Better than caution tape

Spectacross 2009 at the New Jersey State Fair. by Jamie Mack

by Jake Sisson

The weather gods have smiled at Ken Getchell’s experimental summer cyclocross event and granted an afternoon rain to provide plenty of mud for the Cyclocross Magazine Friday Night Sprints at Spectacross, held in conjunction with the New Jersey State Fair.

The slippery course conditions, held partially on a tractor-pull course, were not enough to derail masters racer Johnny Bold’s bid at victory in the Pro/Elite Men’s competition, presented by Staten Island Cross. Puddles that had formed earlier turned an otherwise fast, hardpack course into a soupy mud pit that reeked havoc on drivetrains. Just ask Alec Donahue, who’s derailleur succumbed to the mud just over half way through the race.

Bold was the fastest man out of the start house, proving why he has ridden his way to multiple Verge New England series titles. Soon after his hot start, however, Bold relinquished the lead to a surging Ben Popper (Cyclocross Magazine columnist), who would set a torrid pace at the front for the next few laps. Bold was content to hold Popper’s wheel, never straying more than a couple seconds from Popper’s draft. Behind Bold, Alec Donahue was riding a steady tempo to keep hold of the leaders, while holding off Jesse Rients in fourth. At the halfway point, it was clear that Donahue was having mechanical difficulties, as he was limited to only his easy gears, leaving him to spin at an abnormally high cadence. Donahue would drop back a few places before the mud claimed the life of his derailleur.

By this time, Bold had caught up to Popper, and the two were going head to head at the front of the race, with Donahue and Rients closing in from behind. Disaster struck for Popper over one of the slick “whoops” obstacles when he hit the turf, allowing Bold, Rients and Donahue all to get past him. After remounting, Popper realized that his chain had not survived the crash and had to dismount and replace his chain before he could continue. Once back on his bike, the leaders were accelerating their way out of the barriers, and Popper was chasing at the back of the group of four. Bold took this opportunity to hit the gas, and broke open a lead over the other three riders, carrying a four second lead over Rients, and a nine second lead over Popper as they passed through the finishing area.

Bold’s engine and technical skills were a perfect mix for the course, as he steadily opened up his lead over Rients (who had assumed second position). Rients would not stay in second for long, as Popper, who was riding on the back of a rush of adrenaline, was back in the mix only a couple of laps after eating the mud. Popper worked his way up through Rients and was soon off in pursuit of Bold. Bold, however, would ride a technically near-perfect race in defense of his lead, with his only miscue coming in the form of putting a foot down in a slick grass turn with two laps to go. Popper would manage to close the gap, but not enough to get up to the Spectacross title, and would have to settle for the silver medal. Rients held on for third place.

Bold is well on his way to a defense of his Verge title, and Popper should easily be able to get to his UCI points that he was searching for last season. It’s too bad we’ve got around a month until we can do this all again, but watch out for tomorrow’s action, it’s sure to be even better than today’s!

All in all, Spectacross was a great way to open up the season of racing. But the highlights may not have been the actual racing but the uniqueness of the event and venue. Held in front of a captive audience, utilizing existing fair facilities, and offering supplemental events including observed trials and a ‘cross clinic, this type of event offers plenty of potential for both fans, spectators and sponsors.

Check back later for photos and a full report from Saturday’s event.