Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bay State Cyclocross - Sterling, Mass

Like a fine wine or beer, a fine cyclocross course has some basic elements that must be there, and some subtle tastes that set it apart from the rest. The essential elements in ‘cross include grass, mud, tricky corners, barriers that require dismounting (being a traditionalist and lacking the skills myself, I view the bunny hop as an impurity in the sport), and hills that are too steep to ride. To the basic elements course designer and sponsor Tom "the Steamboat" Stevens added some off-camber on the corners, drop offs that led to barely ridable climbs (depending on the traffic conditions and the ambient temperature), a natural barrier that looks like it belongs in the Grand National (the famous steeplechase horse race near Liverpool, England), and a dirt track hole shot that changed character completely throughout the day. Then, Mother Nature added a few ice patches overnight to make sure things stayed interesting.

The day started with 99% frozen conditions for the Cat 4 race at 8:30 AM. With the sun up for less than two hours at that point, the ruts on the dirt running track that is used for the starting holeshot, and incorporated in every lap, were frozen solid and could grab a tire and suddenly redirect a bicycle either left or right from its intended path. That can be an uncomfortable thing when vieing for position elbow to elbow with almost 70 entry level 'cross racers. All of the day's races were intended to do 2 laps on this track before hitting the grass for the first time but, as it turned out, the Cat 4s were the only ones that did. Bikes and riders were weaving i nthe ruts in every direction as the Cat 4s got up to speed and the more experienced road racers (like myself) had their elbows out to protect the bars in the bumper pool of the opening laps. There seemed to be a couple of small mishaps but what felt like a cautiously slow initial pace made these laps a great opportunity for those with confidence to ride from open space to open space and gain important places before the grass.

I loved the 2 lap promenade/hole shot and used my long dormant criterium boxing skills to maximum advantage to gain quite a few places after starting in the second to last row (and I pre-registered for this one!). Then came the first grass sections with a big crowd still together. Everyone cleared the first turn, but the next two turns around the backboard were tighter and one of the few places with some slick mud at this early hour. After one guy close to the front blew it, traffic backed up and it became faster to shoulder the bike and run unless you were extremely lucky. Then came the big run up and another opportunity for carnage. It wasn’t too bad once the crowd got sorted, but on the first lap when your line is pretty much dictated by the traffic around you, you’re likely to end up finding some ice that you didn’t know was there (especially if you didn’t get to the race in time to pre-ride the whole course, d’oh). Local bike shops (like race sponsor Gear Works Cyclery) might want to stock up for an increase in demand for shoes with toe spikes after this one because they sure would have helped. After the big run up, the course drops into a sweeping right hand turn that was fast but stable on the frozen white grass. Later races, including the elites, would see most riders unclip the right foot for extra stability on this high speed corner on softened ground but in the morning that wasn’t necessary. Then the steeple chase dismount was followed by a series of switchback turns with just enough change in elevation to penalize those that were in too big of a gear. Then it was onto the power sections of the course where a short paved section led to the pit. More kudos to Tom Stevens for locating the pit Euro style. In other words, one pit that could be accessed twice each lap at approximately equal intervals. There must be a UCI rule for that but it doesn't happen often in the local races.

Bill Kenney (Bike Barn Racing) led the race almost from the start to the finish and won it with a comfortable lead. Gladly, I can no longer call Bill the "Raymond Poulidor of Cat 4 ‘cross" (i.e. the perpetual 2nd place finisher) now that he has won one. He might have one or two more in him this season before the rest of the field starts muttering “sandbagger” when they see him on the start lines. If you are interested, I almost made my goal of finishing in the top half of the field, and likely would have if not for a couple of crashes on ice that I should have identified during the pre-ride. It was another positive step on my road back from retirement, but I am still a better announcer than a racer. If three paragraphs about a Cat 4 race isn't enough for you, check out this website that I stumbled across toaday for another perspective:

The Masters 55 were set off on their promenade laps/hole shot, but before they got more than a few yards past the start line there had been a serious accident. When the officials realized that those that went down weren’t going to be out of the way before the field came around to complete the first lap of the promenade, they neutralized the race. The ambulance was brought in for the one rider unable to get up. I did not see what happened but I heard later that a rider who crashed had broken a vertebrae and would be spending the night (at least) at the UMass Medical Center. After the ambulance was clear, the race was re-staged and there must have been some anxious thoughts on the line after seeing one of their own seriously injured. The promenade/hole shot was shortened to one partial lap from this race on. Dusty Adams (Mosaic) rode away from the rest of the field for the win by almost a minute.

