25 years ago this weekend, UCI Cyclo-cross racing made its debut in New England in what is now called the Cycle-Smart Northampton International. It is the oldest continuously operating UCI race in the country and as such led the way for many UCI races that have followed in its footsteps. It is also the third and fourth rounds of the Verge New England Cyclo-cross Series presented by Stan's NoTubes and Cycle-Smart.
Adam Myerson, then just nineteen years old, got involved in the race with a friend. He described its beginnings to Cyclingnews, "The race had existed in the 80s in various forms, as an early cyclo-cross race and eventually a collegiate mountain bike race. I first participated in it in the fall of 1990, when I was a freshman at UMass, and the race was still in Orchard Hill, right on campus."
"It wasn't a UCI back then, of course; just the opposite. I took the race over in 1991 with my collegiate teammate Mike Horner, and we turned it into a pure cyclo-cross race. It eventually grew into the biggest race in New England, and became a UCI event in 2000."
Myerson added, "Gloucester became UCI in 2001, I believe. And to be accurate, our race wasn't the first. We're just the oldest. Chris Grealish ran the first UCI event in the US, in Mead, Colorado, in either '96 or '97. The Supercup was also UCI after that, and then the Monkey Hill Cyclo-cross in Wilmington, Delaware."
"It was the Monkey Hill organizer, Andrew Albright, who convinced me that it was possible for our races to meet the UCI standards. In 2000 I took over management of the New England 'Cross Series from Tom Stevens, and implemented a 3-year plan to take the series fully UCI. Amherst went first, then Gloucester, and then the rest in 2002."
In 2003 the race moved from Orchard Hill on the UMASS Campus to Look Park in Northampton. Early on, Myerson made the privately owned park a partner in the event, a move that proved to be a major factor in the race's longevity. The park is nearly perfect for cyclo-cross with highly varied and wooded terrain, a sand pit, a massive grass field, adequate pavement, and one of the most challenging run-ups anywhere in the USA.
Cyclo-cross in the USA has seen explosive growth since those humble beginnings. This season there are 43 UCI sanctioned cyclo-cross races in the USA. In addition, Americans have risen near the top of the international rankings.
Katie Compton (Trek Factory Racing) not only has won the World Cup Series, but she routinely is a favorite at the World Championships. Other American women including Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale) and Amanda Miller (Boulder Cycle Sport) are cracking the top ten at international races, with Antonneau recently claiming a podium spot at the Valkenburg World Cup.
Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) has also gradually pulled himself into the world's top ten UCI racers, and now seems to have a regular spot on the front row at World Cup events. Before him, Jonathan Page was the only American who could consistently compete at the highest levels that exist in Europe, and particularly Belgium.
The future now looks quite bright. Four USA Junior Men, including Spencer Petrov and Gage Hecht, are ranked within the top ten juniors in the world. Just a few years ago that was unimaginable.
Powers commented on Cycle-Smart race, "It's a staple of our Western Massachusetts cyclo-cross community. I wish that it wasn't a conflicting weekend (with Louisville) because it's a race I would love to be a part of each year since it happens in my hometown!"
“Alec Donahue from the JAM fund runs the event with Adam Myerson, and the JAM Fund kids have a major part in making the event come together each year. The M in JAM, Mukunda, owns a local bakery called Tart, and they've made many podium treats for the racers each year...we also have the JAM Fund's annual sausage tent, a tradition Jeremy Durrin started to raise funds for a European campaign back in 2012."
Powers continued, "My fondest memories are racing it as a Junior with Alan Obye, Jesse Anthony, Josh Anthony and all the New England juniors at that time. I won it a couple different times—in 2010 and 2011."
"Back in 2003 we had a cycling house in Northampton. We held a small race around the house that included Ryan Trebon, Todd Wells, and many others. I hope that we can get the event back to that level, and get the whole cyclo-cross community back to Western MA!"
Ellen Noble (JAM Fund), who won the Under-23 Pan Am Championship this past weekend, was not even born when the Northampton race began, yet it has had a profound impact on her racing career. She currently attends UMASS in Amherst and is a product of the successful JAM Fund Program.
Noble remarked, "The Cycle-Smart International holds a special place in my heart because it was the first cyclo-cross race I ever did. My family only had planned on doing one day, but we drove all the way back from Maine (three hours!) for day two because I was so hooked."
"I credit my 'obsession' with racing cyclo-cross to the high quality of this event. It really emulates the vibrant, exciting energy of US cyclo-cross. CSI has paved the way for other races in the US and I can't wait to race (and of course, volunteer) all week at such a historic event."
When Myerson was asked what his fondest memory might be, he responded, "In 2003 we were still a one-day event, on Saturday, and it was our first time at Look Park. We had great sponsorship from Verge and Clif Bar, and Clif Bar had a national level 'cross team with Jackson Stewart and Andy Jacques-Maynes for the men, and Carmen D'Alusio and Gina Hall for the women.
"Jackson beat Todd Wells in a sprint for the win, with the top 10 including Andy, Marc Gullickson, a Belgian named Ronny Poelvoorde, Ben Jacques-Maynes, and a very young, up and coming kid named Jeremy Powers. It was one of the best fields, and best races, we'd ever had."
Racing this weekend at Look Park promises to be just as exciting as it was in the early days. U-23 Champion Ellen Noble (JAM/NCC/Vittoria), Cassandra Maximenko (Van Dessel) and Libby White (UVM) appear to be the favorites in the Elite Women's field.
Canadian Champion Raphael Gagne (Garneau-Red Truck), Justine Lindine (Apex/NBX), and Anthony Clark (JAM/NCC/Vittoria) are likely to lead the charge for the Elite Men.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for race reports, photos, and results from Northampton.