Hard-core run-up © Dave Roth

Hard-core run-up © Dave Roth

by Josh Liberles

It’s two days after the Battle at Barlow race in Gresham, just outside of Portland, Oregon, and I’m still finding small bits of mud lingering under my eyelids. The first clump found my eyeball about 50 meters after the start, when the staging chute instantly funneled the initial corral of riders from 12 wide to six. Racers went from chugging along to suddenly careening downhill, perpendicular to the course, and chaos, of course, ensued. One year ago this was a dry, fast, almost dusty affair, but for 2010 we faced what most think of as true Northwest ’cross weather. And if the twisty tracks across peanut-butter mud weren’t enough, a high-speed, slick descent into a barrier, followed by a rooty downhill run, then a quad-crippling run-up with gigantic railroad tie steps sapped any juice left in the legs and air remaining in the lungs.

To call it a race of attrition would be a gross understatement – it was survival out there, and several riders – and derailleurs – didn’t make it. A long, rutted, off-camber grass section before the final pavement leading to the start/finish meant more running for most mere mortal bike handlers, and extra opportunities to take ground samples for those with the hubris to think they could pedal their way through – I had mud inside my chamois and grass lodged between chainrings and into pedal recesses to prove it.

Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) didn’t seem to slow much for the trying conditions – he took flight early

Sheppard with Tonkin in pursuit © Dave Roth

Sheppard with Tonkin in pursuit © Dave Roth

and held his lead all the way to the finish in the Elite men’s race. Erik Tonkin (Kona-FSA) set off in pursuit after battling through traffic, but the course conditions proved a rude re-introduction to the sport. It takes a lot to frustrate the hard man and local legend , but carrying around 20 extra pounds of mud and making periodic stops to clear the drivetrain and tires can do that. Tonkin, who commuted the 30-or-so miles to the race on the same Michelin Mud clinchers he raced on, had a challenging first day of the season on his ‘cross bike. “I was the only one chasing Chris, but had a lot of trouble with my gummed-up drive train,” said Tonkin. “It was a tough day for my first race [of the season]. I’m hoping to ride home, too – if this thing will work, I gotta find the hose!” [See our article in Issue 10 on Bike Race Commuters]

Michael Gallagher ( caught Tonkin just before the finish and came around to take a hard-fought second place. “The first row got off, and the second row that I was in got held up by a yard-sale crash, so there was a pretty big split,” said Gallagher. “I just had to work it steady, and came back little by little. I tried to keep it smooth and make fewer mistakes, and I finally started to see the front of the race.”

Several Team S&M riders sought out extra pain, appropriately enough. Could it have been that the orange and blue kits looked like they housed nectar, or did they just have a knack for finding the bee’s nest lap after lap? I don’t pretend to understand bee’s eyes or minds, but Cary Miller (Team S&M) wasn’t content with one calf pin-prick – he made sure to even out the pain on the other side a couple of laps later.

Alice Pennington chased by Brigette Brown © Dave Roth

Alice Pennington chased by Brigette Brown © Dave Roth

In the Elite women’s race, Alice Pennington (Team S&M) charged off the start line to grab the early lead, but Brigette Brown (River City Bicycles) would eventually whittle away at the gap and ride away with the win. “I had a good gap early, then got stung by a bee going through the blackberry bushes,” said Pennington. “Then my front brake packed up with mud pretty good…and I started not riding smoothly. Brigette was riding a lot smoother through all that stuff. She caught me, gapped me, and held that the rest of the race.” A mishap ensured there’d be no comeback for Pennington: “I crashed pretty hard going down towards the barriers near the end.”

The best heckle of the day came from two women on the long, make-you-want-to-quit run-up to a racer just behind me (at least that’s what I’m telling myself): “Shave that mustache and lose some weight, you’ll go faster!”

Results below photos

Photo Gallery by Dave Roth:

Elite Men’s Top Ten:

  1. Chris Sheppard – Rocky Mtn Bicycles
  2. Michael Gallagher – Cyclocross Racing
  3. Erik Tonkin – Team S+M
  4. Ian Brown – River City Bicycles
  5. Brett Luelling – Buy Local Cycling
  6. Michael Benno – Veloce Racing
  7. Steven Hunter – Embrocation Cycling Journal
  8. Matthew Wills
  9. Ben Thompson
  10. Benjamin Kubas – Therapeutic Associates Cycling/GENR8

Elite Women’s Top Ten:

  1. Brigette Brown – River City Bicycles
  2. Alice Pennington – Team S+M
  3. Brenda Lopez-Otero – Bend Memorial Clinic Total Care Racing Team
  4. Abby Watson – Embrocation Cycling Journal
  5. Colleen McClanahan – Sorrella Forte
  6. Rachel Bagley – Motor Dome
  7. Sarah Eustis –
  8. Margie Bradway – Team S+M
  9. Anona Whitley – Ironclad Performance Wear
  10. Erin Playman – Gentle Lovers