Craig at the Midnight Ride of Cyclocross Russ Campbell

Richey at the Midnight Ride of Cyclocross. © Russ Campbell

Canadian racer Craig Richey is starting his season in the US this year, though like last year in Belgium, he’s finding himself up against some of the top Euro pros . He checks in with an update on the season so far, coming straight out of New England, the place some might consider to be “America’s Belgium.”

by Craig Richey

I have a theory that just about every elite racer secretly hopes and thinks they are doing something special during the off-season. As the racers take to the starting line at the first major race of the season, each hopes that he or she will have miraculously jumped up a level. Anyhow, this was how I felt, coming into CrossVegas and StarCrossed. However, this year, like the last couple, other riders get faster and slower but I seem to be more or less at the same point as the start of last season.

This was my first summer not having to work full-time and also my first summer with ’cross as the major focus. I logged a ton of base miles with no structured efforts and used racing as my intensity work. I managed to do a good mix of both road and mountain and had some success in both disciplines. At the start of August, I had the opportunity to tackle my first mountain bike stage race. The Mongolia Bike Challenge: 1200km across the deserts and mountains of Mongolia over nine days or racing. It was epic. The Mongolia earth was stained with my blood and sweat, but I surprised myself with a stage win and a third place finish overall.

Stage 4 of the Mongolian Bike Challenge. Courtesy of Craig Richey

Stage 4 of the Mongolian Bike Challenge. Courtesy of Craig Richey

Last year I rolled into ’cross season after a full UCI mountain bike season. I had good form early on and hit my stride in October, only to get sick a couple weeks later and then struggled to hold it together until February. That season left me shattered and restricted to riding the couch for a month.

This year, I am coming into the season fresh and with a great base that will hopefully carry me though to Worlds. I am, however, lacking any sort of top-end. My Mongolia motor allows me to ride at tempo all day, but without punch. I am gapped off the start and during the last lap surge to the line. One pleasant upside is that the races don’t seem to hurt as much, though this is likely because I can’t do the spikes in power that set the legs on fire. My steady motor is great, if it is muddy. The Nor’Easter ’cross race in Vermont last weekend was one of the muddiest races I have seen. I rode a steady pace for the hour and plowed through the mud for a sixth place finish, and some valuable UCI points.

At Nor’Easter, I finished sixth but was the second North American. It is now pretty clear that American ’cross is experiencing a bit of a European invasion. ’Cross racers around the world are scrabbling to secure UCI points before the first ranking update on October 16th. A number of big names from big teams like Telenet and Rabobank made the trip over for some of the the high profile US races like CrossVegas.

Flying a little more under the radar is a contingent lower profile yet solid Euro Pros who are racing the UCI calendar in New England. Here, they are snatching up UCI points in September like Easter Eggs in April. Ian Field, Nicolas Bazin and Tom van den Bosch have been sweeping the podium at many of the New England races and Nor’Easter was no different. The women’s field in also experiencing a European presence in New England with Helen Wyman racking up a string of dominating wins, in addition to Gabby Day and Joyce Vanderbeken. Is this European invasion good for American ’cross? In the long run, definitely.

In the short term, it is a little harder to call. Mid-tier pros from smaller teams in the US are not getting the wins, points, publicity and prize money of previous years. However, the racers are now faster and North American riders are forced to elevate their game if they want to get on the podium. This increased competition is a good thing if these North American pros want to be competitive on the world scene.

October is a big month for ’cross in America and we are now in the middle of “Cyclocross Holy Week” in New England. It started out with the Midnight Ride of Cyclocross last Wednesday, which despite being a brand-new event was extremely well-run and attracted an impressive list of international riders. GP Gloucester last weekend was the marquee event, sometimes referred to as the New England World Championships. Then, there’s Night Weasels this Wednesday and the Providence Cyclocross Festival this weekend. With so many high profile races over such a short period of time and in such a small geographic region, New England might get confused with a certain other ’cross hot-bed. Plus, it is raining right now. Belgium?