The Cat 3/4 Masters 35 and 45 were sent out just a couple of minutes behind the 55s. By this time the sun had turned much of the frozen-solid mud into liquid mud, especially on the dirt track. After 40 minutes of racing their faces were covered in grey mud from the track like they had been made up to play Death in The Seventh Seal. When it was over, Micheal McKittrick (Cambridge Bicycle) won by ten seconds. You can get all the details that I missed from Mr. McKittrick himself at

The next race featured guys of the same age, only faster, in the Masters Cat 1,2,3 race. With Mark McCormack (Fuji) (a former National Champion), Johnny Bold (Corner Cycle) (Verge points series leader, 35 plus), Kevin Hines (Corner Cycle) (current Verge points series leader, 45 plus) and the rest of the cream of the crop for guys over 35, this was going to be a barn burner. At about this time, I ran into Mr. Dick Ring (the “Voice of New England Bike Racing”) and unfortunately paid little attention to the rest of the race (hey, it’s only a blog, if you want journalism (and the proper use of commas) check Velonews!). I can tell you that Roger Aspholm (Westwood Velo) beat Johnny Bold in a tight finish. Three of Bold's Corner Cycle teammates followed: Mark Stotz, Kevin Hines, and John Mosher. Hines' place gave him the victory for the 45plus and furthered his points lead in the season long Verge series.

Next up were the Juniors under 19, Juniors under 15, and the Cat 3 / 4 Women in separate fields. Luke Keough and Gavin Mannion had a repeat of last year’s match up which, if memory serves correctly, was won by Gavin. This year would be Luke’s year as his form developed while racing in Europe in October and November paid off big time. These two young guys have big plans for the near future: After next week's Verge series wrap up in Rhode Island, they will both be heading off to Kansas City where Gavin will try to take the national championship jersey that Luke will be trying to defend. Then, Gavin heads off to Belgium for Euro cross camp during the holidays followed by a month of racing before the World Championships in Holland on January 31st. Luke, having already done a couple of months in Europe this season, will stay home and get his butt kicked by his brothers to stay in shape, then head over to Europe in mid-January to get a couple of World Cup races in before Worlds. Either of these guys could realistically win the World Junior Cyclocross Championship (Luke is on the left, Gavin the right):

Curtis White (Capital Bicycle) and Nate Morse (CLNoonan) entered the U15 race dead even for the Verge point series lead. By the time their half hour race was complete, it was Curtis who would take the new jersey home by just a few seconds. With Nate picking up the points for second, it is still just a 10 point difference with two races left next weekend.

The Women’s 3/4 race was won by Anna Barensfeld (Minuteman Road Club) as she continues her roll through the Women B races this season. Anna was very generous two weeks ago at Brockton to offer me space to set up a trainer under her pop up tent so I could warm up out of the rain. I have never gotten to a race in time to warm up properly so I never bother to bring the trainer, but thanks for offering, Anna. She is as nice as she is fast. And her teammates at the MRC are pretty good too. They got 4 of the top 6 places in this race.

From here on, I was spectating on borrowed time. My plan was to watch the start of the Killer Bs then head home in time to take care of some domestic duties before dark. But, as usual, I got carried away and stayed the whole day. And there wasn’t even a beer tent!! Fortunately, my Significant Sweetie was happy to have me out of the house for the whole day so I stayed for the rest of the races and called it research for future announcing duties.

The Men 2/3 (aka the Killer Bs) took off with a field of more than 75 including Jim Tosca (Corner Cycle) who was out to pad his lead in the Verge Series. However, Dylan McNicholas(Noreast) (in second place in the series) had other ideas. By this time most of the mud on the track had either dried out or gotten stuck to bikes and riders in the previous races and the course was getting faster. When this one was over, Dylan had about a minute on Tosca for first and second places respectively. Of note, the web guru behind the amazing, Colin Reuter (International Bike Center), finished a strong 4th. His web programming skills are almost equaled by his ‘cross skills. Thanks Colin for the great website. You can go directly to the race results on by clicking on the title of this post.

Here is the last half of the swarm the first time up the run up:

Elite Women – The Women’s race became, within the first few minutes, the Mo Bruno Show. She led the field of about 16 around the track from the start with Rebecca Wellons (Ridley) on her wheel and the rest in tow. By the top of the first run up, it was clear that Mo Bruno (MM Racing/Seven Cycles) was probably going to win with only Rebecca within striking distance. An interesting battle for third developed with Amy Wallace (RGM/Sachs), Sally Annis (NEBC), and Cris Rothfuss (NEBC).
With Verge series leader Amy Dombrowski not in attendance and Wellons and Bruno only a few points behind in second and third places, a new Verge Series leader was going to be crowned. Wellons started the day 33 points ahead of Bruno, so a second place finish would secure her the series lead even if Bruno won, at least until next week.

