This past weekend, we participated in another milestone for New England cyclocross racing. With high expectations, the KMC Cross Fest moved from Providence, Rhode Island to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. It was great to welcome the Cross Fest to our state, which will also host the 2017 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships.
Cross Fest was a very successful event when it was held at Roger Williams Park in the capital of Rhode Island, but for a variety of reasons, including the scale of the event, it was moved to the new venue with much fanfare. Others will determine the fate of the event’s future, but I declare it a success. With three days of top-level racing, the New England Builders’ Ball, the race expo, a Gran Fondo, and other activities, it was a big deal.
New England will always be the hotbed of North American cyclocross and I’m not just saying that because I’m a native of the region. We have the deepest fields, most competition, the history, and culture that make cross great. It’s great to see the sport grow, and Cross Fest in Thompson is another step forward for the growth of the sport. The speedway venue is bound to spark copycats, which is fantastic, because Thompson itself is a copycat of Zolder, one of the storied Belgian venues.
Horst Engineering and Team Horst Sports were involved in several ways. First, we exhibited Horst Spikes at the Builders’ Ball, a celebration of New England’s bespoke bicycle builders, craftsmen, and craftswomen. Second, we sponsored so many of the great riders in the elite fields, including men’s and women’s overall winners, Stephen Hyde and Katie Compton. Third, our team was well represented throughout the weekend. From morning until afternoon, races were filled with our riders. Andris Skulte, Randall Dutton and Tom Ricardi represented us in the Men Master 40+ 4-5 races. Matt Domnarski, Pat Cunningham, Paul Nyberg, Keith Enderle, and Dave Geissert were in the Men 50+ 1-2-3-4 races. In the Men 35+ 1-2-3 races, I was joined by Art Roti and Wade Summers. Most importantly, our emerging Juniors squad was represented in their respective age groups by Lars Roti, Shepard Livingston, Nathaniel Summers, and Sean Rourke. Not to be left out, Cole Ricardi, who rides for CCAP, but is affiliated with us, was also in the Juniors races.
I had the opportunity to race at 3:00 P.M. on both Saturday and Sunday. The 35+ field was super-competitive. I was able to remain on the lead lap, but to keep the races from running long, race officials had many of us, including me, finish one lap down. My racing age is now 45, so some of these men are 10 years younger. Even still, some of the top finishers, including Matt Timerman, Adam Myerson, Todd Bowden, and Alec Donahue are 40+ like me, so I’m not making excuses. Clearly, after watching the top guys fly over that course, I have to keep working to improve my own skills.
My performance was about the same both days. Saturday’s race was the much wetter affair. The entire weekend was an advertisement for our Horst Spikes line of Cross Spikes. The course was made “Belgian style” with multiple challenging features including two flyovers, long sections of mud, a nasty sand section/run-up, a set of barriers, a nasty uphill run-up that was super-steep, an off-camber descent, and a slick uphill that was rideable. Mix in some pavement, some grass, and more mud and you have a winning layout. With rain on and off all weekend, the weather was a huge factor. Traction was critical, and Horst Spikes played a big role. Everyone on our team, including the Juniors used them with great success. I used my stainless steel Long spikes both days. The Juniors used Mediums or Mini-Standards. Most of the adults used Long spikes like me.
We got a lot of positive attention for supplying Cross Spikes and they were put to good use. Saturday’s conditions were very challenging. I had a pretty good race, though I was tentative on some sections of the course, and faded badly in the last two laps, giving up ground. I ultimately ceded about 10 spots from where I was riding in the first half of the race. A few late bobbles cost me, but ultimately, I was happy with my race. On Sunday, the course was still muddy, but not as wet. That made the race faster, which I thought would favor me. However, I made a series of mistakes, six to be exact, that ultimately cost me about 10 spots again. I never fell on Saturday, but on Sunday, I hit the ground on three occasions. One time, my chain was knocked off and it cost me even more time to get it back on. I was pushing too hard on Sunday, was tired, and that is when you make mistakes.
Cyclocross is a balance between strength and technique. You can be the strongest rider, but if you aren’t smooth, you won’t be successful. After all these years, I’m still seeing that balance that will lead to the perfect, or “clean” race. The falls on my left side (all of them) were on the same spots as my hard fall from last weekend’s Vermont 50, so I’m a little beat up after four races in eight days. Cross is a physical game, but that is what I love about it. Art and Wade had good races too. We may have been in the back half of the field, but our consolation is that our competitors are some of the best in the business.
Our 50+ teammates fared even better with Pat and Matt cracking the top-20. We saw a lot of friends over the course of the weekend. It was great to welcome the Park Ave Bike Shop crew from Rochester, New York. One of my longtime endurance sports friends is Erik Grimm. He had a fantastic weekend, finish fifth in the 50+ race on Saturday, and then winning it on Sunday. I watched his podium ceremony, snapped a few photos, and was inspired to go ride hard.
Watching the junior riders was another thrill. They had to ride the same course, including the tough run-ups and the off-camber descents. Watching our son get up and over one of the flyovers, without walking, was a weekend highlight. I’m excited to see these kids race and grow up.
Some people camped out, but between the weather, soccer, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the NipMuck Trail Marathon, I decided to drive back and forth. That meant three trips in three days and about six and a half hours in the van. That was a bummer, but October weekend’s are incredibly busy for our family. I rarely miss NipMuck, so it was good to see the start yesterday morning on the drive out to Thompson. I was sad to leave our Shenipsit Striders friends behind, but this weekend was all about cyclocross.
A big thank you to Richard Fries, the event staff, the volunteers, and the sponsors. I could write more about Cross Fest, but my bike needs cleaning, my gear needs washing, and I have to pack…for Night Weasels Cometh, which is Wednesday. Cross season continues. I look forward to KMC Cross Fast in 2017.