Many of us are still thawing out our fingers, toes and cameras after the awesomely varied conditions of the 2017 Cyclocross National Championships and laughing at the relative ridiculousness of our beautiful sport.
For today’s Throwback Thursday, we’re taking a look back to an era when New England Cyclocross Nationals-racing cyclocrossers obsessed about tire choice, toe spikes, weather reports and how to descend tricky snow-covered hills without going down.
It certainly was a memorable Nationals—one that even delivered its fair share of agony, especially in the form of a heartbreaking gear-related title loss and surprise win in a youth category.
Sounds like just a few days ago, right? At its heart, Cyclocross Nationals in New England hasn’t changed much in two decades.
Way back in December 1995, in Leicester, Massachusetts, a blizzard welcomed racers and fans to a one-day championship event. Eight inches of snow blanketed the course throughout the day, making for treacherous, slippery conditions that put a premium on bike handling but without frozen ruts. Since it was a one-day event, there weren’t the wheel-eating frozen tire tracks from previous days hiding under snow.
There were still Junior, Masters and non-title races (even tandem racing, won by Paul Curley and his partner), but not the five-year age groups we see today. And just as in Hartford, there was one, tricky downhill where fans gathered to watch, cheer and heckle racers attempting to navigate the descent on two wheels, or at times, in the form of intentional or unintentional butt slides.
Leading up to the race, much of the chatter, albeit not on Twitter but over the phone and in cars heading to the race, was about tire choice. Yours truly was happy he opted for a mountain bike with Panaracer Spike tires, while if frozen memories were preserved accurately, Mark McCormack rode a Hot Tubes monster cross bike with 700×45 Panaracer Smoke tires to the silver in the men’s race.
The two “Jan” winners in the December event, Jan Wiejak and Jan Bolland, took different approaches to their titles. Wiejak raced his Spinergy-equipped Alan cyclocross bike with standard cyclocross tubulars, while Jan Bolland used her mountain bike to defeat defending champ Shari Kain, who was on a cyclocross bike.
Even back then, toe spikes were a late-night stressor and potential difference maker, the Worcester Gazette and Telegram reported. The McCormack brothers were “up until 11 the night before the race at Frank’s house in Leicester modifying [their] shoes with metal toe spikes.” Twenty one years later, such last-minute shoe prep was the norm on Saturday night before the Hartford Nationals.
Fans old enough to attend both events, after seeing Maxx Chance’s heartbreaking chain drop feet from the finishing straight and Lance Haidet’s title win, might have been reminded of how in 1995 a young racer who seemed destined to win a title suffered a heartbreaking gear-related, title-stealing disappointment while another future star made the most of his good fortune.
In 1995, the Junior men’s race (U23 didn’t exist until years later), Damon Kluck pedaled away from the field in the slow, slippery conditions to cross the line in first with time to celebrate. But his bike failed a junior gear restriction roll-out test, and despite pleas that it didn’t matter because he never used the biggest gear in the sloppy conditions, rules are rules, and the title was awarded after the race to a surprised and delighted future Stu Thorne-prepared star in Tim Johnson.
At least in Hartford, Lance Haidet had time to celebrate his title-winning ride, but Johnson never had that chance. [The gear restriction was lifted by the USCF the following season.]
Sure, we might not have seen mountain bikes, 45c tires and eight-spoke Spinergy wheels this past week, but Mother Nature, New England and the sport of cyclocross teamed up once again to deliver a great sequel to the 1995 Championships in Leicester, and racers followed the script to perfection.
We’re hoping we won’t have to wait another two decades to create another set of lasting memories.
Read the race report by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette of this legendary Nationals here.
Promoter Lyle Fulkerson said the 1995 Nationals inspired his creation of the Saturn Supercup, the national series that started it all and was featured in Issue 22.
Note: All photos shot on film, and images by Andrew Yee are low-tech photos of prints, not scans of prints or film. One day…