Mo combined smooth skills and strength to power away and built on her lead very lap. Rebecca had no problem holding on to second place while her two road racing teammates from NEBC tried to figure out how to stay ahead of Amy Wallace. Wallace seemed to have a bit of an advantage on the technical pieces. With about a half lap to go, Amy managed to ride the short but steep and slippery climb coming out of the barriers while the NEBC duo had to stop and run losing 30 yards in the blink of an eye. But in the end Wallace could only stay ahead of Cris Rothfuss while Sally Annis passed Wallace in the last half lap and got away for third place.
Here is Mo Bruno alone on the run up a few laps into the race, I think she is smiling:

Here is second place finisher and Verge point series leader Rebecca Wellons, not smiling:

Elite Men – Nick Keough (Jittery Joes/Sonic) came into the race leading the Verge series for the U23 with Jamie Driscoll (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld) leading the series for the open age group. Those two were called up to the front row followed by Adam Myserson (Cycle-Smart), Matt White (Bikereg/Joes Garage) and most of the cream of the crop in New England cyclocross. I don’t know if he has always done this or if it is something he learned while racing in Europe earlier this season, but Adam Myerson was intently watching the UCI Commisaire to his right until she blew the whistle for the start. Maybe he was even watching for her to inhale to get a split advantage. Adam was making sure he wasn't going to be caught off guard while everyone else was passively waiting to hear the whistle. That’s PRO!! Sorry, Jazzy, if I just gave away your secret weapon.

Once the whistle blew, Nick Keough, Matt O’Keefe (CCB/Volkswagen) and Adam Myerson led the pack into the first turns on the grass. Jamey Driscoll hovered a few places behind after getting a slow start and did not show his jersey on the lead during the first couple of laps. Maybe all the Cannondale guys have this, but Driscoll is the first bike racer I have seen with his name across the shoulders of his skinsuit. It's part of the design, not just sewn on.

Race announcer Richard Fries, who never seems to run out of ways to describe the action, pointed out that Driscoll is typically not a fast starter. But however long it takes him, he usually finds his way to the front as evidenced by his 4 wins in 6 Verge series races so far this year. In fact, the only races he hasn’t won were two days in Gloucester when Ryan Trebon and Tim Johnson were in town. Only those two riders and Jesse Anthony have placed higher than Jamey Driscoll in any Verge series race this year.

Within two laps Driscoll had made his way to the front and the only one that could stay with him was Nick Keough who had been leading the race so far. Keough even put a gap on Driscoll for a breif time. O’Keefe, Myerson, White, Justin Spinelli (RGM/Sachs), and Josh Dillon (Fiordifrutta) remained in contention through the first half of the race while Will Dugan (RGM/Sachs) was a bit further back in second place for the U23s after Keough. At about the half way point, Keough, who is just 19 years old, suddenly lost the mojo that had helped him hang with the fastest cross racer in the Verge series. It was clear that either he had over extended himself riding with Driscoll or something was wrong. As the race announcers would soon say, it looked like he had withdrawn too much from the bank and was now paying the price with interest. But a lap or so later it was clear that Nick was not just “doing the slide" after a hot start.

As Nick drifted further back from Driscoll and continued to lose speed, Spinelli powered himself and White into 2nd and 3rd places. Dugan was closing the gap to Keough very quickly with eyes on grabbing the U23 victory. It was excruciating to watch Keough soldier on not knowing what was wrong. Not even Diabolito (aka little Didi) could make a deal that would bring Nick Keough back:

With Keough gone and no one in sight, Driscoll even had enough confidence to start going for extra air off the big drop off at the top of the course the final two laps. Spinelli and White moved past Keough into second and third, then Dillon and Myerson went past for fourth and fifth. Soon after, Dugan and two other U23s from collegiate teams also went past Keough to take him out of the podium spots for the U23 race. It stayed about like that until the end except that Matt White outsprinted Spinelli to take second place at the line.

A visit to the Keough’s family compound on wheels after the race revealed that Nick had aggravated an injury from a crash that happened the previous weekend and was basically pedaling with one leg during the last half of the race. Let’s hope he is feeling good in time for nationals in two weeks. It's a good thing 19 year olds bounce back fast.

Here is Jamey Driscoll and his porn star mustache in a post race interview with Richard Fries where he said “I had to ride himself cross eyed to drop” Nick Keough:
Next week is the finale of the Verge series in Warwick, Rhode Island. It isn't quite confirmed yet, but it looks like I'll be doing the announcing subbing for Richard Fries who will be busy at the races out in Portland, Oregon next weekend. Stop by and say hello if you have read this blog.


RMM said...

Nice reportage. Though I have to correct the spelling of my last name. It is "McKittrick"
I wrote a more personalized race report if you are interested:

Anonymous said...

Fun report - thanks! You do a great job.