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by Stephanie Chase and Josh Liberles
ESTACADA, OR – The Cross Crusade series all came down to the last race for the men, and it was a throwdown right down to the finish line. Sean Babcock vs. Molly Cameron, winner take all! Cameron (Portland Bicycle Studio) led Babcock (Team S&M) going into the finale by a single point.
In the women’s race, Wendy Williams (Hudz / Subaru) had built a sizable lead in the series overall with her teammate Emily Van Meter and Alice Pennington (Veloforma) the other obvious threats.
Despite the lingering hangover that many had from last weekend’s SSCXWC, over 1,000 racers came to Barton Park in Estacada, Oregon for the final race of the Cross Crusades. Set in a gravel quarry, the course looked like an apocalyptic battlefield with hills of gravel, random concrete pylons and Team Beer’s Barnaby Casey riding two frames welded on top of each other. Early reports called it a “roadie’s course” with long gravel and pavement sections ideal for drafting and passing. Later reports called it a “shit-eating course” after quite a few people made their way to first aid after eating it on a short and steep off-camber descent.
But the course wasn’t the main competition for the men’s A field. Babcock had won the series’ opener at Alpenrose while Cameron had back-to-back wins in October.
The race stayed close. Babcock, Eric Tonkin (Kona/ FSA), Cameron, Shannon Skerritt and Kevin Hulick (both Vanilla Workshop-Speedvagen Racing) led the race early.
Tonkin, Babcock’s sponsor and mentor, also proved to be the ideal teammate. When Tonkin’s in town for Crusade events, and not off racing the national circuit, the World Cup veteran has made it apparent that he’s there to help Babcock. This race was no different as he went to the front of the lead group and set a hard pace until only he, Cameron and Babcock remained.
Tonkin tried to go it alone after a couple laps but his protégé (apparently known as “BOOBS,” according to Ryan Trebon) and Cameron countered and took off.
In the last lap, Babcock and Cameron were locked in battle, swapping the lead and testing one another. Cameron obviously wanted the win – she told Cyclocross Magazine how nervous she was before the race – but wanted to win on her terms.
“Sean crashed pretty good, got tangled in the sports tape halfway into the last lap,” said Cameron. “I waited up for him and made sure he was ok – I didn’t want to attack with him laying on the ground.”
The two rode together the rest of the way, with Babcock leading into the last rocky run-up to the pavement with a 180-degree turn to the finish line. “I made a mistake coming into the hill and started to run too early,” Babcock said. “Molly rode into the hill, which was smart, and caught right up to me.”
Cameron had the momentum and looked, briefly, to be on the advantage coming to the line. “We came into that last hill and I had more momentum and felt like I was going to fly right past him,” said Cameron. “I put my bike down and it got tangled up with him and I hit the deck really hard.”
Babcock rode away to claim the victory and the Crusade series title. Tonkin also passed Cameron before she was back on her bike for third. “You can’t lose to a better guy or a stronger opponent and it was right down to the wire. It was a good fight!” said Cameron, gracious as ever.
Ben Thompson (DeSalvo Custom Cycles) a consistent top-ten finisher, rolled in for fourth a few seconds later, while Vanilla teammates Shannon Skerritt and Kevin Hulick came in together for fifth and sixth. The Veloce/Felt squad had a good showing, putting two riders in the top ten. Erik Sheagley came across in seventh ahead of Brett Leulling (Capitol Velo) and in front of teammate Mike Benno who ran in his bike to beat Eirik Schulz (Specialized River City) to round out the top ten.
While the women’s standings weren’t as close as Babcock and Cameron’s duel, the Hudz-Subaru ladies looked to keep a lock down on the Crusades and Alice Pennington (Veloforma) tried to break things up. Pennington had a couple bike lengths’ lead early on, but began to fade midway through the race.
Williams and Van Meter took off, with Van Meter on the front, and got a decent gap. After Pennington crashed on the pavement, there were no contenders left to take on the Hudz ladies and the two came through the final run-up and finishing turn together. Van Meter went on to take the win, her third of the eight-race series, in front of Williams.
Williams, who also won three of the Crusade races, rolled in for her third second place of the series and snagged the overall title for the second consecutive season. Pennington was third on the day and third overall. River City’s Megan Faris came home in fourth both in the race and series in front of Sunny Gilbert (Pacific Power Blue Sky).
The Crusades are over: missions(s) accomplished. With record-setting attendance, world class racing and an average of over 200 women per race, this year’s Cross Crusades took it to eleven. Who knows what 2010 will bring?
Great highlight video of Men’s Race by John Wilson: