Sunday, October 15, 2017
By Nina and Robert Milligan
Everyone knows cyclocross is the most social form of bicycle racing. It really showed today at MFG Cyclocross’s Race #4 at Magnuson Park, along the shore of Lake Washington and on a gorgeous 55-degree cloudless day. No rain, no mud today, just grass, gravel and pavement, and full-on social.
On arrival, anyone walking through the long gauntlet of tents immediately sensed the growing buzz. Throngs of racers, friends and family talked intensely, riders weaving through crowds in the narrow alley in both directions, scurrying to prepare for their event. The scene had the atmosphere of a Turkish bazaar, with bartering merchants selling meats hung on racks (the bikes), tents displaying fine linens (team kits and branded clothing), and the aroma of sizzling food and spices (food vendors). There was even a minaret, the scaffolding atop the MFG truck with announcer Alex Walker calling all to gather.
One’s second sense of turned-on social buzz was at the huge starts, with racers queuing up and waiting impatiently for the race official to get them organized. One hundred eighty-one racers crowded up for the four 10:20am starts, sounding like a huge party and talking so loudly it seemed like being in one of Seattle’s largest pubs where one has to yell to be heard.
This thriving community and social spirit embodies the love of ‘cross in the NW. All of the day’s 950 racers (including 141 youth riders) were engaged with one another.
And of course, we had to ask racers, was it social when racing, too? Top Elite Men and Elite Women felt that even in the thick of their battles, they were among well-known friends, ‘hanging out’ for a 60-minute social, giving each other turns at leading and drafting. Many racers said it was only during their last lap that chatter stopped and racing got downright non-social.
Most riders commented about this venue and the dry mud-free day as being like a road race, with long grassy stretches and hard-packed dirt, gravel, and a paved speedway section, a day where higher pressure tires and drafting were winning strategies. Only one dissonant racer, an elite woman who’s more a mountain biker said, “not hilly enough, not muddy enough for me.” Well, the real NW weather is forecast, be patient!
The Men’s Cat 1/2 elites were dominated by Steve Fisher – 1st place (McGovern Cycles/FSA CX), Spencer Paxson 2nd (Kona), and Stephen Ettinger 3rd (Focus/Shimano). All three hung tightly together through the race, trading places and finishing with tight half-second gaps, 1-2-3 – vroom! Fourth place after only three seconds was captured by series newcomer “mystery rider” Joe Maloney (B & L Bicycles/Trek). With two more races in the series, Fisher confidently leads, with Paxon, McCleerey (Ravenna Capital Management), and Ettinger all vying closely for 2nd and 3rd.
Women’s Cat 1/2 elites were a familiar band of top riders, also with very close finishes, won by Monica Lloyd (Olympia Orthopedic Associates), five seconds ahead of Gina Estep 2nd (Group Health) and ten seconds before Stephanie Taplin (Indigenous Wheel Co). These three hung out together the whole race, and on the last hill before the speedway finish Lloyd jumped at the last gravel hill ascent and created the necessary separation to capture a win. In series points, the women’s elite is led by Lloyd; close behind are Estep and Taplin. And so close in points, these leaders will need to work hard in the two remaining races to retain their positions.
Special thanks to lead sponsor NUUN, who provided hydration product trophies and to the food vendors who treated racers and spectators with delicious morning and lunch eats, and coffee drinks. And to the all the volunteers who guided bikes, pedestrians and cars!
Next race on deck is November 5th, North 40 CX P/B THE ATHLETIC, at Marymount Event Center south of Tacoma. Expect a genuine NW ‘cross race that’s colder, wetter and muddier at what is becoming known as one of the best courses in the region.