Men's A cross is interesting in Montana. There's no dominant force. John Curry was the killer early on winning Butte, and Missoula, but mechanicals have kept him out of the hunt consistently. Both Doug and Clint seem to have the power, but we've only seen them in a handleful of races. Frank and Bill are consistent racers, put between the two of them we've only seen one victory. It seems like they were all just one piece away from dominating this year's series. It's good to see strong riders get into the cross scene. This year Ben Parsons, and Bob Presta jumped right in and raced well. With these guys and the addition of some strong B's, the men's A field should be stronger for next year.
The Fort Missoula course's are a different breed. No matter how hard we try the course's always end up being flat and fast. I think using the Fort will change the outcome of the race. It will favor powerful riders. Since the Missoula series was held there, the local riders do have a bit of an advantage. Here are my predictions for the race. Feel free to leave comments - with your predictions???
1st Place: Doug "The Missing Link" Shryock
He's the only one who's beaten all the favorites atleast once this season. Now, we could argue that in some of those races folks had mechanicals, but as we know mechanicals are a part of cross. Doug takes the victory, by using Fort Missoula knowledge, and man strength. He confirms his unreal cyclocross potential. He's the only one who can race in a group and on his own. He's patient in a group, but can get into the chamber if he needs to grab a wheel or go on the attack.
2nd Place: John Curry
He's had a great season in all aspects of cycling. He deserves a podium place. The only time John has not been in the hunt for the victory was because of mechanicals. He's strong enough, and has the confidence. I'm sure most folks have noticed this but he's been riding a steel Bianchi Volpe (touring bike), I used to rock this bike - it's super heavy! Were talking like 30lbs! I think there will be a selection at the front which John will easily make. I also think he will be one of the people pushing the tempo trying to shed riders and get on his own.
3rd Place: Frank Gonzalez
Frank's a great cross racer. He's hot after his first win at Helena, and has the speed to be in the hunt at the championship. Like John, Frank will make the selection. I like Frank's cross skills, and race knowledge, but JC and Doug have a little more power and will slip past in the closing laps of the race. Frank is a killer rider on his own, if he gets by himself watch out. If there is a pile up, Frank will squirt away.
4th Place: Phil Grove
He's got two wins at the Fort this season. He hasn't been racing much recently, but Grove is always good for a result. It's super hard not to pick him considering his natural talent, and what he brings to the table. Like the other guys, Phil will make the first selection. Both him and Doug work well together, and that will benefit both of them. Watch out for the Club Passion Alliance, as Phil will work for Doug and vice versa if one is not feeling well. Grove wants to end his season on a high.
5th Place: Clint Muhlfeld
It's really hard to not pick Clint. He's got like a 50% win rate when he finishs races. I don't know if he's going to show or not, but I hope he does. He really makes the race interesting. The race dynamics change without him. Without Clint the race will start slower, and people like Phil, Doug, and Bill Martin will be able to get their feet underneath them. Doug and Phil would much rather be in a group and use some road tactics, then be in the chamber following Clint's wheel for the first 20 minutes. If Clint is there the hole shot will become crucial to who can hang on. If you don't have a good start your out.
If the race is slower at first, which I think it might be look for Bill Martin, Scotty Herzig, Toby M, and Parsons to be up there. If Bill is near the front early on then that is a good sign for him. I wouldn't be suprised to seem him in the top 3 if that's the case. I like Scotty in this race for two reasons. One he's good on road biker friendly courses with some flats, and two he's an excellent teamate, and will be very motivated to make any selection to help Frank. Also, Scott has a good start so even if someone goes bannanas at the start, theres a chance Scott can hang for awhile. Toby has the local knowledge, and the skills to place in the top 5. I don't know if he's racing or not, but if he is and makes the selection......watch out, he's one of the best tactical cross racers I've ever seen. At the start the selection will be Doug, John, Frank, Phil, Clint, Scott, Bill, Toby, Ben, and Alex L. A couple guys will get mechanicals, but that's to hard to predict :). Either John, or Clint will push the tempo and shed the first couple riders. Scott, Alex, Ben, and Toby will be the first to go after being in position to help their teamates. The selection of Doug, John, Clint, Frank, Phil and Bill will last unless Clint races(also John C won't like this size). He will not like being in a group this size and continue to attack. If that's the case I think only Doug, John, and Frank have the fitness to stay with him. Eventually it will come down to Doug pulling his famous Fort Missoula block on the last lap, and putting it down for the victory.
Keep in mind this all how I'm picturing it, something completely different is most likely going to happen. Wouldn't it be sweet to have a group at the front throwing tactics and crap!!!! We'll see!!!!