Chris Sheppard salutes his victory © Dave Roth
by Josh Liberles
Portland, Oregon – Alpenrose Dairy once again played host to Oregon’s Cross Crusade series kickoff, now in its 20th season, and the attendance records just keep getting broken. In 2008 1,267 came to party in the rain, last year 1,463 turned out to outnumber the cows, and this year 1,506 raced the former USGP venue. Each of those participation levels set records for numbers of racers at an Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) cyclocross race – and, as far as we can tell, it’s the biggest participation for a ’cross race in the world. Fewer than 10 years ago, 321 racers attended OBRA’s top cyclocross event. The ’cross scene in the Northwest has exploded since then, and shows no sign of slowing.
Capping off a full day of racing at the dairy, Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain) clawed his way to the front early and distanced all competitors in the Elite men’s field, while Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru) took the form she’s gained via gunning with North America’s best in five UCI races over nine days and put the hurt on all challengers in the women’s race.
B men dropping into the dusty, sandy descent © Dave Roth
The course featured plenty of tight twists and turns; loose dirt; two double-barrier sections; a short but steep ride/run-up; a bumpy, tricky descent; a dry velodrome which housed the finish line and saw some riders riding the banks; high-speed paved corners through the Alpenrose Dairy village; plenty of vendors providing coffee, fries, and various occasion-appropriate wares; and a large, vocal crowd making its presence known.
Elite Men – Sheppard Says Peace Out, Skerritt Claws to Second
Damian Schmitt (Sunnyside Sports) took the bit between his teeth and drilled the start en route to the first pass across a super-bumpy descent and built an early lead over a hard-charging men’s field. Only Bend, Oregon, compatriot Chris Sheppard, fresh off of a seventh place finish in the UCI Kross-toberfest race in SoCal yesterday, would catch Schmitt in the early stages of the race, but Schmitt’s bid for glory was not to be.
There were two routes up: Reeb emerges from right while Skerritt tackles left staircase © Dave Roth
Sheppard rode out of the chase group and briefly joined Schmitt on the first lap before setting off on his own – a gap that he would hold for the remainder of the race. Erik Tonkin (Kona-FSA) briefly closed the gap to the leaders before losing steam and quickly fading back to the chasers. Shannon Skerritt (Corsa Concepts), Donald Reeb (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) and Ben Thompson (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) would join Tonkin and eventually gel together into the decisive chase group.
Skerritt and Reeb both got off to slow starts, and by the time they found themselves at the sharp end of the race, Sheppard was already long gone. “I started in the front row, missed clipping in and faded back, but was still in the top 20 gassing it pretty hard to get back to the top 10 after the first descent through the rough section,” said Skerritt. “I was pretty conservative for half the race, letting it play out some. Everyone was so fast and there was nothing super-technical, so I just waited for people to make mistakes or blow up, and it slowly got whittled down.”
Tonkin gets low in hot pursuit © Dave Roth
With the win all but sealed for Sheppard, the battle was on for second. “Going into the last lap, Schmitt was just seconds ahead and I knew we’d catch him,” continued Skerritt. “But then he crashed hard on a descent after a 180 and cratered badly, taking himself out. Tonkin came off next, and it was down to me and Reeb, who’s Sheppard’s teammate. Reeb has been a pro roadie for Nutra Fig and other teams, he knows how to get things done. I entered the velodrome first, which was decisive since we’re both decent finishers, and took it to the line.”
When Skerritt filled me in on his secret training plan, he was quick to point out that everyone in the front group had similar structures. “I’ve been doing intervals with the Burley kid trainer, dropping the baby at daycare, then the eight-mile TT to work and 10-mile TT home. It’s not slowing Sheppard down, he has a two-month old, Tonkin’s had his son Gus for a while now, and Reeb has one too, so I can’t use that as an excuse.”
Elite Women – Butler Brings Good Form Home, Outdistances Pennington
Butler descends and extends her lead © Dave Roth
Sue Butler took the holeshot and used her well-honed fitness and skills to hold that lead for the full hour of racing. Alice Pennington (Team S&M) did her damnedest in pursuit, and at one point closed the gap, but couldn’t stay with Butler’s relentless pace. “She’s Sue Butler and it’s a ’cross race! I just went as hard as I could to stay in second place,” said Pennington. “Sue got the holeshot, and it was Brigette [Brown (River City Bicycles)] and Wendy [Williams (River City Bicycles)] right behind her. Sue was starting to pull away, and I jumped around trying to close up to Sue after a half-lap, rode her wheel for a little bit, and then she was gone. She’s got crazy power, and she was great on the technical turns.”
One side effect of the staggering turnouts for these races is the necessity to run the fields concurrently – Elite men, Master 35+ A Men and Elite women were all on course starting at 3pm with staggered starts. As a result, the Elite women compete for a full hour, rather than the customary 40-minute event under USAC or UCI.
Pennington focuses on the task at hand © Dave Roth
“I had a good start, we started catching the Masters men by the steep climb, and I just started picking [Masters] off and trying to stay up,” said Butler. “I could see Alice chasing, I could see where she was on some of the two-way stretches. At some point I couldn’t see her any more, so I figured that I had a pretty sizable gap. I just rode strong.”
An intense block of racing UCI events – a run filled with good results for Butler, including fifth in CrossVegas and podiums in StarCrossed, the Rad Racing GP and the Planet Bike USGP – has left Butler feeling strong and ready for the bigger races to come. “After the five races in nine days, I took four days where I just really didn’t do much at all, then did a hard set of intervals yesterday and raced today to try to work up to the UCI3 in Ohio and then Europe.”
Tina Brubaker grits over a short, punchy climb © Dave Roth
“The unexpected bonus for today was that I got paid more for winning this race ($200) then I did for getting third place at the USGP ($100). The Cross Crusade has started paying out for every race instead of just for the series. But it’s obviously not just about the money, I love riding my bike and racing. And it’s good training to be able to go for an hour,” said Butler. “I think the scene for the Cross Crusades kicks ass – it is the most exciting thing going in North America. I was in Gloucester last year and it wasn’t nice weather, started raining, and there was no one there. If it’s shitty weather here, more people come out. It has become such a culture here, there are so many fans, so many people racing. I rode in this morning, saw all the cars, the whole venue, the fair, the stuff going on – it’s neat. Europe has 10,000 people at races, but this is a local small town race, and it’s definitely cool.”
Next up for Butler is the UCI3 in Ohio, an event she’ll go out of her way to attend due to the promoter’s support for women’s cycling and equal prize payout for men’s and women’s fields, followed by the first two World Cups in Europe, where a top-10 or top-15 is her goal.
Photo Gallery by Dave Roth:
Find more of Dave Roth’s photos here.
Photos by Robbie Carver and Greg Hudson:
1. Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain)
2. Shannon Skerritt (Corsa Concepts)
3. Donald Reeb (Rocky Mountain)
4. Erik Tonkin (Kona-FSA)
5. Ben Thompson (Rocky Mountain)
1. Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru)
2. Alice Pennington (Team S&M)
3. Wendy Williams (River City Bicycles)
4. Brigette Brown (River City Bicycles)
5. Serena Bishop (Sunnyside Sports)