Anthony and Field led for the first laps of the race. Russ Campbell

Anthony and Field led for the first laps of the race. © Russ Campbell

The New England Holy Week of Cyclocross has begun! The kickoff event, Midnight Ride Cyclocross hosted by the Minuteman Road Club at the Lancaster Fairgrounds in Lancaster, Massachusetts brought out almost 400 racers for a fantastic event complete with some of the biggest names in the sport. Racing kicked off in the twilight at 5pm and led up to an incredibly exciting pair of races for the Women and Elite Men.

The course made the most of the largely flat Lancaster Fairgrounds with an extremely fast cinder start leading into a long section of well-designed turns that separated the handlers from the big motors. The course snaked around the pond at the center of the fairgrounds and led through to a barn that treated competitors to three passes through a long section of wood chips – an interesting alternative to sand. Next, riders climbed to the highest part of the course where there were once again a long series of technical corners, this time while negotiating a progressively worn in hillside and a short set of stairs and dropping back into the start/finish stretch. The course was designed with the spectators in mind and fans filled the hillside and the barriers. Obviously, the most unique feature of the race was that it was under the lights – and the darkness played a big part in how the race developed.

The Women’s field was full of big names coming out for a final tune-up for the UCI racing this weekend in Gloucester. Among the big names were Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team) in her British National Champion skinsuit, her compatriot Gabby Day (Renner Custom Cyclocross) continued her American campaign and local favorite Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob’s Red Mill p/b Seven Cycles) made her return to New England after some good success at the USGP in Wisconsin. As she did at Nor’Easter ‘Cross last weekend, Day came charging hard out of the gates and led the group for the first laps of the race. Wyman was never far from her wheel but notably raced with a front light on so even if she lost the wheel, she’d be able to see the course. As Day stretched it out through the technical sections, Wyman and Bruno-Roy would find themselves racing together. Wyman eventually turned up the throttle and joined Day at the front, putting huge accelerations through the start/finish stretch and showing just how big an engine she had. For the balance of the race Day and Wyman, whose light battery died mid-way through the race, would trade off with Wyman at the front in the fast sections and Day leading through the corners. Nearing the end of the final lap, Wyman put in a hard effort before the stairs and came upon some lapped traffic, which, despite trying to make the decisive move, she calmly and courteously notified, passed and thanked. Day, able to regain the wheel, held on through the stairs and made a valiant effort to overtake Wyman in the finish, but the 6-time British Champ was having none of it and took her seventh victory in seven races in the States. Behind, Bruno-Roy came across the line third, very pleased with her ability to hang with Wyman for so long on a course that did not suit her strengths. “If I can hang with a World Cup winner on a course like this, I’m happy, “ said the Bob’s Red Mill rider after the finish.

The Elite Men’s field was full of top talent as well, with Brit Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) toeing the line with Canadians Craig Richey (Renner Custon Cyclocross), Mike Garrigan (Lapierre Canada) and Shaun Adamson (Cycle-Smart), Belgian Tim Van Nuffel (DCM) and Dane Joachim Parbo (Challenge Tires) representing the international contingent. The Americans were no slouches either; fielding SmartStop/MOB presented by Ridley racers Jerome Townsend and Adam Myerson, Liquigas/Cannondale’s Ted King, as well as Jeremy Durrin and Al Donahue from Western Massachusetts’s JAM Fund/NCC team. The surprise of the night was local favorite, Nature Valley Grand Prix winner and Kelly Benefits Strategies racer Jesse Anthony in his final tune-up before his cyclocross retirement race this weekend at the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester. These, of course, were just the headlines from a deep and strong Elite field, of whom nearly half finished within two minutes of the winner.

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Racing was extremely fast from the gun with Jesse Anthony driving the pace from the get-go. Field, who, after the race, declared himself a convert to American cyclocross, joined Anthony at the front and the two left the rest of the race behind them. The second group on course was made up of the two SmartStop racers, Townsend and Myerson, along with Canadians Richey and Garrigan and Jeremy Durrin. This second group settled in about fifteen seconds behind the leaders and never gained or lost time for the remainder of the race. Parbo and a rotating cast of locals were fighting hard to join this group, but were never able to make the bridge.

At the front, Anthony, likely dialing his effort back in hopes of something special at Gloucester, let off the gas and Field was alone at the front. “I would have liked to have someone else with me,” said Field after the race, “but once Jesse lost the pace, I had to go alone.” And go alone he did, riding conservatively but smoothly to his second New England victory of the week, adding to his win in Burlington, Vermont at Nor’Easter ‘Cross. The group behind held fast together with the exception of Durrin and Richey, both of whom lost contact shortly before the race’s end. Richey ended up in no-man’s land while Durrin found himself behind, in a group with Tim Van Nuffle, Greg Whitney (Ride Studio Café) and Manny Goguen (’s Garage).

Garrigan came across the line for second with a very strong sprint. Third went to Jerome Townsend while Myerson crossed the line fourth. Richey finished ten seconds behind for fifth with Durrin winning a sprint ahead of Goguen, Van Nuffle and Whitney for sixth.

Said the Elite Men’s victor after the race, “it was brilliant to come out and race at night. It’s more fun than going out training and the competition is a lot better than some people might think. The spectators were great as well. I’m really looking forward for Gloucester.”

And that more or less says it all. The New England Holy Week of Cyclocross is underway. This weekend, we’ll see the debut of the Shimano New England Professional Cyclcross Series with a UCI C1 and C2 race at the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester. Next Wednesday, The Night Weasels Cometh is at Ski Ward in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and The Week ends on October 8 and 9 in Providence, at Roger Williams Park with the Providence Festival of Cyclocross presented by Interbike with another UCI C1 and C2 race. Stay tuned!