It’s been more than two weeks, but I finally had the time to write a recap about the 2017 USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships in Hartford. After the incredible first day of racing (Tuesday), I wrote about the Masters 40-49 Non-Championship race, but that was just the beginning of an amazing week.
In addition to all of the racing that the Masters on Team Horst Sports did, we had Junior riders compete in their own races. It was so inspiring to see the kids out there in the same tough conditions. My son’s race was on Saturday. It was so cold, but he toughed it out and will look back and smile.
I raced two more times in the Masters 45-49 Championship (Friday) and Singlespeed Championship (Saturday). These were my first ever cyclocross races in January. Since I started racing cross in 1995, and after more than 150 races, I had never gone past Christmas. This season, with “Nats” in Hartford, it was a special year. I raced Nats six times before: Leicester in 1995, Ft. Devens in 1998, Baltimore in 2001, Providence in 2005, and Providence in 2006.
2006 was the last time the championships were in New England, and since then, the annual event was moved from mid-December to early January to coincide with the national championship race calendar in Europe.
This made for a long cyclocross season. I did 21 races starting back in late-August. During the season, programmed in a couple of two-week periods without racing, which allowed me to keep my fitness through year-end. Another key with staying fit at this time of year, is to stay healthy and illness free. With young children in the household, this isn’t an easy task. Throughout December, we had small bouts of sickness in our house, but I focused on hydrating, eating well, and getting good quality sleep. Things worked out, I stayed healthy, and this was my best season yet. The capstone for the season was an amazing Nats race week.
As far as results goes, the non-championship race on Tuesday was my highlight, finishing 19th in a competitive field. It was a crazy race, made famous by all of the photos and videos, including Ron Manizza’s viral sensation of the infamous “Slip-n-Slide Hill” at Riverside Park. The heavy rain and muddy conditions were epic.
There is no other word to describe conditions in Hartford. They were Epic pretty much every day, but Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday had the fiercest weather and course conditions. I use the word sparingly and it only describes a handful of runs/rides/races a year, but Nats was packed with epic moments.
So, after all the hype and getting the first race out of the way, I think my form had peaked. I also had some business travel on Wednesday of race week, and a lot going on with Horst Spikes™, including our Open House and Plant Tour on Thursday night. It was a busy week for us. We welcomed more than customers from all over the country and gained many new customers as the week went on. The exposure for our Cross Spikes™ product line was even greater than we anticipated and could hope for. The super-challenging Nats course (which kept changing like a chameleon) was the ultimate proving ground for spikes, with slippery run-ups, steep descents (some unrideable), and numerous off-camber sections.
With everything going on, my legs were tired by the time my championship race at 2:50 P.M. on Friday afternoon. We awoke on Friday to several inches of snow. The muddy course from earlier in the week had hardened as the temperature dropped, creating frozen ruts. The fresh layer of slow covered the ruts and ice. It was very cold (and breezy) by afternoon, but bright sun warmed sections of the course, which turned it into a frozen mud/ice mixture. These were some of the most challenging conditions of the week. Whereas Tuesday was pure (and deep) mud, Friday was a slick mix.
I’m still happy with my result. I had a really good start from the fifth row and was in the high 20’s after the first lap, but the technical conditions muted my fitness/power and I faded throughout the race. Ultimately, I finished 42nd (out of a 100 riders or so), after yielding a few more spots on the final lap. I had one hard fall, and sadly, on a paved path, and it cost me some time. I wasn’t happy about getting passed by so many guys after my good start, but I had taken enough chances and was tentative on some parts of the course. I can’t say enough good things about my gear.
All season, I’ve been racing my five-year old SevenMudhoney Pro. The bike is going to need some post-season work, but the machine has done great. My Campagnolo drivetrain and Zipp 303 wheels held up great. I could have used fresh tires, but with everything going on, didn’t have time to glue them, so I rode the Tufo pair that I had used for most of the season. My gear didn’t hold me back. Ultimately, I didn’t have the legs to repeat the strong ride that I had on Tuesday. Still, at the finish, I was all smiles.
