The Ronde 2.5: pre-season cyclocross. Natalia Boltukhova | Pedal Power Photography

The Ronde 2.5: pre-season cyclocross. © Natalia Boltukhova | Pedal Power Photography

by Chip Baker

The ’cross gods are like a tempest. Fire and Ice. Honing its legions into razors.

The Ronde 2.5 went down Saturday August 20th in Boston. Not enough can be said about the effort Matt Aumiller, Matt Miller, Ian Whittle and a whole horde of Cambridge Bikes people put into making this happen. A Ronde, if you unfamiliar with the term, is a bandit cyclocross or road race put on in homage to The Ronde i.e the Ronde Van Vlaanderen held in Flanders each Spring.

This version held in New England was one of the most creative routes that I have ever ridden. It blew my mind. Matt did a superhuman job of marking the course, I honestly didn’t hear of one person getting lost. That is a miracle. This is the third incantation of the Ronde and trust me, getting lost is the price of admission. Not on this one. Matt even rode neutral support, fixing flats and offering pep talks along the way.

But back to the gods. Whether we angered or excited them I do not know. What I do know is we woke them up. It started on Firefly Cx001’s maiden journey. My good friend Lucia is kind of into ’cross this season. So much so that she had Tyler build her one of the sickest ’cross bikes in existence. [Editor’s Note: we’ll be taking a close look at that bike soon!] Imagine Tyler as Hephaestus and Lucia as Achilles, and well, you get the idea. Tyler basically created a weapon of the gods for this season.

We hadn’t been riding for ten minutes when we heard thunder crashing over our heads. And not just, “hey, here is a little storm,” but Thor’s Hammer smashing ice giants type of thunder. We rode it out and had an amazing ride. The bike performed perfectly. It was a great opener and a foreshadowing of how the Ronde would go for us. I personally was so jacked up from riding through the t-storms and the thoughts of the ride that I couldn’t sleep at all. I just dreamt of shredding gnar all day long with the NECX.

We rolled out with the Pink Beacons! The Pink Beacons were none other than the Newbury Comics crew. We had eight riders in our group from HUP. Mike G, Lucia, Markie Mark, Mark Van Liere, Parke, Ctodd, Me and celebrity guest rider, Mike Zocchi. Billy led us out on a paceline all through the streets of JP and delivered us to Canto 6. We hauled up the hill and popped into Franklin Park. We hit the first trail sections and then the bad things started to happen. I felt my rear tire bottom out a bit on a chunky rock. I didn’t really think I flatted but it registered. At mile two in the most beautiful cemetery I have ever been in with church bells ringing all around us, I called out for a tire change. I mentioned it was mile two, right? We bid Newbury Comics adieu and got down to the business of the flat. Fairly quick tire change and our group of eight was back on it at full pedal to the gas. I am not going to lie. I was driving a fairly hard pace. Not killing it, but I wanted to get to some separation. I knew Robert and his super squadra were behind us hunting us down. We pacelined really well for a while. No problems. Staying on course and railing the little woodsy connecter paths.

We popped out the road heading to Blue Hills and I started to get even more geeked out. The Blue Hills part of this ride was something special. At least, to me it was. Sure, it was kind of rocky, babyheads, axe heads, hammer heads … gravely in bits. But it had that mountain feel to it. Nice trails in parts, trees rearing up. We climbed a bit. Well, we pushed and Mike Zocchi floated up the steepest rockiest climb we had that day. That man has skills. At mile 13 we had flat number two. Of course we did. It was mile 13, after all. It actually wasn’t that big a shocker for how rocky it was.

It was at this stoppage that team Camelstache caught us. It was great to see Uri and Jon and the boys. We exchanged pleasantries and they waited for us while we got our act together. We all descended as a group off the mountain … well, hill. At some point on the descent we had another flat. Then another. I realized at this point that this was just going to be how the day was going to go. We soldiered on. At one point, Matt rolled up in the team car and assisted the boys with one of their flats. He may have burned a smudge stick or through some mojo lifted what ever flat karma from us. As we really only had two more the rest of the ride.

