“Everyone with green bar tape can move forward!” After going through a short list of names, the staging area took a turn for the unconventional. Call-up based on tape colour? This was new. Even though I knew it was black, I glanced down at my tape hoping it had magically changed colours. With a pack of 71 racers surrounding me, I really wanted a good start position. “White bar tape next!” Damn. Still black. “Black tape can move up” Bingo! I sprang forward, along with most of the remaining racers, trying to weasel my way into any open space in front of me. It turns out black is popular. Once call-ups were finished, we rolled forward en masse from staging to the start line and I squeaked in closer, but was
still a long way from the front.
I have been frequently crossing the border to race in Bellingham, but this is my first MFG Cyclocross experience. Thankfully our Nexus cards make heading south much easier. Cruising past 90 minutes worth of frustrated people waiting impatiently on the hoods of their cars, we pulled up to the border booth in smug satisfaction after only a six minute delay. Arriving to a packed parking lot at Woodland Park, it was immediately apparent that the MFG races are bigger than any to which I have been. A good turnout at home pulls in 250-270 racers for the entire day, but here the Cat 4/Cat 4 Masters race alone had 184 participants. The food vendors provided coffee and breakfast to those not yet fully awake or needing a last minute pick me up before the race. Sponsor tents lined the pedestrian path offering free samples of energy bars and hydration drinks, much to my kids’ delight. The organization of the event was top notch, but with over 1200 registered riders spread out over 29 categories, it had to be.
I have often heard the Woodland Park course described as a favourite by many in the Pacific Northwest cyclocross scene, and after finally getting a chance to experience it, I have to agree. The course snaked through scattered leaves that lit up the park with fall colours. Two consecutive run ups followed by a gravel climb gave enough elevation to make for thrilling descents with flowy corners. The onslaught of mud tested everyone’s handling abilities and the size of the categories made for exciting races. Early rain had softened the course up and the fickle weather throughout the race kept everyone guessing as to what to wear. Spectator participation was high and the infamous Hodala Corner – a tight corner where the Hodala crew have set up camp with a foam snow machine, disco ball and blaring music complete with hecklers shouting words of “encouragement – was in full swing. When I wandered over during the juniors race the heckles were a bit more restrained than in my race when they were letting them fly. I was usually too focused on hitting the one rut that would take me through the corner safely without an embarrassing crash to pay attention to how poorly they were telling me I was doing, but “You’re not last…yet!” is the one that stands out. Not the most creative heckle, but I imagine after hurtling hundreds of slogans at passing riders, there will be some duds. Another popular viewing area was at the second run up where I managed to take my first dollar bill hand up. Sort of. After spotting a bill that fell out of an outstretched hand, I grabbed it only to fumble and drop it when trying to stuff it into my skinsuit. Up in Canada, where the smallest bill is a $5, we don’t get much practice with monetary hand ups.
The horn sounded and we were off on a short stretch of pavement before dropping into the first sweeping muddy corner. Riders were immediately sliding out on the mud, but I managed to stay clear of trouble. We were bunched up tight, and it remained that way for most of the first lap. It was a tough balancing act to ride close enough to pass at the first opportunity but still be able to avoid any carnage. The crowd made picking lines difficult, but thankfully when we hit the first run up there was enough space for me to power through and ride it. It was marginally faster than running, but it did provide an advantage, and as a bonus earned some cheers from the crowd.
I seemed to be passing more than I was being passed, but coming into the end of the first lap my wife called out that I was 33rd. I had moved up, but I was still a long way from the front. I knew that with the muddy conditions, the corners would be the place to pass. I cornered aggressively, coming in fast and keeping off the brakes as much as I could. In most cases I was able to carry my speed through, but I had to keep my inside foot unclipped for balance. It might not be the most graceful technique, as one heckler yelled “get your foot back in and ride!”, but it did allow for added stability when my rear wheel wandered.
The closest I came to crashing was when an adjacent rider attempted to remove his arm warmers causing his bike to swerve, narrowly missing me. Many did not make it through unscathed. A transition from mud onto a sheet of plywood, and then onto the wet pavement became a spectacle for the fans. From watching previous races I knew this was a crash point and I took it very slow each lap. My wife remarked that it seemed every tenth racer was slipping out and slamming down on the pavement only to get back up slightly dazed to hop back on the bike. Dedication and determination prevailed and for a course that saw so many crashes, there were surprisingly only two DNFs in our category.
I managed to stay upright and fought my way up enough to finish 17th out of 71 in the Cat 3 Masters 35+ category. Having never raced an MFG event, I had no preconceptions on where I would finish and I was happy with my result. A top ten would have been nice, but it gives me something to shoot for next year. Now that I’ve seen what Woodland Park has to offer, I definitely want more.