Saturday was the coldest day of the week. Overnight on Friday, the temperature plummeted again, making the course hard, icy, and fast. Many of the Junior races, including the 11-12 year old race that our son competed in, were held in the morning. They enjoyed a precipitation free race, but by noon, the snow was flying again. Debbie and our daughter came to watch, but everyone was cold, so they returned home after the boys raced.
I was registered for the Singlespeed Championship at 2:50 P.M., and the snow was coming down heavy. Since my race on Friday afternoon, I had been hemming and hawing about doing one more race. It would have been easy to bag it. With a banged up knee, sore legs, and cold hands/feet; I decided to skip it. Then, the snow got heavier. I looked around and realized that I would regret not racing. The singlespeed race would likely go down as one of the most epic ever.
I thought about driving to Horst Engineering in East Hartford, only five minutes from the park, but instead decided to drive the 20 minutes home. It took 30 minutes because of terrible road conditions, but I was able to get there with enough time to warm up, change my clothes, and get ready for my last race of the season. I decided to drive in my kit so that I could go from the parking lot to the Team Horst Sports tent and not have to change at all.
When I got back to the park, there were more than four inches of snow on the ground and it was still falling steadily. This was my first ever singlespeed cross race. I converted my 20-year-old Richard Sachs. It’s a great bike, but I haven’t raced it in years and I’m not nearly as comfortable on it as I am on my Seven. I’m not a very good snow rider and it showed. This was the largest race of the week with more than 120 strong riders in the field. I was 74th, but that doesn’t matter at all. I had a blast. Crowds had formed on the dike, and the atmosphere was electric. Just like the mud race on Tuesday, riders were falling all over the place. The big difference was that everything was white and there wasn’t a drop of mud to be found.
I slid my way around the course and amazingly stayed pretty warm. I had dressed right for the occasion. I didn’t linger long after the finish. With more than five inches on the ground, I made my way back home to clean up my gear and store it for winter. I did drive back to Hartford late in the evening to watch the Mechanics Championship at the Black Bear Saloon. The crowd was festive and I saw many friends.
The members of Team Horst Sports also had a great week. Arthur Roti, Wade Summers, Matt Domnarski, Dave Geissert, Paul Nyberg, and Tom Ricardi all raced multiple times. In addition to those guys, it was fun to see so m any friends from the New England cycling community. It was great to battle with so many of my “rivals” and I’m already looking forward to the beginning of the 2017-2018 season in August.
Sunday’s Elite races were the culmination of a fantastic National Championships. My son and I returned to Riverside Park to watch. This was one of the best days the New England cycling community had ever seen. The snow had changed the complexion of the course yet again. The clouds cleared and bright sun shone. This caused quite a bit of melting, so once again, mud returned. This made for both visually appealing, and very challenging racing. Victories by Katie Compton and Stephen Hyde, who were both using their Horst Spikes™, topped off the festivities. Even in the cold, snow, and mud, the fans came out in force. The atmosphere was electric and many of us can’t wait until Nats return to New England. Hopefully, it isn’t another 12 year wait. Next year, the event is in Reno, Nevada.
Race hosts, the Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program, and their cadre of volunteers (many from our team) put on a good show. Come spring, Riverside Park will require some repairs, but that’s OK. This was a great event for Riverfront Recapture. They want to see people using and enjoying the parks that they manage. The Internet is full of great images and stories from this amazing week of racing. Hartford has always been on the map, but many people were skeptical about the idea of Nats at Riverside Park.
When Team Horst Sports put on the first cyclocross race there in 2003, we knew that the venue had the right characteristics and was a championship course candidate. We organized the first ever Connecticut Riverfront Cyclocross at Riverside Park. We weren’t directly involved with bringing Nats to Hartford in 2017, but I have no doubt that we sowed the seeds for what was an awesome event.
I’m so proud that the race was in Hartford.