Written by Michael Benson Thursday, 24 October 2019 00:00
With the cancellation of GP Gloucester, after 20 years of racing, many, including me, were stunned. What is the current state of cyclocross in the US? How can a race, that seemed like the gem of New England, disappear? If you’ve read many of the comments on social media, you have likely formed your own opinion on the topic. I for one try to find the silver lining. To me, this was the rebirth of a race held many years ago on the UMass Amherst campus. My son Matt was racing the Juniors field as racing age 15. I would be racing the 40+ masters race which was gridded and started with the elite men’s race.
When we arrived at the campus, there were races already in progress. As you drive to the main parking lot, you drive right by one of the key features on the course which is steep off camber. More on that later. We were able to park in the dormitory parking lots and there was ample space to find parking. With a two hour car ride, we were trying to time our drive with the races so Matt could do one pre-ride 45 min from his race and then another as a final warmup right before his race. We arrived just in time to make this happen. Doing a pre-ride on this course is essential. There were multiple features that had blind downhill corners that a racer could easily go in too hot. Knowing where to brake was key or you’d go sailing into the bushes.
The course started at the very bottom of a long hill. On the way up to the first turn on the long drag, racers zigged and zagged through grassy drainage basins. I really liked this feature as it created places to pass and leveled out the long hill so it wasn’t one long straight slog uphill. The finish line was at the top of the hill. From there racers were forced towards a number of fast flowy twists and turns before the climb to the steep off camber. By the time our race went off two distinct ruts formed in the silty hill. If you hit it right, you could rail the feature. If you missed it, you were on your side or off the bike. Fortunately for both Matt and I, we hit the camber clean for the most part. From here, racers headed downhill after some sweepers and a set of barriers. The hill had racers flying, and as I said earlier, that first turn was super hard. There was a picture of a hot pepper at the turn which was fitting. The turn was a 90 degree right hander that set riders towards a steep rooty hill just before a set of stairs. These were rideable but it was much faster to run for me. I wiped out once on the steep uphill in the earlier laps when trying to pass slower racers on the outside. By the last laps, I had it figured out. From here, racers climbed again and then descended another fast grassy hill. The descents were old grassy tractor paths that cut through the bush. We basically weaved our way back to the start line through more hilly fields with many turns that challenged speed and control. Once back to the start, it was back up again. The downhills gave me enough recovery to be able to hit the long climb with enough vigor to gap some of my opponents.
Matt’s race had 28 Juniors on the start line. He did a great job battling with 2 or 3 other kids as they swapped leads. In the end he nabbed 7th. My race was spicey from the start being gridded with all the elite racers. The start was fast and I hung onto the lead group for about 4 min before being popped. I raced hard and caught up to the third place masters racer by the last lap. He was gassed and let me by before the long hill. I finished 3rd for the last podium spot. It was nice to leave with a super nice podium medal, made from wood, and a bag of fresh Atomic Cafe Roasted coffee. Matt raced his Kona Jake the Snake with tubeless Schwalbe X-One Speeds. I raced my Kona Super Jake with Carver C50 wheels and Dugast tubular Small Birds. I cannot say enough good things about this tire. Thanks to Jonathan Page for bringing them to the U.S.A. Bikeman.com continues to deliver super speedy service on every part I need to keep racing mechanical free each week.
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