Cyclocross in July? Sure, it’s been done before in densely-populated New Jersey. But at a resort in Central Washington, a good 90 minutes from the closest major city? It seemed like a harebrained idea by the folks at Raleigh that had little chance at drawing out all but the most hard-core cyclocrossers.
But by bringing the race to its dealer symposium and offering up $40,700 in prizes including pro contracts for the winning male and female elite racer, suddenly Raleigh and the race production crew at MFG Cross captured the attention of the Northwest cyclocross community and some top American and Canadian racers looking for a big payday or a chance at a big step up in racing support.
Just a few miles from the Suncadia Resort’s main lodge, in an open field and a section of woods, a cyclocross course was crafted by lawn mowers, weedwackers, and lots of cyclocross tires. It wasn’t your perfectly groomed grass crit, but a rugged venue that placed a premium on power, flat protection and courage (see our video preview of the Suncadia course here). Beginners, kids, juniors, Cat 4 men and Cat 3 women all took to the course earlier in the day, matting down the grass further, but exposing some rocks, and turning the steep descent and run-up into loose, rutted affairs. There were three potential dismounts: one double set of at least 40cm barriers graced the course, the steep run-up, and a tricky short, steep, loose ascent combined with a hairpin turn that forced some riders off their bikes to run.
Opinions on the freshly-cut course were overall positive but varied. “It was fantastic. What a great venue, great course, great setup, great day,” exclaimed Kathy Sherwin (NoTubes Elite Women’s Team). Elite women’s racer Anna Dingman went down twice but had nothing but smiles, and said, “I kinda like the bumpiness.” As for the long steep, run-up? Dingman said “I loved it, it was my favorite part…fast feet!”
But 2010 collegiate cyclocross national champion Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) found the course not to his liking or his current (injured) condition. “It was so hard to do anything…it was so bumpy out there,” explained McDonald, who is coming off some serious road rash and sore wrists from a crash at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships.
Melanie Lewis (Blue Rooster/SMC/Avanti Racing) agreed with McDonald. “It was brutal. It was rough, bumpy, very dry…This was an interesting cyclocross race,” she recalled. “But it was still fun.”
Thirteen women drove as many as ten hours to get to the race and compete for the $1500 first place and the Raleigh pro contract and bike prize, making the July cyclocross race more than just a novelty, but one of the best paydays in women’s cyclocross with nearly $13,000 in prizes potentially awaiting the winning woman. A scan of the start list revealed a number of top names in cyclocross, with Kari Studley (Redline), Kristi Berg (Cycle U) and Jo Markham representing Seattle’s top cyclocross talent; Kathy Sherwin coming from Utah via Sun Valley, Idaho; Jenni Gaertner (Riverstone CDA) coming from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and Laura Winberry (Elite Endurance) driving from Bend, Oregon, to contest the race.
Sherwin recently landed on the podium in the short track at the Mountain Bike National Championships, and quickly showed the rest of the field that her result in at Nationals in Idaho was no fluke. From the gun, the NoTubes rider pushed the pace, accelerating out of corners and hitting the first tricky uphill hairpin at the front. She went wide and cleaned it, opening up a gap as Gaertner, Studley and Winberry dismounted and ran the short climb. This gap would prove decisive, and Sherwin would continue to build on it throughout the race.
Studley and Gaertner would pursue Sherwin, with Studley proving the stronger of the two, despite it being her first race back since separating her shoulder at the 2010 Cyclocross National Championships in Bend. Behind, Gaertner, who co-owns a bike shop in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was chasing on a bike she put together the night before, after finally deciding to attend the event. Little did she know that she was riding to a pro contract with Raleigh, as Sherwin and Studley have soon-to-come or existing contracts already for this season. Behind Gaertner, Dingman, Lewis and Winberry would battle for fourth.
Sherwin’s handling skills were clearly an advantage as she flew down the loose, rutted descent with ease, and she continued to pedal around the steep hairpin that forced most other women to dismount. By the end, the Utah native had over a minute lead to take the biggest payday of her cyclocross career. Behind, Studley was excited by her strong second place finish and was pleasantly surprised with her form and fitness in her first race back.
“My fitness is really good right now. I got fourth at [mountain bike] Nationals last weekend, and I’m pretty psyched to win 1500 bucks!” exclaimed Kathy Sherwin (NoTubes Elite Women’s Team) after her commanding win at the first-ever Raleigh Midsummer Night’s Cyclocross race. “Raleigh has done a really good thing here in offering pro contracts for the woman and man who win today, and it’s amazing … what a great opportunity. It just shows that the sport of ’cross has really grown, and people are really getting into it.”
Russell Stevenson (DBR) was a late, stealth entry, as he didn’t make the start list. We found out he had good reason for not committing to the race earlier, as he got his hands on his new 2012 Diamond Back Steilacoom cyclocross bike just 90 minutes before his race. Stevenson is thankful that his last-minute rush worked out, and once the starting gun fired, he quickly showed his determination to not be late to his next goal — the top step of the podium. In the process, he demonstrated that he has no problem adapting to a new bike, even if that bike is often sold in big-box and chain retailers.
Stevenson exploded off the starting line, grabbing the lead with Canadian Craig Richey (see Richey’s most recent Cyclocross Magazine column here), and avoiding the high-speed crash by Doug Reid (Second Ascent) in the opening pavement sprint (see video below). Stevenson and Richey would work together to gap pre-race favorite Zach McDonald, after the U23 racer got caught behind an early crash. McDonald would give a determined chase, but couldn’t close the gap and continued to lose time in subsequent laps.
Stevenson surged several times, gapping Richey temporarily, but last year’s Belgian-based Canadian held fast with hopes of securing the big payday from Raleigh. But Richey’s luck would eventually run out, with a flat tire and wheel change sending him back as far as sixth place.
McDonald seized the opportunity to secure second place, and rode steadily despite suffering wrist pain and showing frustration. “I didn’t come here to get second,” said a visibly disappointed Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus). “Just the bumps, they were killing my wrists. I found out they aren’t quite healed from my crash [from Mountain Bike Nationals].”
McDonald almost didn’t make the event, as he was originally planning to race in the Cascade Classic stage race in Oregon, but was lured to the Raleigh event by the big potential payday. However, even if he took the win, he would have opted out of the Raleigh pro contract, as he’s already under contract with the Rapha-Focus cyclocross team. “Rapha is locked up for a couple years” McDonald told Cyclocross Magazine.
While Richey would give a determined chase after his mechanical and pit stop, bringing him back up to third, Stevenson was in complete control, finishing with two minutes in hand over McDonald. “It was pretty fun. Pulling in here, I didn’t know what to expect, because I’ve never raced here, but it was really good,” said an elated Stevenson. “I’ve been racing a lot this summer, I think I came into some good form, and got a little lucky and didn’t have any mechanicals. It’s pretty sweet, that’s a big prize. I’ve been racing bikes for a long time and I think that’s the biggest prize I’ve ever won.”
The Elite men and women weren’t the only categories to win bikes and travel money, as Raleigh ponied up over $9,000 of the $41,000 offered in prizes, for the men and women’s singlespeed winner. JT Fountain and Kari Studley resumed their one-gear winning ways, but whether they’ll ride Raleigh’s carbon singlespeed over their sponsors’ bikes remains to be seen.
Brief results below the photo gallery. Check back soon for more videos and complete results.