by Kenton Berg
The MFG Cyclocross Series sponsored by Raleigh concluded its season Sunday at Woodland Park in Seattle. We’ve been waiting for a good muddy day and the week’s wet weather and continuing rain on race day finally gave it to us. The ups and downs of the park made for a slick course that provided lots of clogged drivetrains and saw many riders hitting the deck.
Course designer Rich McClung set up a nasty start and made everyone pay quickly. The course took off from the lowest part of the park, went uphill on pavement to a slick 180-degree turn and then proceeded through a series of twisty rollers to the short, Raleigh barriers. This was followed by two longer rollers on the gravel/mud river road and by the time the riders crested the final roller, heart rates were maxed and the packs were strung out for the muddy torture still to come. A short, fast downhill then brought the riders to a hard turn around a tree that provided lots of two wheel drifting and near crashes. Parked front and center to this great viewing spot was Brian “Sally” Fornes from sponsor Raleigh bikes. Sally and his crew of Rainier-riding merry men heckled all those who took lame lines or braked their way through this challenging turn.
Once past the jeering, riders negotiated a tight chicane and another fall away muddy left turn to make it around past the finish line and the MFG bread van. From here the mud games really began as the uphill right turn off the pavement took riders to a long, meandering sloppy section that had lots of back wheels spinning. A big right hand turn around a tree led to an uphill slog section that saw the course then dive into the trees and some back and forth sections. Emerging from this, riders hit a sharp right to sharp left combo that was some of the slickest terrain of the course followed by the “they gotta be two feet tall” barriers. Once over the seemingly huge barriers two more off camber “greasy as hell” turns brought the rider back around to the 180-degree turn that started it all and it was time to do it again…if the gears were still working!
Now on to the racing…
The elite women’s race was a two horse race right from the start with Jenni Gaertner (Riverstone Women’s Racing) getting the hole shot and leading Kristi Berg (Redline) into the first parts of the course. The two would go on to create a huge gap by lap 2 and never look back. Gaertner managed to get a decent advantage over Berg midway through the race. But Berg’s power and mud riding prowess enabled her to claw back to Gaertner before the final lap and win by a convincing 45 seconds. The ever-consistent Lee Smith (Group Health) held on for third. Following the race Berg commented on how she kept on grinding even after falling behind, knowing that on a day like today one mistake by the leader could put her back in front. It was exactly this type of racing that got her the win today!
On the men’s side, all the usual challengers of the local men’s elite scene were present (minus Zach McDonald) and ready to pay homage to the mud gods as they sliced and diced their way around the ever-deteriorating course. Russell Stevenson (BRI) took the hole shot and was trailed closely by his BRI teammate Toby Swanson and the ever-present Ryan Iddings (LaPierre). After bumping his way through the first turn, Logan Owen (Redline) joined the lead group as did Spencer Paxson (Team S&M). A second chase group formed by lap 2 and it was game on…whoever made the least mistakes and had no mechanicals would go on to take the win. By mid-race the lead group was down to four with Iddings, Stevenson, Swanson and Paxson charging through the slop. As the bell rang for the final lap that lead group had shed Paxson and it would come down to three riders and last lap tactics. With less than a 1/4 lap to go Iddings got a small gap over the top of the final roller and was able to use the tight terrain left before the finish to hold off Stevenson and Swanson for the win.
The MFG series will wrap all festivities with a party and awards on Wednesday night at the Pyramid Brewery in downtown Seattle. Stay tuned to CXM for pictures, inteviews and an overall series winner list after the event.