Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Providence CX Festival: A Hellish End to NECX Holy Week.

The Providence Cyclocross Festival was an inferno. Temperatures in the 80's both days and fast racing made the course seem like the devil's playpen. The lessons of this weekend were as old as Old Nick too. 
I offer them in pictures:

1) Cyclocross is Hot

photo by Robin McDonald-Foley

2) Cyclocross is Cool

photo by Matt Roy

3) Cyclocross is Rad!

photo by Todd Prekaski

4) Cyclocross is the most fun I have racing bikes.
(even when I'm not racing well)

photo by Leslie Cohen

The crowds were large, either for the racing or for the VeloSwap. The cheering was loud. The beer was abundant. The heckling was creative. The food trucks were awesome. The venue was great. We enjoyed a concert Saturday night at the course side ampitheater.
It was a spectacular finale for NECX Holy Week.

As Pastor Myerson would say, "cyclocross week has concluded, let us go in peace."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gloucester Grand Prix: the more things stay the same, the more they change

The Grand Prix of Gloucester is the jewel of New England Cyclocross races. Biggest race, stiffest competition, most anticipation.

Yet for the important of the race, the course is surprisingly simple. There is a long up hill start-finish pavement, sweeping grass turns, one hillside to play on, a windy straight by the harbor, and the sand pit. All good elements, but limited in number and scope.

Or so one could think. The course designer for almost every Gloucester GP has been Tom Stevens. Someone this week deemed him the Christo of cyclocross courses. But I think of him more as a Mozart. He takes the same basic elements almost any park might have and combines them in new inventive ways; even on at a venue that's been raced at dozens of times.

Two years ago he added the quad busting run up off the sea wall. Now its seems that it has always been part of Gloucester. We were forewarned that he had new elements in mind for this year. But I had no idea how devilish and beautiful they could be.

Day One brought a FLYOVER to Gloucester! Before last year no New England cyclocross courses had a flyover. Most of our courses are large enough and steep enough not to need one, but they are just so Euro cool. Fortunately Gary David comissioned Ron Gougen to build one for MRC CX last season. Then Ice Weasels and the NE Regionals courses put it up too. But I never imagined that Tom would set it up for a thousand racers to careen over it at Gloucester.

Day Two was even more special. For years Paul Boudreau has dreamed of adding a special bit of terrain to the course, Half Moon Beach. For all the years I've race at Fort Stage Park, I did not know this beach even existed. On this past Sunday the course ran down a paved boat ramp to a natural deep sand beach with a stair case at the other end. The stairs lead up the famous Gloucester rock. It was picture perfect, and challenging. Even the tide had to be held at bay to allow the elites to race this section late in the afternoon The trick to Half Moon Beach was to ride as far onto the sand as speed would allow, then gracefully dismount to the base of the stairs. This was much easier to write than to do. Even several of the elites sprawled out on the beach. I hope that we get to visit this section again.

Whether we do or not, I'm certain that the course will offer up new challenges, just like it always does.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Holy Week-Hell Week in NECX: the feast of Michaelmas

Midnight Ride of CX, Grand Prix of Gloucester, Night Weasels, Providence CX Festival.

6 races in 11 days. Some have called this New England cyclocross Holy Week, others have deemed it Hell Week. Certainly many of us will be praying for strength or mercy, since indeed it is both.

This week also marks Michaelmas; the feast of Saint Michael. The current date of St. Michael's Day is on September 29th, the day after the Midnight Ride. The ancient date for Michaelmas is October 10th, the day after Providence Cyclocross Fest ends. NECX Holy-Hell Week spans the feast of St. Michael.

St. Michael is the Arch Angel, the divine avenger. It was St. Michael who drove Satan out of heaven after the rebellion. In legend, the Arch Angel and Satan fought a war ending in Satan's defeat and descent to hell. The feast of Saint Michael commemorates the victory.

The races this week have several religous features. Racing at Gloucester is like a pilgrimage for cyclocross devotees. Many of us will battle our own demons during these races. This week ends in the city named Providence, on a course around a shrine.

But I have something to add to the myth. In medieval legend, Satan clutched at the Arch Angel's wings trying to hold onto to a place in heaven. Eventually Michael wrestled him away. Satan then fell and landed in a blackberry thicket. I imagine that Satan grasped at anything he could in his struggle, even a bicycle, meant for mortals, hidden under the Arch Angel's wings. Perhaps he held onto to that divine machine in his fall. Yet Satan was so disgusted with his outcast state when he landed in the thicket, that he threw the bicycle into the thorns. Satan then sneered, and dared foolish humans to race that machine through the blackberry thicket in the bleak cold of autumn. Cyclocross was then born out of that divine bicycle and that demonic challenge.

Every year, the bicycles become more heavenly, and the courses become more hellish.

So pray for us this week, lend us strength and mercy, we the disciples of cyclocross.