Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deep End of the Pool: swimming with New England CX sharks

photo by Janice Checchio

New England does not have the highest turnout for cyclocross races, I think that goes to Chicago area 'cross or to Seattle. Nor does it always have the nastiest weather, that definitely goes to Portland. But it does have a very deep field in most every field.
Last weekend was the New England Championship Series #1-2. And it was the second week of the season. About 400 total racers each day lined up in northern Vermont, half the draw that will come to Gloucester or NoHo. The turnout was light partially because there is still road racing going on, partially because the course at the Catamount Center is hard; really really hard. Day 1 had 486 feet of climbing each lap. The masters 35+ did 5 laps in 42 minutes to the leaders for almost 2500 feet of climb. Day 2 was not much easier since there is no coasting on this course, it was all grass power sections, turns, and short steep climbing.
But the biggest factor in making the races tough, is the competition. I counted 5 current national champions, 9 former national champions (in juniors or masters or collegiate), and 1 former and 1 current worlds masters champion, including the current pro/elite U.S. champion, the guy pictured above. Every field had deep talent. Everyone was racing for their best result.
And that is the lesson that I learned last week; in New England cyclocross, victories are rare for most. Even podiums or top 10's are hard to come by. If you're going to be a cyclocross racer, you have to race for the love of it. There are much less demanding ways to win trophies and medals. Bike racing in these parts is about the love of going as fast as you can, and trying to do a bit better each time. It helps to keep your sense of humor and humility packed with your race kit. Those things help salvage a badly bruised ego after a tough race.
It also helps that we are friendly, if often sarcastic, bunch. I love the camaraderie of the NE cyclocross regulars almost as much as the racing, almost. Because I do love to race cyclocross first and most of all.
I think everything you need to understand about the depth of cyclocross around here, is summed up in 1:40 sec of video shot by the uber cyclocross nut, Henry Jurenka. Note the first shot, 2 current, and one former master's national champion. Everybody, though, giving it their all. Enjoy.

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