2021 Northampton International Cyclocross

Yesterday was the 30th annual Northampton International Cyclocross at beautiful Look Park in Florence, Massachusetts. Next week’s West Hill Shop Cyclocross in Putney, Vermont is also turning 30. These are two of the longest standing CX races in New England. They are also two of the oldest in the country.

NoHo CX took a year off in 2020 because of pandemic, but it was back for 2021 and we had a blast. Kudos to Adam Myerson, the folks at Cycle-Smart, and the Northampton Cycling Club. This year, Shepard and I only raced on Sunday. The event has been two days for many years and we often do the double, but yesterday was the CT Middle School Cross Country Championships, and we were there to support Dahlia (who ran), Debbie (who coached), and the rest of the Bolton Center School team.

That meant I was fresh for today’s race and I’m glad I was because it was competitive and super fast. I’ve done 17 NoHo’s (or predecessor races including the UMASS Cyclocross at Orchard Hill). My first one was in 1995 and it was my third ever cyclocross race. West Hill Shop ended up being my fourth. So, both of these races are special to me. In the last 26 years, I’ve done more than 230 cyclocross races. Now I get to do them with my family. That’s pretty cool. I guess you could say I like cyclocross.

The 50+ field in today’s race was stellar. I think it may have even been stronger than the Gran Prix of Beverly back in September. That was my previous best result in a long time, not counting last week’s win at Cheshire Cross. Winning was fun, but the quality of the riders in today’s race was better, so my fifth place finish is notable.

When crunching the numbers, I can see that I was ranked ninth coming into today’s race and that was confirmed with my call-up. I was the first rider to get a spot on the second row behind the eight riders on the front row. That worked out for me because I was able to choose my lane and opted for second from left close to the barriers. I ended up having a good start and making it around the first big hairpin in sixth place after picking up a few spots in the long straightaway before the first big turn.

I rode a smooth first lap and held my position. It was on lap two that the front group started to breakaway and the field fractured. We also started to hit lapped traffic, which was a factor throughout the race. We were the third field to start in our race. The Category 3 Men (55 of them) started at 10:45 A.M. The 40+ Masters (39 of them) started a minute later, and the 50+ Masters (51 of us) started a minute after that. So, there were nearly 150 guys flying on this course all at once.

I mostly raced with my group, but occasionally we were blocked by slower traffic and had to settle into the paceline while waiting for a good spot to pass. The lower section of the course was faster than ever while the upper section was a bit more technical. The entire race was done at blazing speed. I averaged 14 miles per hour, which is pretty quick for a 46 minute CX race. Contrast that with last week’s hilly, technical, and muddy course in Cheshire where I averaged less than 12 miles per hour.

I think I’ve already said it a few times, but today was fast, really fast! Enough about the speed. I had a blast and I’m happy with the result. The weather was fantastic. It was cold in the morning, but I ended up going with shorts and short sleeves which is great for early November. The sunshine was as good as yesterday. It was brilliant and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Two years ago, it was in the teens (Fahrenheit) at NoHo, so a temperature in the low-50’s is balmy compared to that.

I rode a clean race. I only had to get off and run one twisty and slippery section when I came up on lapped traffic and someone dismounted in front of me. A few guys around me had crashes and that hurt their chances at a top finish as they had to chase back on. Our race was won by Jean-Francois Blais. He also won yesterday. He was pretty far out front. Roger Aspholm was second, Andy August was third, and Vincent Bolt was fourth. I was with Vincent with 1.5 laps to go, but he pulled away. He may have had an incident earlier in the race that set him back, but he flew by me. We encountered a long train of more than 10 lapped riders. He did a better job at working his way past them. By the time I got to the front of the group after nearly a full lap of riding, he was gone.

I was in a strong group that included Bart Lipinski and Christopher Curven, but I pushed incredibly hard on the last lap going through the upper section so I could maintain my position in front before we hit the pavement and the final four winding turns before the finish. I knew I had to be in the front in case we encountered more lapped traffic (which we did). I sprinted against a Category 3 rider in order to keep my speed high and avoid getting passed in the final stretch. I knew I was in the top 10, but was pleased to see the actual result, fifth.

I did a nice cool down on the bike path with teammate Andris Skulte, and then had a lot of fun cheering on Shepard and his CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad mates. This was Shepard’s first cyclocross race since August. His focus over the last 2.5 months has been cross country running, but that wrapped up with the state championships last week. It’s great to have him racing cross with me again, at least for a few more weekends. He had a good race for his first one in a while. His shifting (chain skipping) was acting up, but he hung in there and finished strong and in good spirits.

Team HORST Sports had a great turnout this weekend, with riders in all of the Masters age groups and all of the Junior age groups. There were several other notable performances. The 30th Northampton International Cyclocross was awesome. Debbie, the kids, and I celebrated at Pulse Cafe where we enjoyed another great meal.

Race Results

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