My skin felt electric, the mist fell through the grey sky, teeth chattering in a whirl of nerves and a drop of body temperature. “30 seconds!” and everything went still, for a brief moment the attention of 120 men were desperately focused on the road ahead, the silence broken by the piercing screech of the officials whistle and in an instant the peaceful bubble was shattered in a storm of aggression.
There is no escaping the massive spike of heart rate in the opening moments of the race, there is a sense of survival and terror that floods the mind as competitors crash around you and the lanes narrow, losing your sense of self preservation and charging ahead with out thoughts of consequence.
The crowd was deafening as we ran over the stairs, bells and horns, beer spilling, voices of encouragement, voices of ridicule and the ever present notion to “Go Hawdah Kid!” We had made it, we were racing in New England and it had immediately lived up to the hype.
To us New England and Gloucester specifically was folklore, the rocky beach on the Atlantic shore held an allure, it was cyclocross. It’s not often that things, people, events can live up to the hype that so many place upon it. Think of all the records, movies, taco stands your friends have told you “You have to….it’s the greatest!”
We had been hearing for sometime that Gloucester was the just that, ‘the greatest’ that New England had to offer, so we went, 10 hours of driving for 2 hours of racing and then 10 hours home. Racing there had lived up to all of the expectations the course was challenging and fun, the crowds were insane and the pros put on a hell of a show.
I fell in love instantly and would find myself driving back to New England every season to get another dose of the good stuff. Gloucester, Providence, North Hampton and Warwick, each one delivering a rush of pure New England cyclocross.
This past weekend I found myself back at the Thompson Motor Speedway for the second year of the KMC ‘Cross Fest. KMC is the replacement race for the long running and well loved Devine Providence, which had arguably had one of the best courses in the country. I can only speculate the exact reasons for moving the event to the small town of Thompson and increasing the entry fees two fold but the result was clear, this event felt sterile.
The camaraderie, the party, the people, all of what makes cyclocross in America special was missing. I thought about the potential of someone like me who had heard that New England was the place and how it was necessary for a true lover of the sport to go there and experience what it was all about. I thought about that person coming to the this motor speedway in the deep cuts of Connecticut and feeling that someone had lied to them.
There were no crowds, no atmosphere and no sweet potato tacos, only the hum of generators and the echo of announcers voices bouncing around course. The pros raced and raced hard, both the men’s and women’s fields delivered tightly contested and highly entertaining races but the unfortunate fact was that there were few there to witness it.
As I sat in traffic along side the Newark airport, I watched a line commercial jets coming in to land, one after another synchronized in perfect timing. The lights beamed in the night sky and you could trace the pattern for miles. I felt as if I was watching a film on loop, easily 30 planes had landed in the time that traffic had crawled a half a mile and still the descending patterns of lights never ceased.
I began to wonder how many planes were currently in the air headed straight for Newark, I wondered if next year there would be a KMC Cross Fest, I wondered if my need, my desire to go to New England had passed. Where once I beamed at the marvel of what cyclocross could be at it’s best, I drove home deflated, looking ahead at the calendar knowing that the season will continue, and that maybe the best has yet to come.