A Trip to Roger Williams Pahk
With the majority of the Tatitos now living on the Eastern seaboard, and a cluster settling in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, a cyclocross reunion at an NECX UCI race was more or less inevitable this season. And while Gloucester seems to get the most attention outside the region, it was Providence that proved the more compelling option on this occasion. Knowing that the trip wouldn't be inexpensive, we went into full #hobocyclist mode - packing enough food to last through the weekend, scheduling driving time in the wee hours of the night in order to not have to take time off of work, and sleeping on the kitchen and hallway floors of a cozy little apartment in Arlington.
For my part, knowing nothing of New England, I studied the Boston accent, researched the locations and operating hours of vital used bookstores, and invited some faculty friends at Brown to the race on Sunday. I also made some buttons, built some wheels, and loaded the mobile fit studio into the trunk of the car, having booked several $1 fits.
Over the past few years, I've seen first hand the majority of the UCI cyclocross races in North America, but this was my first look at Providence. And while not exactly in a different class altogether, it truly does hit every single mark of a great event. From the natural beauty of the venue to the quality of the facilities to the caliber of every single racing field… Providence is equal to, or surpasses anything I've witnessed. Besides the vast number of racers though, there are the thousands of spectators. And it's here, I think, that the event really is differentiated from other large scale national cycling events, across disciplines. Tulsa Tough, Speed Week, Cross Vegas, the Philly Cycling Classic, and even the Tour of California all draw large crowds. Many of these folks know little of racing, but have been drawn by a party atmosphere, the event's peripheral clinics or festivals, and/or the promise of alcohol. Which is to say… I think they're great! But as has been well documented, these crowds aren't exactly the most knowledgeable fans of the sport.
We arrived to the course early on Sunday morning. Carrie and Sophia headed our to pre ride and determine whether the storms overnight had saturated the soil enough to create mud (they hadn't) and the rest of us puttered over to the Rapha Mobile setup to say hi to Dave & Tim and sip some espresso. There was a line when we arrived, so we waited patiently. A couple of girls in matching colorful skinsuits and cleats stood in front of us. The looked to be no more than 14 years old.
"I like Brad's voice. Especially during the start. He sounds like a TV announcer."
"Yeah but Richard says really funny things. And during the pro race he, like, can identify everyone even when they're far away. He knows all the pro women's names."
"I wish he knew my name."
Those of us outside New England might chafe against the sometimes annoying insistence that it's the heart and soul of American cyclocross, but there's no question that there is a long tradition in the region. There is a deep and vigorous river of institutional knowledge and history of the sport that courses through the clubs, shops, mentors, coaches, families, racers, and even fans. On more than one occasion, friends pointed out families in attendance with three generations of racers. That doesn't happen a lot outside of New England, and it's old hat there.
Just standing around the races, chatting with strangers, I was treated with a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes: how Paul Curley taught the Keough brothers to brake check and ride aggressively against racers twice their age, how and why Elle Anderson transitioned from downhill skiing to cycling at Dartmouth, and what on earth Cuppow is and how it became a thing in the cyclocross world.
The course itself was amazing, if not perfect. Some folks found the ramp to be gimmicky and others, the flyovers a little too difficult to handle with novice legs. But the racing was fantastic. In Sunday's UCI Juniors race, young shredders Gage Hecht and Spencer Petrov gapped the field by working together and absolutely tearing up the technical sections. On this day, it would be Petrov, who attacked on the slick back section and held a gap through the finish. Both are incredibly exciting talents who'll both be competitive in the pro fields once they're old enough.
Two young Chicagoland racers made the trip: Maxx Hall of Village-Verdigris and Ryan Ramirez of the Pony Shop. In the heat of battle, few of us hear much from the sidelines, but I hope these two could pick up on our ridiculous chorus of cheers. Maxx had an awesome start in the UCI Juniors race, coming through the hole shot in third position. After getting jostled a bit, he lost contact with the leaders, but remained composed and proceeded to pull a chase group of six for much of the remainder of the race. Maxx also got rad on the double barriers, cleaning hopping them on every lap. Ryan was a bit more nervous before his race, which made sense, this being his debut UCI Elite season. On Sunday we pitted for him, cheering him on wildly twice per lap. I'm not sure whether or not this had any impact on his race, but Ryan did very well, finishing two laps down from the eventual leaders, rather than his predicted three. And while that might not seem like much - this was massive. He finished the race beaming, justifiably proud of himself for improving over the course of the weekend and motivated for the races yet to follow.
One remarkable and perhaps unsurprising aspect of the event was the number of handbuilt bikes in attendance and being raced. On Sunday alone I counted over 200 in less than one hour: Firefly, Moots, Rock Lobster, Seven, Rick Jones, Circle A, Richard Sachs, Tomii, Geekhouse, Independent Fabrications, Vicious Cycles, Ted Wojcik...
I wish there had been more time to meet and swap stories with old friends and new, and even that weird category of internet-friend-but-not-yet-in-real-life. I did finally get to meet Mr. Dan Chabanov in person, and I can assure you that the young man is as charming and handsome in person as he is on the internet, y'all.