one's head back to normal and reignite the competitive fire," Michael said. "After a three- or four-lap battle, the 17-year-old Liam Dunn rode away from me in the last lap when I hit a post on one of those downhill 180s. Then I got pipped at the line by Logan Garey. All and all, a thoroughly enjoyable and properly humbling experience. Bring on Valmont, my favorite 'cross venue."

Spencer also came to grief at the hands of a course post, crashing spectacularly as he chased Chris Baddick on the final lap. "I'm glad I'm okay," he said. "I hooked my bars, went flying, and somehow my bike ended up tangled in the tape on the complete opposite side of the course. I was close to getting Chris. I wish I'd had one fewer crash and one more lap to chase."

Ken and Melissa earned the iron-person awards for the weekend, racing all three days and finishing fifth and sixth on Sunday, respectively.

"I loved the variety in the course each day that added new and interesting challenges," said Melissa. "I too loved the practice in trusting my bike through the dark corners on Friday night. "One of my favorite moments was during the last lap on Saturday. I was riding in fifth with half a lap to go; I took some risks to catch the rider in front of me and passed her right in front of the pit to move into into fourth. "On Sunday, it started to rain on lap two and the previously buff course was suddenly like ice. Ladies were wiping out left and right. I felt my tires wiggling out from under me. It only took about a lap for the rain to stop, soak in and for the traction to return."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Podiums galore

The Evol Racing team returned to the Colorado cyclocross podiums on Saturday and Sunday after being stymied the weekend before at the Flatirons Mall race.

After dropping from second place to fourth the weekend prior, Spencer came out swinging in Saturday's Breaking Barriers race. The classic, twisty track in Golden was ideal for his riding style. He maintained control of the front group and eventually got a gap on Boulder Cycle Sport's Chris Baddick on a technical off-camber section. From there, Spencer rode the final two laps alone to win.

"Since this is a benefit for the Amy D. Foundation, it meant a lot to be able to win," he said. "But really, I just wanted to come out and support the race. Amy was a good friend, and I miss her, like I think we all do."

Super Sunday

The next day at Primalpalooza, also in Golden, Melissa got in on the action, finishing third behind Raleigh-Clement's young rising star, Laurel Rathbun and Feedback Sports' Caitlin Vestal.

"The race went out fast, and everyone was fighting for position on the first loose dirt corners," said Melissa. "Kate [who eventually finished eighth] had a great start, and I was able to grab her wheel off the line and find my way around a few more riders for good position into the first few turns. 

"I continued to push on the gas as much as possible throughout the race. The course had a great mixture of power and technical sections that kept me working hard and trying to find speed wherever possible. On the last lap or so I was closing in on Laurel, but didn't quite get there."

Melissa's race was particularly impressive because she had spent much of her morning coaching junior racers and fixing their numerous flat tires caused by goathead thorns, which were an issue for earlier races.
Photo: Dejan Smaic
As for Spencer, he actually benefitted from a flat tire. As he rode into the second lap, outright favorite Danny Summerhill suffered a puncture right after the pit, which ended his chances with the front group.

From then on, it was once again mano-a-mano, with Spencer and Chris Baddick riding much of the race together. 

On the final lap, Spencer got a slight gap, putting Chris on the ropes. However, the Briton clawed his way back and forced a two-up sprint into a headwind on the paved finish straight that could only be decided by the finish camera.

"The sprint was a dead heat," said Spencer. "Neither of us could tell who won. I was just lying on the ground after, so gassed. I must have won by only a few inches. You can never count Chris out. I'm just glad the line wasn't another 50 feet down the road."

Grant finished 15th and also netted a 12th place in the singlespeed race earlier on Sunday.