One of the beautiful things about cyclocross is that conditions can range from warm and dry to cold, snow and ice. With the series of winter storms that have moved through the Northwest, the Inland Northwest Cyclocross Series Finals were the latter with snow, creating slick conditions that would make any roadie (and Joey Mullan) nervous. The course was a mixture of technical turns, complete with a flyover and barriers, and a long power section that required a fitness level that would make anyone regret that extra beer last month.
Michael and Marla Emde, of Emde Sports, have built the Inland Northwest Series into a fun and very respectable series during their 12 year tenure as promoters. The model for this series is somewhat unique in that it pulls together races each with a different promoter who contributes to the overall series prize list. “We are simply the gel that holds it all together,” claims Marla. “We work with promoters from not only the Spokane area, but throughout Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. We also have worked to develop a variety of fields to ensure a fun and competitive race environment for everyone.” The result is a series of unique races that include some notorious features, such as the famed Triple Flyover at Walla Walla’s Stanger Farm (here and here). “The venues have improved in quality and variety over the past few years,” noted life-long Spokane resident Kevin Bradford-Parish of Cyclocrossracing.com. The Series has surely played a part in growing the sport in the area and contributed to building competitive fields while building a level of comradery that makes any non-local feel loved and welcome.
Without a doubt, one of the best story lines of the year for the Series was that Jayne McLaughlin of Zuster Cycling hit the start line looking to go a perfect 10 for 10 in race wins for the 2011 season. Relatively new to the sport, McLaughlin knew that she had the Series win tied up and seemed relaxed on the line. However, not a single woman on the start line was going to let McLaughlin get the win without a fight.
From the gun, Zuster Cycling teammate Natalie Koncz grabbed the hole shot and with it a handful of seconds over McLaughlin in second. Anna Jo Dingman of Cycleution was going to have none of it though and used some technical prowess to bridge up to these two toward the end of the first lap. Immediately behind this group of three, Wendy Stredwick (Team Rep), Rhonda Pinto and Alison Beall (Team Rep) formed a group that worked well together putting pressure on the front three. Feeling this pressure on the second lap, Dingman seized an opportunity to get ahead of McLaughlin, who had trouble in a slippery corner and then passed Koncz through the barriers. McLaughlin and Koncz had virtually simultaneous mechanicals allowing Dingman to get a small gap.
While this ended up being the final selection, to say that it went without question for the rest of the race would understate the effort put in by all of these women. With the early afternoon start time, the women saw the temperature rise just enough for the conditions to change and go from somewhat grippy snow to a track that was deceptively slippery, especially in some otherwise benign corners. None of the women were spared crashing or being thrown off the line into the thick, heavy snow at least once in the latter half of the race: Dingman tangled with the tape; McLaughlin lost traction with her front wheel; Koncz had to put her foot down mid-corner. The group of Stredwick, Pinto and Beall had similar issues. Dingman used her combination of power, smooth style and ability to recover quickly to build about a 20 second margin over McLaughlin with Koncz solidly holding onto third. While the day went to Dingman, McLaughlin’s season was nothing short of impressive and she is already looking forward to next year.
The Elite Men’s Series was not only competitive, but did not have a clear winner going into the finale. JT Fountain of Raleigh-Rolf Prima had a slim six-point lead over Kevin Bradford-Parish. “I knew that today was double points,” said Fountain, “and I was concerned that with the conditions that I might not be able to get the top-four placing I needed to secure the Series win.” Rounding out the top end of the stacked field were Vertical Earth riders Mike Gaertner, Jerry Long and Doug Krumpleman, John Curry of GAS-Intrinsik, Nathan Bannerman of Cyclocrossracing.com and Jeremy Pinto of University of Idaho.
From the gun, Fountain and Curry found an early lead in the first lap. Bradford-Parish and Gaertner were able to make contact with Krumpleman just off the lead group by the end of the second lap. As they hit the long straight-away, Bradford-Parish put in a dig to get into the lead that looked to hurt everyone. Unfortunately as they entered the technical section, Curry bobbled allowing Bradford-Parish and Fountain to jump away with Gaertner chasing. Curry and Krumpleman attempted to bridge before Krumpleman eventually made the bridge up to his teammate, Gaertner. These two worked well together putting pressure on the leaders while establishing a gap on Curry.
The dynamic conditions continued and the track got even slicker than a calf on a frozen pond. Fountain and Bradford-Parish traded the lead several times in the ensuing laps admittedly to go to school on the lines that the other was riding. This allowed Bradford-Parish to see that he had a slight advantage in the corners and with just under two laps to go used this to confidently attack Fountain in the Circle of Death feature. This gave him the gap he needed to get to the line first for the win. Fountain admitted after the race that he rode more conservatively than normal to ensure the series win and noted, “With this being the first snow of the year, the race was a big question mark.” Be sure to check out the interview with JT and his brother in the next print edition of Cyclocross Magazine.