Rapha Super Cross Gloucester is this weekend, and as a primer we have two takes on the racing at this celebrated venue. First up, a quick interview with Gloucester race director and New England cyclocross stalwart, Paul Boudreau. The second is a small but perfectly informed treatise on Gloucester’s importance to American cross by Zac Daab of HUP United and Cascade Bicycle Studio, Seattle.
Paul Boudreau, race director, Super Cross Gloucester :
New England is regarded as at the forefront of the American cyclocross scene, with huge fields of amateur racers, large prize purses for the professionals, and an atmosphere of bonhomie and jollity that’s supported by food trucks, fire pits, and fans tempting riders off the racing line with fistfuls of dollar bills.
This is the remoulding of cyclocross’s cliché – that of the dour Northern Europeans in raincoats – into something with high productions values, something more American. On the racecourse, New England’s race directors have made minor but noticeable changes to their races, making for a style of racing that differs from its European cousin.
Gloucester’s race director, Paul Boudreau, has been a part of the race organisation since its inception in 1999, and has come to be the race’s public face. Over fish and chips, he explains the nature of the Gloucester course.
“Gloucester’s mud is thin and quite gritty, mostly because the sand does such a good job of absorbing the rainfall. This means it never gets too sloppy out there, and the average racing speed is pretty high – we never get the attritional, low cadence racing of Belgium. The other big difference is in the corners: American racing tends to favour sweeping corners that require the riders to lean their bikes way over, which is quite rare in European races.
“In 2001 we had the reigning World Champion, Erwin Vervecken, come to race. Back then US cross was still very much outside the mainstream, and to have the current World Champion on an American start line was quite a coup. He won the race, but Tim Johnson sure didn’t give the win away. I’m pretty sure Mr Vervecken was a little surprised to see Tim attacking him.
“We’ve changed the course over the years, but the essence of it has remained the same. A few years ago we added a flyover and a beach run – that year was amazing, and I know the racers loved those features. Since then we’ve had some issues with the city council – residents worried that we were damaging the park and beach, although we’re very confident that is not the case. Our relationship with the city is really strong now, but we’ve had to scale back a few of the course features. I think we’ll be able to bring a few of these things back very soon.
Gloucester according to Zac Daab:
It’s 6:30 on the West Coast, and on the eve of the Gran Prix of Gloucester, that means in the East, everybody’s in town. Flights have landed, couches are now being surfed. Miles of travelled tarmac up the eastern seaboard are finally behind, and it’s go time.
It’s hard to describe to people in the West, and in other parts of the country, this energy and feeling around Boston on the eve of Gloucester. That city has been buzzing for weeks, months. Cat 4s with no hope of finishing on the lead lap have been planning vacations, power levels, sick time, and all major purchases around this weekend. Kit orders, pop-up tents, van decal-ing: they’ve all had a pending deadline, and that deadline is Gloucester. Bars have been filled for weeks by single, white males in 28/32 Levi’s, ruminating on whiteout in 2005, who might get the hole shot this year, and how 35th place will feel.
Cyclocross has come a long way in the last 15 years. In every major city, there is now a legitimate cross series. In some cities, there are two. But in a ‘me-too’ world, it’s hard not to see some of this as cliché, as an impersonation of cyclocross being played out in some odd and tragic forms across the country. But the Gran Prix of Gloucester is the real deal.
Gloucester is like thinking you know every present you’re getting for Christmas, and then the last one comes from behind the couch and blows your mind and you go mental, and the first thing you think is, “I have to wait another 365 days for this moment?”
I’ve been fortunate enough to have ridden the scared grounds of Gloucester on and off since 2000. One of my all-time cherished palmarès is a mild 9th place (cracking the top-10 in the 2005 edition, Day 1). I’ve seen placing’s in the 30s way too many times, but I wouldn’t trade it for a win. Just when I thought I had seen it all at Gloucester, there was more.
Though some of the elements I’ve only viewed from afar, I can say with certainty that there will be “a thing” this weekend, a defining feature that leaves its stamp on 2014. My point is this: In nostalgic New England where some things never change, Gloucester is sacred, Gloucester is tradition, but it also evolves, shifts, turns right-side up, and feels dynamic, fresh, and authentic.
I don’t know Paul or the rest of the Essex County Velo crew that well, just from the landscape they’ve manufactured year after year. The coldest I’ve ever been in my life was in the upper parking lot of Stage Fort Park, and I’ll remember that day forever. On the eve of the Gloucester weekend, I’d like to personally thank all those involved with the race (spectators, race promoters, vendors, Canadians named Pascal) for all the fond memories. Gloucester 2014: Make it so.
Gloucester’s first ever poster, courtesy of gpgloucester.com: