New Gloucester Maine is one of the New England classics of the cyclocross season. Right up there with names like Providence and Northampton, New Gloucester is held on the beautiful grounds of the Pineland Farm, and the races take place amidst the scenery of Technicolor fall foliage, bucolic New England barns, and rolling pastures filled with cows. Of course, all of that waxing poetic belies the fact that the course is brutally hard-with a mix of open farm field, sinister off-cambers, and a challenging wooded section filled with roots, rocks, a long climb, and almost without fail, mud. Of all the years I have raced in New Gloucester, I can’t seem to dredge the memory of a single dry year from the muck that clouds my memory. I have seen it slick and slimy, and I have seen it thin and soupy; with temps ranging from mild to near freezing, but I cannot recall having seen it “dry”.
To illustrate that last point, as my wife Jess and I drove through New Hampshire and up the Maine Turnpike, the rain was coming down so hard it was hard to see the car in front of you. Between that and the wind lashing my car from side to side, I had to laugh at the Maine welcome sign that reads: “Welcome to Maine, The way life should be.” It’s safe to say that I went to bed that night feeling pretty confident that I had made the right choice in leaving the file-treads at home and mounting up my two wheelsets with Challenge Limus tires. I was ready for the mud.
In the morning I headed out to the race venue after taking in the sweeping ocean views from my friend Aaron’s family cabin where Jess and I would spend the weekend. The fog was thick and the air warm and dense with moisture, but there was still beautiful views to be had of seals perched on rock outcroppings and islands in the distance. It didn’t take long after arriving at the venue to see that mud was going to be the order of the day. The coated faces, bikes strung with grass and brown glop, and the incessant roar of the power-washer, were just a few of the dead giveaways.
After a few warm-up laps of dialing in the lines and the tire pressure (I ultimately decided on 21 lbs. for maximizing traction even though it did increase my risk of hitting something in the wooded section) I handed my “B” bike to my pit person and finished warming up on the trainer. After a somewhat botched start where I was clearly in too hard a gear, I pushed my way back into the front of the race in time to tackle the tough climb on the backside of the course. I managed to take over the lead of the race briefly, but a small bobble on one of the off-cambers gave the Richard Sachs duo of Dan Timmerman and Christian Favata a chance to jump away and start building a lead. Seeing that no one else was going to take up the chase, and knowing that both Dan and Christian are both dangerous riders, especially with tricky course conditions, I started methodically chasing them down. First I caught Christian, who had already been distanced by his teammate Dan.
For those of you who might not know, Dan Timmerman was pretty unstoppable a few years back in the cross scene-dominating the Verge New England Series with his trademark, attack early and ride the rest of the race solo, move. Well, I didn’t want any of that so I kept up the pressure and finally made contact just before two laps to go. At that point it became a one-on-one sparring session as we both tried to test each other on different sections of the course. I liked my chances in that the course concluded with a fair amount of technical sections and I knew if I could force a gap in the woods, Dan would be hard pressed to bring it back before the finish. When I looked back on our last trip through the trees and saw I had a small gap, I gassed it with everything I had and safely navigated the last few sections with enough time in hand to post up at the finish for my first UCI win of the season!
Sunday October 21st
Sunday dawned much clearer and with a breeze that was quickly helping to dry off the soggy course. There were some new twists and turns, but a large portion of the course remained similar, and even with the help of the favorable weather there was still a far bit of slipping and sliding to be had. With that in mind, it was the Limus tires again albeit with a little more pressure today to deal with some of the faster turns as the course continued to dry.
The big story of the day was the addition of national caliber mountain bike star Adam Craig. Despite a last row call up due to his lack of UCI points, Craig made fast work of the smaller field size and joined the front of the race on lap two, despite our blazing fast pace early on. Shortly after his arrival, only myself and Jeremy Durrin were able to hang onto the train and we quickly opened up a sizable gap to the rest of the race. Unfortunately, heading through one of the more muddy and rock strewn sections of the course I managed to hit a rock that was buried in a mud hole, forcing me to unclip and dab with one foot while continuing to try and pedal with the other. The noise was a dead tip-off to Craig that now was the time to go and he put in a full gas attack. After that it was damage control as I tried to bring Craig back, getting as close as 12 seconds. Unfortunately with little cooperation from Durrin, the gap proved too much for me to reel in alone and heading into the last lap a late jump from Durrin showed that I had put too many of my cards on the table in chasing to race the finale. I hit the pavement just seconds behind him, but it was too short a stretch to gain any ground. I would have to settle for third today.
Ultimately it was a pretty successful weekend, and one where I felt I was racing closer to the form I expect from myself. I think everyone in New England, and really riders across the country this season have really raised the bar of performance to new heights. There is little margin for error when so many racers are so closely linked in skills and fitness. I am hoping that I can continue to improve in the coming weeks, and am cautiously optimistic that I might just be able to hang onto the lead in the Verge New England Series for good this year…Stay tuned.