Sheppard took the win in Cross Crusades at Bend, Oregon. © Pat Malach

Chris Sheppard rode to an impressive win Saturday at Crusade #4. © Pat Malach

BEND, OREGON – In the shadow of a Ferris wheel spinning away on the course infield, Cross Crusade #4 in Bend was a day for dual displays of domination as Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) and Jade Wilcoxson (Optum Pro Cycling) rode away with the Elite men’s and women’s races by commanding margins.

The Crusaders traveled over the Cascade Range and into Central Oregon for the Halloween weekend “Cyclo du Soleil” double header that ends Sunday with the infamous costume race. But the serious race faces were out in full force Saturday as nearly 900 riders competed on the familiar former nationals course at Deschutes Brewery.

Sheppard, who also won races #1 and #3, left little doubt about what was going to happen during Saturday’s festivities. The reigning Canadian national champion opened up a gap on the first lap as Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus) and Carl Decker (Giant) brought up the chase behind. Sheppard sailed over the dusty, rocky course that had soaked up a week of rain but had dried out nicely by race time.

Although Jones appeared to be on form and was the first chaser early in the race, Decker overtook him about halfway through the 60-minute event and hung on for the runner-up spot, finishing almost 90 seconds down on Sheppard. Jones kept his third position. Shannon Skerritt (Corsa Concepts) crossed the line fourth, while Ben Thompson (Bend
Broadband-Wecyclery) rounded out the top five.

Saturday’s win was further confirmation that Sheppard is on track for his title defense at Canadian nationals in November.

“My training has been ramping up,” Sheppard said of his current form. “I didn’t do Vegas or any of the early stuff. With my old age I’ve really had to pick and choose this year. I’ve had some injuries and blah, blah, blah, the usual stuff.  It just seems when you’re older it’s harder to recover from. I’m looking forward to the Cincinnati races after this and then the Canadian Championships.”

On course at the same time were the elite women. Wilcoxson, the road pro who is racing her first full cyclocross season, had a much easier time of it Saturday than she did at the series opener on Oct. 7, when she battled Serena Bishop Gordon (Silverado Gallery/Sunnyside) throughout the race at Alpenrose and only opened the winning gap on the last lap. Wilcoxson didn’t wait as
long this time, opening a sizable gap on the first lap as Megan Weaver (Gates-Rapha-River City Bicycles) led the chase, followed by Tina Brubaker (Speedvagen) and finally Bishop Gordon.

As Wilcoxson added to her lead each lap, Bishop Gordon fought back from a slow start and slowly worked her way into the second spot, eventually finishing about a minute behind the leader, who rode one more lap than the rest of the field. Brubaker rode her way into the third spot, while Weaver hung on for fourth. Laura Winberry (Speedvagen) finished fifth.

Wilcoxson now leads the series heading into Sunday’s costume race. The rider from Talen, Oregon, who volunteered for Optum’s cyclocross team, said her success this year has come as a bit of a surprise, even though she first got into cycling through mountain biking.

“It’s amazing how quickly you lose those skills, though,” Wilcoxson said. “When you become a roadie you become really fearful of dirt and gravel. It’s just ingrained in you – every corner with dirt is bad. So you have to retrain your brain a little bit.”

Wilcoxson said she’s got a caterpillar costume lined up for tomorrow’s race, which she said is one of her personal favorites. “That’s why I had to come back,” she said. “The rest of my team is in Boulder, but I was like, ‘No I can’t miss Halloween in Bend.’ So I talked them into letting me stay here.”

Jade Wilcoxson earned her second Crusade win of 2012 Saturday. © Pat Malach

Jade Wilcoxson earned her second Crusade win of 2012 Saturday. © Pat Malach

Cyclo du Soleil
The theme of this year’s Halloween weekend is “Cyclo du Soleil.” The festivities started Friday evening with the Opening Ceremonies and early registration at the Deschutes Brewery Warehouse. The 4th annual Clydesdale CX Championship of the Universe, which started when Bend hosted the national championships, will begin at 8:30 Saturday night.

There will be a guaranteed crowd as a party in the Deschutes Brewery warehouse starts at 8 p.m. and runs until 2 a.m. The real craziness starts up on Sunday when the beer flows and the costumed racers come pouring onto the course under the watchful eyes of fans catching a ride on the Ferris wheel. Just another weekend at the Cross Crusade.

Preliminary Results

Elite Women
1. Jade Wilcoxson (Optum-Kelly benefit Strategies) 1:04:49
2. Serena Bishop Gordon (Silverado Gallery/Sunnyside) 0:58:46
3. Tina Brubaker (Speedvagen) :059:32
4. Megan Weaver (Gates-rapha-River City Bicycles) 0:59:57
5. Laura Winberry (Speedvagen) 1:00:23

Elite Men
1. Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) 1:01:14
2. Carl Decker (Giant Bicycles)
3. Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus) 1:03:06
4. Shannon Skerritt (Corsa concepts) 1:03:47
5. Ben Thompson (Bend Broadband-Wecyclery) 1:03:51