UPDATE: The complete Cycling Action photo gallery for this race is now posted online HERE.
SHERWOOD -- Popular Portland ‘crosser Molly Cameron (Portland Bicycle Studio) took the win during the Cross Crusade Sunday in Sherwood when series leader Sean Babcock (Team S&M) flatted in the closing laps of the Men’s A race. Despite taking a tumble on the last lap, Masters national champion Wendy Williams (Hudz-Subaru) continued her dominance over the Women’s A field when she won her third straight in another tight back-and-forth battle with Veloforma’s Alice Pennington.
Approximately 1,300 racers showed up at the Sherwood Equestrian Park south of Portland for the third installment of the eight-race series. The incessantly bumpy and often-vertical course started on some upper pasture slopes before swooping into the woods for some extended singletrack and then a grinding climb with a heartbreaker kicking pitch back to the finish. The course offered a little bit of everything, but the clearing skies failed to provide the key ingredient for mud.
Williams and Pennington wasted little time renewing their duel in the 60-minute Women’s A race. The Hudz-Subaru rider struck first, opening a small gap with Serena Bishop of Bend’s Sunnyside Sports while Pennington chased behind after dropping her chain.
“That happened on the second lap,” Pennington said of the mechanical mishap. “That’s where I lost contact with Wendy and the Sunnyside rider.”
While Williams whittled Bishop off her lead pace at the front, Pennington mounted a furious chase behind and was able to catch up with the Sunnyside rider with about two laps remaining.
“On the next lap I caught up with Wendy,” Pennington said. “But it took the whole race. And then I just didn’t have it. She just stomped it on the last climbs and I didn’t have it anymore.”
Williams, who said the course required lots of power “and maybe some finesse through the corners,” took a tumble on the last lap but was able to quickly regain her rival.
“Alice just passed right on through,” she said of the last lap dramatics. “Luckily I was able to catch back on and we went through the barriers together. I got onto the road first and just put the hammer down. I didn’t want it to go to a sprint finish.”
Pennington has now finished second to Williams twice, and she finished third in Rainier behind Seattle rider Kari Studley. Williams continues to pile onto her series lead and shows no signs of letting up, which doesn’t seem to deter Pennington.
“It’s just a matter of getting more fitness so that I can actually attack and drop her,” Pennington said.
In the men’s race, the powerful duo of Erik Tonkin (Kona) and Babcock set off on a blitzkrieg pace reminiscent of their field-detonating effort the week before at Rainier.
“We were hoping to try and break down that lead group a little smaller and then see if we couldn’t getaway,” Babcock said. “So that worked out really well.”
The plan worked very well, just like it did the week before when Babcock won with Tonkin following in second. In fact, the pair finished third and fourth during the opener at Alpenrose, and but for the presence of Kona stars Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks snagging the top two spots, Tonkin and Babcock have had a virtual headlock on the Men’s A series.
But Cameron, who just returned from several NACT races back east, including a 6th place finish at UCI Cincinnati, wasn’t content to sit back and watch that happen. The Portland pro chased hard after a slow start and soon caught Tonkin, who had slipped off the Team S&M rider’s lead pace.
“Babcock’s definitely the strongest rider in Oregon right now,” Cameron said. “And I knew this course really suited Tonkin and Babcock because it’s so mountain-bikey and lots of singletrack, but I got up to the front pretty well.”
The cyclocross world cup veteran quickly hit a snag and pitted on the first lap for a mechanical, and by the time Cameron got back to the front, Babcock had motored away from Tonkin, who was chasing in second.
“I felt OK, and I was still motoring,” Cameron said. “I motored up to Erik and I attacked every time up the climb. We were reeling Babcock in, but I tried to drop Erik for three laps, and when Babcock finally stuck it, me and Erik were both wasted and backed off for a lap.”
That’s when Babcock built a lead of about a minute and seemed to be cruising to his second series win. But the plan and its flawless execution unraveled when his tire started to lose air. And with Cameron charging fast from behind, it didn’t look good for Babcock.
“I was hoping I could get to the pit before I got caught, but Molly and Erik were going pretty fast,” he said.
With Cameron and Tonkin riding away to the finish, Babcock seemed relegated to chasing for leftovers. But Tonkin -- who previously joked that he’s training Babcock to take his spot when Kona fires him -- played the perfect-teammate card and eased up, allowing the young rider past to collect the second-place series points.
“Erik and Sean were playing good teammates,” Cameron said. “I just opened a good gap, and he couldn’t close it down. It was a really good course. I have to admit, of all the places I could win, I’m just completely shocked I could win here. There’s a lot of singletrack. I think I just got a lucky break.”
But it’s a lucky break that could pay big dividends later as Cameron tries to battle past the Babcock/Tonkin one-two punch and take the overall series crown.
“(Babcock) can outclimb me any day of the week,” Cameron admitted. “But if we can get some good tactical races and some good technical races, I might be able to take him.”
Cameron said the race for the overall is still very wide open.
“Tonkin will be there,” Cameron said. “And Chris Sheppard (Santa Cruz/Shimano/WTB) should be back out here soon. And who knows when Barry (Wicks) and Ryan (Trebon) will be back. But I’m here for the rest of the series.”
Babcock will be back, too, and he said next week’s decidedly flatter course at the Washington County Fairgrounds should create another big battle for series points.
“We’ll probably have to figure where on the course we can really attack; maybe in a bumpy section or in a turns section,” Babcock said. “Kevin Hulick (Vanilla Workshop) is really good at the accelerations and the cornering like that, so it could get interesting. It’ll be good.”
And how did Babcock feel about this week’s bad luck and his missed chance for consecutive wins?
“It was the perfect course for it,” he said. “But with that flat tire, it made it kind of difficult. Oh, well. There are a lot of races left in the season.”
(Check back later for the complete Cycling Action photo gallery for this race).
Cross Crusade #3
Sherwood Equestrian Park
1. Molly Cameron (Portland Bicycle Studio)
2. Sean Babcock (Team S&M)
3. Erik Tonkin (Kona)
4. Kevin Hulick (Vanilla Workshop)
5. David Roth (Signal Cycles)
1. Wendy Williams (Hudz-Subaru)
2. Alice Pennington (Veloforma)
3. Serena Bishop (Sunnyside Sports)
4. Rhonda Mazza (Team S&M)
5. Erin Playman (Gentle Lovers)
MASTERS MEN A
1. Eirik Schulz (Specialized/River City)
2. John McCaffrey (Bicycleattorney.com)
3. John Mitchem (Guinness)
4. John Bravard (Cyclepath)
5. Tim Butler (River City Bicycles)
MASTERS WOMEN A
1. Renee Scott (Sunnyside Sports)
2. Julie Swearingen (Mounatin View Cycles)
3. Rhonda Morin (Sorella Forte)
4. Jill Hardiman (Dirty Finger)
5. Eileen Kelly-Foulston (Sorella Forte)
1. Seth Patla (River City Bicycles)
2. John Rollert (Webcyclery)
3. Luke Demoe (HTFU)
4. Craig Etterige
5. Leland Gilmore (River City Bicycles)