In the not-so-quiet corner of the world that is the Seattle cyclocross scene, the Woodland Park Grand Prix is regarded by many as the prestige cyclocross event. It’s the race to hit, and the party to be in. As such, 948 racers and many more fans made their way to the popular venue in the heart of town this past Sunday afternoon to experience a day at the races. As the perennial finale to the MFG Cyclocross Series since 2008, Woodland Park buzzes with an extra level of energy, extra cowbell, extra Nutella on the waffles, and extra bubbles in the foam party. In the Elite Men’s division, this year saw the series overall title on the line with a tight battle between Kona team rider Spencer Paxson and curly-bar sensation Steve Fisher. The “Woodland Park Bout” was fast and tight, but not so much that there wasn’t time for a little revelry on the SSCXWC-esque “Slip-n-Slide” bonus line mid-race. Spencer went on to win the day aboard his Super Jake. Read on for a few of the highlight moments.
A little bit prestige cyclocross, a little bit SSCXWC shenanigans, the infamous Seattle Hodala Crew put on a serious party on the back end of the course with a Slip-n-Slide A-Line, where riders had the choice of vaulting over a pile of wood palettes and sliding down the hill through a wave of foam. “This is sort of a metaphor for my career as a cyclist”, said Spencer, speaking of the foam party line mid-race. “Fast and fun…we may look all serious in our coordinated spandex suits, but it doesn’t mean we don’t look forward to getting loose and having a good time in the process. Top racing moment right here. Thanks, Hodala Crew!”
What’s a race without a bit of fun hype before the race to highlight the tight duel between the two Bellingham riders Fisher and Paxson? The Series Overall was on the line going into the 6th and final round of the MFG Series, with Spencer trailing in second by a scant four points. Fisher, a graduate of Kona’s prestigious Rad Racing Northwest program, is an accomplished North American professional road racer and ‘cross racer, known for a sharp sprint, serious power, and savvy tactics. He and Spencer had dueled all season, with “The Fish” taking several sprint finishes by a hair. As for Spencer, he says, “my edge is actually on the runs, or when it gets really gnarly and cold.” With mild conditions slated for Sunday, the stage was set for an exciting race. With a tight points bracket, Spencer would have to win, with “The Fish” in 4th place or worse, in order to take the series. While a win for Spencer was in the cards, a low finish for Fisher was unlikely. Regardless, it was gentlemanly, high-class, gloves off racing from the gun!
Grabbing the holeshot off the start line, Spencer sports the new pink-on-black-on-blue and the new Super Jake. Conditions were tacky and fast on Sunday. “With high speeds, the margin for getting out ahead is tighter, so the start was pretty hot,” noted Spencer.
A tight and exciting duel all day between Spencer and rival Steve Fisher, along with 2013 Masters World Champ and Seattle legend Russel Stevenson. Spencer would emerge victorious with a decisive last-lap attack on a steep run-up around 600-meters before the finish.
Tech notes from Spencer: “I’m running a 54cm Super Jake frame with a 90mm, -17deg stem and 44cm bars, 2×11 Shimano Ultegra Drivetrain, 172.5mm cranks and XTR 11-40 cassette in the back (40t limited out). For tires today I ran the WTB Riddler 37c at 24psi and 25psi front and rear, respectively. For reference, my system weight is approximately 170lbs/77kg (rider and bike combined). Conditions were fast and tacky with only a bit of need for some bite in the high-speed corners, which made this tread profile and supple tubeless feel a good option.”
Spencer took the win on the day, and Fisher would retain the series lead by a couple points.
With the traditional North American cyclocross season winding down in most parts of the US (for Europeans, it’s just getting rolling, and will go until February!), riders are either preparing to give the bikes a rest, or keep up with their local series, and maybe even thinking about plans for the next season already. In Washington, there is still a State Championship on the line, as well as other series to wrap up, including the Seattle Cyclocross Revolution and Northwest Cyclocross Cup, and Bellingham’s Cascade Cross Series which will go into December and January. The cyclocross scene, while already hot in the Northwest, is sure to heat up even more as the 2019 Cyclocross National Championships approach – taking place in Tacoma, Washington. When asked about future plans for a deeper pursuit of ‘cross, Spencer alludes to considering a “long game” for ‘Cross Nat’s, but for now, time for a beer.