by Kenton Berg
Mother Nature wanted to have her say today as racers lined up for the first MFG Series race in Kirkland, WA. Big Finn Hill park, for the third year in a row, played host to the Kick Off Cross race delivered by Cycle University. Unseasonably warm weather, or a late summer as some would say, left the race course with burn-out grass and had racers churning up dust from the opening gun.
The morning racers were met with mid-60 degree temps as they bumped they way around a hard-packed course which featured two short sections of singletrack, off-camber turns and bumps, two stretches of pavement, barriers, and enough small elevation changes to burn the quads. If you were lucky enough to race in the morning when the temps were cool, then you got to sit back and watch as the heat and intensity of racing ratcheted its way up.
By 11 a.m. when the Elite Women took to the course, the temps were hovering in the mid 70′s and the heat was not yet a factor … but that would change later in the day. Raleigh’s Jenni Gaertner took the hole shot and wouldn’t relinquish that lead for the entire race. For a few laps she was closely followed by Beth Lyndon-Griffith (Hagens Berman) and Courtney McFadden (Cycling Northwest). Further back Melanie Lewis (CycleU) and Kristi Berg (CycleU) chased with Lewis overtaking Lyndon-Griffith to secure a podium spot late in the race due to a ill-timed flat. McFadden would hang on for second but Gaertner would continue to build her lead throughout the race coming in over 1:30 ahead of McFadden.
By 1:30, the heat had ratcheted up into the mid 80′s and water hand ups and bottles in pockets were a common sight. The single speed crew, over 60 riders strong, hit the course hard. Furthering an already uber-competitive single speed field was an intra-team competition which is pitting the Hodala Crew versus the Team Stanley crew versus the Alki-Rubicon crew. By series end, the winner will be drinking on the dime of the losing teams after the traditional series ending race at Woodland Park. With the stakes being so high the racing was fast and furious from the start. Former world messenger champion Craig Etheridge (Hodala) would go on to take first with Bryan Meyers (Hodala) in second and Seth Davis (Alki-Rubicon) wrapping up the third spot despite a last lap flat.
By the time the Elite men hit the course, the heat was now approaching 90 degrees and Mother Nature had flipped the perverbial bird at the racers. Local favorites Russell Stevenson (Raleigh) and Steve Fisher (Revel Consulting/Rad Racing) would line up with a host of others to see if they could match the speed and power of Belgian Ben Berden (Ops Ale – Stoemper). Following a fast run up the pavement to the turnaround a lead group of 5 riders quickly formed with the Belgian leading the way followed by Stevenson, Fisher, Ian Terry (Revel / Rad) and Canadian Kevin Noiles (Sportique).
The five would stay together only briefly as Berden powered away and by mid-race, he had built a two minute lead off of the chase group that was now showing signs that the heat was indeed a factor. Stevenson was the first to drop off the group and not long after that, it was Terry’s turn. Fisher continued his charge with Noiles hanging in around 15 seconds back but continuing to work hard. Berden would change bikes and seemed to sit up a few times as the chasers looked to be making up some time. In the end Berden would continue to dominate and came in over minute up on Fisher with Noiles rounding out the podium.
Next week, the MFG series will hit Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, WA for the Rapha-Focus GP, a UCI race that will feature the local series races plus the UCI rated Elite men’s and women’s races.
MFG Cyclocross is brought to you by Raleigh. Visit them at www.mfgcyclocross.com