British 'cross rider Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) has concluded a three and a half week block ofcyclo-cross racing in the northeast of the United States and the 25-year-old Briton definitely made his presence felt at the seven UCI 'cross races he attended.
Field opened his American campaign on September 10 at Nittany Lion 'Cross where he finished second to Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus). The next weekend he contested both days of Charm City Cross in Baltimore, Maryland and came away with a victory on Saturday and a second place finish to Belgium's Tom Van Den Bosch (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) on Sunday.
The following weekend, September 24 and 25, Field won again at Burlington, Vermont's Nor’easter ‘Cross and claimed second place on Sunday at Rochester, New York's Rohrbach's Ellison Park Cyclocross to Frenchman Nicolas Bazin (Team Big Mat-Auber 93).
His final weekend included his first UCI C1-ranked event of the season, Saturday's Gran Prix of Gloucester, where Field continued his podium streak with a third place finish behind Swiss champion Christian Heule (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld) and Powers.
The only hiccup to Field's debut experience in America came on the second day of racing at the Gran Prix of Gloucester, the Briton's final race and final day in the US, when he collided with a child running across the parcours, resulting in a banged-up knee and a DNF.
"It's a really, really cool scene [in the US]," Fields told Cyclingnews after his first day of racing at Gloucester. "The fans are amazing - they know their stuff and they're super-friendly. The heckling's great. Everything's just been so good about the trip.
"The racing...it's not like in Europe where week in and week out I take a kicking and by the end of the season you've kind of had enough. Having Sven Nys taking three to four minutes out of you is never fun. I think the level is really, really good for me because I've been battling at the front of races and learning how to win races. Hopefully I'll take a step forward from this with these experiences."
The impetus for the trip came from his housemates at his Oudenaarde, Belgium base: British 'cross champion Helen Wyman and her husband Stefan. Helen Wyman enjoyed a remarkable string of success in the US, having won every elite women's race she entered.
"Stefan planned the whole trip and contacted all the race organisers," said Field. "They've been so helpful finding our guest housing and comping our entries, just making the whole trip go really smoothly for us on the East coast. We've just been guest housing with race organisers or friends of race organisers have been putting us up. We've just been moving from one race to the next since we've been racing so much.
"I can't believe how friendly everyone is: the race organisers and all the host housing we've stayed at have been unbelievable. I'll probably just take away the fact that everyone's so friendly and everyone just wanted to help so much."
Field and the Wymans joined up with Mike Garrigan (Lapierre Canada), a Canadian elite racer, for the Charm City weekend in Baltimore and have been in his company throughout the remainder of the racing in the US.
"He's got a big van and he joined us down in Charm City for the second weekend of racing, and we've been travelling with him ever since. Regarding someone in the pits, Stefan has been in there doing his thing on his own like he normally does and grabbing people to help out when he needed a hand. As I said, people have been so helpful and so friendly, it's been a real eye-opener."
While European riders such as Telenet-Fidea's Bart Wellens and Rob Peeters went west in the US to compete at the C1-ranked CrossVegas, continued up to the northwest for StarCrossed and the Rapha-Focus Gran Prix, then closed out their trip in the opening round of the Exergy USGP of Cyclocross in Wisconsin, Field opted to stay in the northeast for a more travel-friendly race schedule, albeit one that still required racing in five states.
"The travelling is bad enough with the seven hour flight and the five hour time change," said Field. "Just coming to the East coast is hard enough to get over and adding on the West coast would have been pretty awful, I imagine. Speaking to the guys who've done it, Tim Van Nuffel has been to loads of races, and he's just absolutely knackered.
"The 'cross season is much longer than September and I've always had that in the back of my head. In two week's time we're racing the first World Cup and I want to be going well there. We need the points, but to sacrifice your whole season for points is not really a good idea."
Field wasn't the only European-based rider to travel to the northeast, as Belgium's Tom Van Nuffel (DCM-GB Vorselaar) and Tom Van Den Bosch (Team AA Drink-Leontien.nl) plus France's Nicolas Bazin (Big Mat-Auber 93), too, opened their respective season in the United States.
"I'd caught up with Van Nuffel road racing this summer and he told me he was coming over and what races he was doing," said Field. "And then it was really strange, just randomly, two weeks before I came to America, I was doing an altitude camp in Les Deux Alpes in France and I actually saw Tom Van Den Bosch half way up a mountain. And then we got talking and he told me he was coming to America and our plans were nearly exactly the same.
"I didn't know Bazin was going to be here, that was a big surprise to find out that he was here, but I think everybody had the same idea: get some early season racing in our legs, pick up some points along the way and have a really good experience to see what America's all about. And also see how your body adapts to the time change, especially with Louisville coming up in 2013."
A breakthrough season on the horizon?
The bottom line of the trip to the US has been UCI points and Field accumulated 210 before returning to Europe, an amount well above the 150 he set as a personal goal. Over a span of 21 days Field earned more points than he did in the entire 2009-2010 season and nearly 2/3 of what he accumulated last season, before he's even turned a pedal in anger on the continent.
Field comes to 'cross from mountain biking, a discipline in which he earned a national championship in the under 23 ranks, but four summers ago he opted to concentrate on cyclo-cross and he's been making progress each season. For the past three seasons he's been racing for the British team Hargroves Cycles, a squad backed by a group of bike shops in the south of England.
"I started riding for them three years ago when I decided to concentrate on 'cross because Pete Hargroves, the owner, is really into his cyclo-cross racing," said Field. "I basically went from a real basic shop deal and every year my results are getting better so he gave me more backing. This year Specialized came onboard with the team.
"We've got a lot of young riders, U23s and juniors, that are pretty good in the UK scene. There is another elite rider, Jody Crawforth in the UK, but I'm kind of like the stand-alone elite that goes abroad and tries to fly the flag a little bit for the UK 'cross scene in Europe."
While Great Britain has enjoyed remarkable success on the track, and recently earned more medals than any nation, 6, at the road world championships punctuated by Mark Cavendish's road title, cyclo-cross has been a discipline more on the back burner.
"Hopefully I can encourage more riders to stick with cyclo-cross, which is a big issue in the UK. A lot of riders do 'cross as a youth and a junior and then when it comes to choosing what discipline they want to go into 'cross gets put to one side because there isn't the funding you need to carry on with it. Hopefully I can inspire, and Hargroves can support, a few more young riders to take up 'cross full-time."
With a morale-boosting prelude to his European season now concluded, Field is eager to return to Belgium and kick start his season on the continent, highlighted by the Superprestige series as well as every World Cup.
"I've got a full Superprestige contract which means I'll be doing every single round of the Superprestige and it kicks off next weekend at Ruddervoorde, Belgium. And then I'll be doing the full World Cup series, it's the pinnacle of cyclo-cross so that's where I'm heading."
While Field's housemate Helen Wyman has had a lock on the British women's national championship jersey in recent years, Field, too, would like to earn a national title in the men's ranks.
"It's obviously a massive goal for me to win the national title, I haven't won that before," said Field. "Maybe in previous years I should have but it is difficult racing in Europe all year and going back for one race basically and racing with a target on your back. After a long season it's kind of hard to get it all right on the day. I'm definitely changing a few things this season, especially with the American trip, and then I'm kind of planning a different season almost, to try to make sure I can take the national title and whatever that brings with sponsorship and the prestige of having a jersey."