by LeRoi Smith

Kristi Berg (Redline Bicycles) maintained a perfect season and Zach McDonald (Stevens/Classic Cycles) racked up his third win of the season at a sloppy, rainy, cold day in Sedro-Woolley, stop seven on the 2009 SCX.

Finally, a really nasty day for the SCX series and the ‘cross diehards were salivating on the way to the race on Sunday. Pouring down rain, gusty wind, temps in the 40’s and the race is at a former dairy farm. The perfect ‘cross storm.

As long as racers made a reasonable tire choice (not a good day for the file treads), the course was surprisingly sticky. Unfortunately the same was true for the parking lot and more than a few cars were shod in rubber that was not up to the task of getting out of the lot (pasture). While there were plenty of helping hands for the autos, the only hands on the course were wrapped around cowbells and/or New Belgium brews, making for a rough day in the saddle.

From the start, the course curved down an access road and into the first mud pit. This one was mercifully shallow; but did carry a smell that reminded racers of the park’s past (dairy cows). A brief respite rolled the crowd into a set of double barriers on a short hill. Back on the top of the bluff, the course went by the pits for the first time and into the first deep bog. It was short and most riders negotiated it well. A steep descent brought the race back up to speed just in time for a short steep rise, followed by a long, straight grinding climb up a gravel road. Off the road and through mud bog #2, the second set of double New Belgium Barriers felt about 4-feet tall.

By this time the legs were screaming and the best was yet to come. Sweeping around a right-hander the racers lined up for mud bog #3. This one was about 40 yards long. There were a couple of ridable lines, assuming riders had the wattage to spare. It was generally slightly faster to run this section, although many chose to ride just because they could. The bog emptied onto a gravel path that climbed up to the course’s high point. From here a grassy, straight descent dared riders to test the big ring. The path was quickly churned into sets of mostly parallel lines of mud. Every once in a while a track would shoot off into the fields lining the path, evidence of a racer who found the edge of control and punched on through.

The end of the descent marked a return to the pits, after some more mud, of course. Just after the pit opportunity, racers zipped down a slimy, clay chicane, through a puddle and then up a set of muddy rollers into yet another soggy field. The lap finished up with a several hundred-yard long zig-zag on a gravel road and a high speed shot into the final pasture before the slightly downhill finish straight.

Berg Continues Perfect Season:

The course seemed tailor-made for Berg’s power and skills. However it didn’t seem that the rest of the women’s field got that memo. Off the start, Jadine Riley (Team Group Health), snagged the front spot leading into the first corner, earning the opportunity to choose her line through the first bit of slop. Berg was tight on her wheel with Ann Knapp (Kona) close as well. As the first lap progressed, Berg came to the front as most would have expected, given her dominating performance this year. By the end of the lap, however, it was Knapp on the front, pushing the pace. Berg was right there; Riley had been gapped.

Could this be the week that Knapp returns to the top spot on the podium? It seemed, at the least, the crowd might be treated to a battle royale. Traditionally, the run through the bog would favor Knapp, while most of the course would be advantage, Berg. By the end of the second lap, the hopes of an epic battle on an epic day seemed to be dashed as Berg came through with a familiar gap. Things stayed about the same until midway through the race. Knapp began to close… significantly. By the final lap, she was close enough that Berg was never out of sight. With Knapp closing fast, Berg had to dig deep to find a few more watts. There was just enough left in the tank to hold off the hard charging Knapp and keep her SCX season perfect. Riley spent most of the day in no-mans land; securing third place for her long solo effort.

With double points in next week’s finals, the second two spots on the podium are not secure. With the drop race figured in, Riley has laid a tenuous claim on 2nd place. Knapp and Beth Lyndon-Griffith (Hagens Berman) are all looking up at the step currently occupied by Lee Smith (Team Group Health). Lea Stralka (Team Group Health), Elizabeth Marzolf (Hagens Berman) and Anne Love (uBRDO Team Project) are just on the outside, looking in, and could move up with a strong final race.

McDonald Builds Momentum for Final Round:

Spencer Paxson (Team S&M) jumped off the front of the Men’s Elite field, looking to send a message early. A large chase group of Zach McDonald (Stevens/Classic Cycles), Logan Owen, Toby Swanson (Benaroya Research Institute), Steve Fisher (Rad Racing/Hagens Berman), Russell Stevenson (Benaroya Research Institute) and Logan Wetzel (Benaroya Research Institute) formed and took up the duty of dragging Paxson back. Sensing perhaps they were not up to the task, McDonald quickly slipped off the front and worked to bridge the gap on his own.

McDonald’s move put more pressure on the chase group, ejecting Fisher. Soon after, McDonald completed the bridge to Paxson. The two worked together to remain ahead of the chase, which had shed Stevenson and Wetzel. McDonald began turning the screws on Paxson, forcing him to expend precious energy to stay with the lead. Wetzel was able to pull back into the chase group, making it Owen, Swanson and Wetzel. The three looked focused and chased hard; but the gap to the lead two was too much to overcome.

On the front, late in the race, McDonald was finally able to snap the elastic on Paxson and begin pulling away with a steady effort. McDonald went on to take the solo victory in a convincing manner. Paxson maintained his gap on the chase for a well-earned second. Owen dropped out of the chase late, leaving teammates Swanson and Wetzel to decide third place. Wetzel claimed the final podium spot.

With the victory, McDonald has the momentum going into the final race of the series. With the drop race figured in, Swanson leads by 10 points. With double points on the line, Swanson, McDonald, Wetzel and Fisher control their own destinies. If one of those four wins, they take the series. With a stellar performance, and some help, Richard McClung (Hagens-Berman) and Owen have a shot at a podium spot still.


Elite Men:

1 Zack McDonald Stevens/Classic Cycle
2 Spencer Paxson Team S&M
3 Logan Wetzel Beneroya Research Institute
4 Toby Swanson Benaroya Research Institute
5 Logan Owen Redline Bicycles
6 John-Christian Flack Valley Athletic Club
7 Steve Fisher Rad Racing NW / Hagens Berman
8 Kyle McGilvray Old Town Bicycles
9 Richard McClung Hagens-Berman LLP Cycling
10 Carl Hulit Recycled Cycles
11 Alex Wilson Recycled Cycles
12 Steven Williams Recycled Cycles
13 Landon Erickson Cucina Fresca
14 Aaron Mickels Beneroya Research Institute
15 Eric Emsky Rad Racing NW/Hagens Berman
16 Russell Stevenson Benaroya Research Institute
17 Mark Hanson BRI
18 Ben Rathkamp WWU
19 Joe Brennan Hagens Berman LLP
20 Nick Solheim First Rate Mortgage

Elite Women:

1 Kristi Berg Redline Bicycles
2 Ann Knapp Kona
3 Jadine Riley Team Group Health
4 Beth Lyndon-Griffith Hagens Berman
5 Elizabeth Marzolf Hagens Berman
6 Lee Smith Team Group Health
7 Anne Love uBRDO Team Project
8 Lea Stralka Byrne Invent
9 Nicola Mann