Chris Sheppard managed to ignore a broken thumb to repeat his win from last weekend in the men’s race at the second round of the Cross Crusade series Sunday in Rainier, Oregon, as defending series champ, Wendy Williams renewed last year’s season-long battle with arch rival Alice Pennington.
A heavy morning downpour created soupy conditions for the day’s earlier races, offering up a healthy dose of that infamous Oregon mud, a `cross tradition in those parts. The afternoon brought clearing skies and the sun began drying things out just in time for the men’s and women’s A race start at 3 p.m.
The course at Rainier High School featured a monster off-camber grass section that triggered several pile-ups, each of which was marked by a clash of cymbals struck by a spectator positioned strategically on the course. Riders also faced plenty of climbing (some paved, some dirt) and extended, fast descents.
Sheppard v. McGrath
After one lap, the men’s race turned into a battle between Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) and Adam McGrath (Feedback-Van Dessel), who had 20 seconds on the strung-out chase about halfway through the second lap.
“On a course like this, where it’s super greasy, it helps to be able to pick your own lines,” McGrath said of his motivation for making it tough very early in the race. “A lot of people had to run that back section in the woods, and if you could get into that carrying momentum, you could ride most of it. I just wanted to establish that early, because when it’s muddy I feel pretty good.”
Sheppard, who injured his thumb in last week’s series opener, was the only rider able to hold on when McGrath shot away on the slippery climbs, and the pair soon found themselves in a two-man fight for the win as they flew over the long and technical course.
“We were able to hit all the lines really fast the first two laps,” Sheppard said of his escape with McGrath. “We hit the climbs and created that separation. Adam was really strong, so I was able to lead in certain sections and he took over in others.”
The arrangement helped build the lead duo’s advantage, and it also allowed the competitors to size each other up.
“I was able to see where he was making mistakes, and he knew where mine were,” Sheppard said. “And I was able to capitalize.”
Sheppard made his move on the penultimate lap as the pair climbed out of the grass and onto the wooded climb, gaining a small advantage. As McGrath’s bridging effort started to close the gap, Sheppard attacked again on a downhill section and this time was able to stick his advantage all the way to the line. McGrath, who wore the bloody reminders of a close encounter with the fences while chasing Sheppard, crossed the line about 23 seconds later. Skerritt led in the scattered field several minutes later. Molly Cameron (Portland Bicycle Studio) finished fourth. Michael Gallagher (Cyclocross Racing) was fifth.
Williams v. Pennington
With last week’s winner Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru) competing at the UCI3 race in Ohio, River City Bicycles’ Williams, the 2009 series winner, renewed her battle for the season crown with last year’s runner up Pennington from Team S&M.
Williams’ teammate Brigette Brown delivered the heat first, with Pennington taking over the lead during the first lap and building a small gap over the River City pair as the women mixed with traffic from the back of the Masters field that started minutes before them.
Williams eventually dropped Brown and then reeled in Pennington on the backside climb on the second lap. Within half a lap she grabbed the lead on the off-camber mud section at the other end of the course after a Pennington mistake. From there it was matter of applying the pressure and staying focused in the technical conditions.
Pennington almost closed the gap as the pair hit the start/finish hill, but she wasn’t quite able to make contact. After that she lost the snap in her legs.
“I didn’t really feel like I had much punch in the hills,” Pennington said. “So I just tried to stay in second place.”
Pennington succeeded in fending off a chase by Serena Bishop (Sunnyside Sports), who finished two spots better than last week in third. Brown crossed the line fourth. Abby Watson (Embrocation Cycling Journal) was fifth.
Williams said the difference between last week, when she finished third behind Pennington, and this week, came down to a question of health.
“Last week I was battling a cold,” Williams said. “I’m starting to feel better, and climbing always helps me. The climb is super tough, and there was a lot of technical mud.”
Pennington said despite slipping back into a familiar runner-up spot behind Williams, she’ll be back gunning for the win each week.
“We’re both competitive people,” she said. “So I think the motivation will be there.”
Cross Crusade No.2, Sunday, October 10, 2010
Rainier High School
- 1. Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles)
- 2. Adam McGrath (Feedback/Van Dessel)
- 3. Shannon Skerritt (Corsa Concepts)
- 4. Molly Cameron (Portland Bicycle Studio)
- 5. Michael Gallagher (Cyclocross Racing)
- 6. Eirik Schulz (Specialized River City)
- 7. Ben Thompson (Rocky Mountain Bicycles)
- 8. Eric Sheagley (Veloce Racing)
- 9. Ian Brown (Specialized River City)
- 10. Brett Luelling (BuyLocal.com)