The start of the men's race at Nittany last weekend. Cyclocross Magazine

The start of the men's race at Nittany last weekend. © Cyclocross Magazine

Last time we caught up with Craig, the 2011 season had just ended. And now, he’s back and ready for more, hunkering down in Western Massachusetts and racing hard.

by Craig Richey

The first major cyclocross race of the season is really a two hour reunion followed by a one hour race. In the parking lot well before the starting gun, many old friends are reconnected and lots of stories are shared from the summer of racing road and mountain. Then the new bikes come out of the cars, which prompts a solid block of bike geeking and the squeezing of brake levers; it’s pretty rad, and a short month ago it looked like it might not happen for me.

Back in July my cyclocross team setup for this season fell through. This prompted a mad scramble which resulted in me finding a new ’cross team that I was just as excited about. In mid-August, though, I got word that they would not be able to get frames until well into the season, so that setup was no longer an option either. I feel at this point, most riders faced with the strong possibility they are going to have to buy all their equipment and completely self-fund a season would quit. I considered it. The previous season I had struggled with illness and was generally disappointed with my results, but I learned a lot about myself and saw flickers of my potential. I felt that if I quit now I would be going out with a whimper, having never really raced at my potential. With a bit of money in the bank from when I had a real job, and from the online marketing work I did this summer, I decided to take the leap and buy bikes, wheels, kits, flights, and commit to doing a full season of ’cross.

My late summer sponsorship scramble confirmed something that I have known for a while: that there is no efficient way for sponsors and athletes to connect. As an athlete you send out a huge amount of inquiries, and most never make to the right person or fall on deaf ears. For businesses looking to market their brand or product through cycling there is no easy way to find out what riders or teams are looking for sponsorship. Thus, a free site that connects sponsors and athletes, was born. Plus, with cyclocross being such a great return on marketing dollars and the confidence that I can produce some results this season, I am going to be racing for Sponsor Connected. Being my own sponsor does give me a completely flexible calendar so I figured I would kick the season off early with a month-long campaign in the Northeast.

First up was the reunion/race at Ellison Park in Rochester. Not only is the pre-race reunion fun but it is also exciting to see where everyone stacks up after six months apart. I was pleasantly surprised. On Saturday, after a poor start and getting stuck behind crashes, I rode solo up through the field to finish fourth. On Sunday, I was battling in the lead group against some legends of ’cross, causing me to get a little too excited and I burnt all my matches before the fireworks at the end. I rolled in for another fourth.

Next on the schedule was originally Green Mountain CX in Vermont, but a stacked field and the inability to find a ride prompted me race Nittany Lion Cross in Pennsylvania instead. The course was dry, fast and really twisty. Sadly, it played perfectly to my weaknesses. After some mid-week start practice, I was able to shake the cobwebs out of my starts and took the hole shot. A mid-race crash dropped me out of the lead group, and by the time I had bridged back, J-Pow had hit the throttle and splintered the group. The best I could muster was another fourth.

With Powers absent Sunday it looked like it was going to be a wide open race. After a good start and some time at the front, I found myself in the lead group of five with three riders from the Haymarket team. Usually in ’cross team tactics are pretty limited, but on the fast and twisty course they did a pretty good job of working me over by taking turns attacking and blocking. By the last lap the Haymarket riders had achieved their goal and it looked like the best I would be able to finish was third. Determined on finding my first podium of the season I led the last 1/2 lap, riding defensive lines to keep the two riders on my wheel behind me. These less than ideal lines caused me to get a slow rear flat, but I was able to stay in the lead and secure my first UCI podium of the season.

Generally I am pretty happy with my early season form. While I haven’t won any races I have consistently finished near the front and that consistency has me ranked second overall on the USA Cycling Pro Cyclocross Calendar behind Frenchman Nicolas Bazin. I have a few things to work on, but there are lots of great people to ride with in Easthampton and I should be able to find a little more speed before heading to the first round of the New England Pro Cyclocross Series in Gloucester, MA later this month.