Taking on the Holy Week of Cyclocross – A Column by Lee Waldman
by Lee Waldman
I’d always heard the two weekends of racing combining the Grand Prix of Gloucester and Providence as “Holy Week” also as “New England Nationals.” Guess what? That description barely describes the experience. I raced Providence both times Nationals were held there. I suffered through the Nor’easter on the first year. I still have nightmares about the ruts on the back side paralleling the road section. The second year, with weather more akin to what I expected for New England, I fell in love with the course. I knew that one day I’d return and ride there again. Now, in retirement, I have time to check off the races on my bucket list. Gloucester was at the top. Providence, the following week, is just providing the icing on the proverbial cake.
I’m a Colorado boy. I was born here and for a plethora of reasons, most of which would bore you as readers, I’ll remain here. We have space in Colorado. From my back porch I can see the 19 miles to Boulder on a good day. Not much grows here without water. It is, after all, a semi-desert environment. As a result, our typical ’cross courses tend, for the most part, to be hardpacked, dry, dusty, and bumpy.
For the last few years mud has been a rarity, as has snow. Finding a venue for a nice, wide, grassy course is a growing challenge as global warming turns our grass brittle, hard and disappearing. Not bad courses. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. Colorado cyclocross holds its own special challenges. If you’re uncomfortable with “loose over hardpack,” you might struggle. At least until you adapt.
The ’cross scene in Colorado continues to grow, and deepen. Fields are growing as more and more riders discover the joy of ’cross. But, as good as cyclocross racing has become here, and as fast as our riders are; as deep and as large as our fields are, they pale in comparison to Gloucester.
Two days of hard, technically demanding, power-sucking racing. Some dirty, rocky, dusty sections. The weather was surprisingly warm, in the 70s each day. I had to smile listening to riders complain about the dust. I wanted to invite them to come to “my country.” There they’d see hardpack and dust. I’d heard the stories and seen the videos of Gloucester in the mud. Long, strength sucking muddy off-cambers where even the “really good guys” dismounted and ran. I heard that last year’s race was epic. And I do love a good muddy race. So, in some ways I was disappointed. But I’d only been able to bring one bike, so I was not totally distraught about the weather.
I’m sure if I came back that’s what I’d find the next time, but this year it was simply beautiful weather, presenting a completely different set of challenges. After the weather we’ve had in Colorado, the dryness here seemed perfectly normal, almost unnoticeable. It worked to my benefit as a rider and, if I hadn’t been “blessed” with back row starting positions every day, it might have shown in my results as well. But more about that further on.
When I watch coverage of Euro races I marvel at the width of the courses. Not much of the narrow, where-do-I-pass, type of racing I see most weekends. Gloucester was a perfect example of what a ’cross course should be. Each day, the course designers presented the riders with lots of turns, lots of room, and loads of challenging transition sections. Both days, the course felt at least nine meters wide almost everywhere. Just fast, flowing, and beautiful. I’m now completely spoiled!
Besides the courses themselves, every time I looked up I saw the ocean! I’ve always thought that nothing could compare with my mountains. As I said, I am a Colorado boy, but there was something about looking up and seeing this incredible expanse of unending water that just took my breath away. I once told my wife, early on in our marriage, that she would never turn me in to a water person, but I’m slowly changing.
These guys are fast as well! I’ll admit, it’s been a few years, at least, since I’ve cracked the top five of a 55+ race in Colorado. Last year was the first where I didn’t ride any 45+ races. It wasn’t my age that forced me to make the change. It was the increasing depth of the 55+ field as more and more really fast guys moved up. This year has been a good start for me. Out of three that I’ve ridden so far, I’ve garnered two top 15 finishes. But in Gloucester, I struggled to crack the top 30. Granted, out of 50 riders that toed the line, I was four rows back both days so picking my way from the 45th number called up on Saturday and the 47th on Sunday, so to finish 29th felt pretty good on Sunday. Would I have finished higher with a second row start? I’d like to think so. Would I have podiumed? No way. These guys know how to ride their bikes, and fast! It was a challenge and a joy to ride here.
The quality and depth of each and every field was simply astounding. Our Master’s 55+ field limit was 50 riders. It filled in less than six hours. I’m not sure what the field limits were in the other categories but they were big. Cat. 4, Cat. 3, Masters, Women of all categories… Juniors, from 10 years old up to 17–18. I’m sure every field was full with the average number of riders well over 50. I think I heard that the 3’s and 4’s had close to 150 riders in each. If you didn’t get a call up, you were racing for pride and to hold your place and pick off as many riders as possible. The only exceptions were the elite fields and the women’s and even then there were 4 times as many riders as any race I’ve seen in Colorado.
And now, there’s fog obscuring the bay that I should be able to see from our cottage’s front porch. The sun will be out later today. We’ll do laundry, possibly a recovery ride or run. We’re tourists now for the next four days and then the Friday night Cyclocross Madison in Providence and two more days of “New England Nationals.” This has raised the bar for me as far as what ’cross racing can and should be. Will I still love Colorado cyclocross? Most definitely. But will I see it through a slightly different set of lenses? Absolutely. And will I be back again. For sure.
Stop reading, go ride your bikes.
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