The course had such a great flow to it. You would get out on some urban road sections and just hammer then pop into such great greenspace, and all of it in Boston or in its environs. I mean, who knew Boston had such a great urban trail system? Turtle Pond was calling my name. I seriously wanted to stop and jump in. It was really hot and it would have felt so good. But we were on the hunt. I knew we were last and was trying as much as I could to coax as much speed out of our group as humanly possible.

When we got to Millenium park in West Roxbury we were greeted to some awesome mud. You could just shred through the corners doing two-wheel drifts with mud flying everywhere! I almost killed a robin fledgling at one point, but was able to use some body English to keep it from getting crushed under my front wheel. At Cutler, we kept the pace hot. I could hear everyone hooting and hollering at how rad it was. Again, one of the coolest parts of these rides is you end up in places you have never been. I ride Cutler all the time. Its never boring, but to me, it’s old hat. But for people who were seeing it for the first time? It was like a cyclocross amusement park.

We got across the boardwalk and then onto the Island. I was at the front when I hear a huge crash behind me. It sounded bad. I went back and saw Lucia crumpled on the ground. She asks me, “what does it feel like when you break your collarbone?”

I said, “If you can raise it, you are fine.” At least I hoped she was fine. She, like all of my friends, is tough as nails. She was in visible pain for the whole ride.

We started getting a bit punchy as we headed toward the aqueduct. I think the miles of hard trail riding were started to add up. But still, you could tell people were loving it. We rode the loop. Still we saw no one. I still don’t know how this is possible. At the Dunkin Donuts, we saw a group of Cambridge hanging out. I won’t lie, I sped up.

I could hear the crew wanting to stop and indulge in those donuts and iced coffees. But I knew if we stopped, we were done. So I pushed harder. And faster. I started getting the Jens Voigt “I need coffee” bit going in my head. I might have been saying it out loud to get people moving.

I almost crashed wicked hard on some wet roots up in the S.Natick side of the loop. Who knew mud 2s pumped to 55 psi don’t ride so well over nasty slimy roots? Other than looking like a hot mess, I pulled it off without incident. We were now flying. Or at least it felt that way. But as we crossed over Great Plain and dropped back into the trail, Parke hit a tree. And he appeared stuck to it.

I had visions of the final scene in the John Wayne Movie the Green Berets, luckily he only was hugging the tree and slightly stunned. We got him off the tree. Then we started to change his front tire, which had flatted. Then the bleeding started. Blood was everywhere. On the levers. On the hub. The tire. Parke just shredded the hell out of his hand. Later in the emergency room, they took a piece of metal out of it. But Parke was all cool and chill. We get some duct tape and an elastic and tied it off. Mike Zocchi gave Parke a full fingered glove and off we go. Note to self: Carry first aid supplies!

At this point I have two riders who have taken some serious crash damage, and a couple who are looking like they are about to enter bonky town and never come out. So I make some executive decisions. I drive the pace even harder as now all we have is road. The thought being the faster we go, the quicker we get to the beer. It sort of works. I float to the back of the paceline and offer up some Gu shots etc. I cut out the secret stash in Brookline, as I knew there was no way we would come out of that alive. We finally roll back to Larz and the BBQ.

Back at the start/finish we shared so many tales. Ian had an amazing barbeque going. Chris Igleheart was hanging out. Matt came over and congratulated us. And as he sat down on the cooler and asked me how the ride went it hit me. The reason we put on these crazy ass rides, the reason we do these crazy ass rides is for that moment. Matt gave us a gift on Saturday. And like lots of gifts you could tell he got as much from the giving of it as we did the receiving of it. Thank you Matt, and Matt and Ian. Huge HUP hugs to all of you that rode, to Cambridge Bicycles racing! I am so stoked to be a part of this crazy ass community of rad bikers in the NECX.