The storied Providence, Rhode Island, cyclo-cross race, now the KMC 'CrossFest, has been forced to find a new venue so that the event could continue to grow. It had become the most popular and heavily attended cyclo-cross race on the New England calendar, and as such news of the move was a bitter pill to swallow for much of the cycling community. Roger Williams Park had become known for its challenging courses, festival atmosphere, and memorable races.
Event Director Richard Fries explained the situation through the event website.
"We realized this past spring that we had exceeded the capacity of that park and, frankly, that entire city. We heard your comments on parking and lodging and crime," Fries said."And despite our generating more than $2 million of economic impact each year, the city steadily raised every fee and restriction to levels that could only be described as prohibitive. We would have had to raise entry fees by $20 to remain there. We did not want to do that to our customers."
The race organization then reached an agreement with Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, located on 500 acres of rolling hills in sleepy northeast Connecticut, 38 miles from the Providence venue. The land has held racetracks for 76 years, and an 18-hole golf course for 65 years. This new venue solves the problem of parking, has an on-site restaurant and will be able to hold night racing under the lights of the racetrack.
A challenge at the new venue appears to be that most suitable housing for the athletes is about 15 miles away in towns like Southbridge and Sturbridge. In addition, contractual agreements that the racetrack has with beverage vendors will affect the beer garden, which had been so popular in Providence.
Thompson Speedway has been owned and operated by the Hoenig family for four generations, since before it became a racetrack. Its birth was actually the result of an act of nature.
In 1938 one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit New England, known as "The Long Island Express," devastated the Hoenig family farm and surrounding areas. John Hoenig responded by removing the downed trees, bringing in a rock crusher, building a sawmill, and moving thousands of cubic yards of gravel. All of these items were needed to make his dream of creating the country's first asphalt racetrack come true. A year or two later it did.
Holding bicycle races at automobile racetracks is certainly not new in this country. The Sea Otter Classsic at Laguna Seca Raceway has grown to be the largest bicycle racing event in the US. Other races have been held at Infineon Raceway in California, and Portland International Raceway in Oregon. In Belgium, Zolder's racetrack has been the site of many cyclo-cross events, including the 2016 World Championships.
It is widely known that the KMC Festival hopes to one day be named a World Cup race. The race organization believes that the move to Thompson Speedway will help meet this goal.
"We are in this for the long haul," Fries said. "We need to develop junior racing, and we need to develop women's racing if we are going to be truly an international event. It's also important that we become a sport accessible to all people regardless of their income or race."
Women's racing this weekend
As the only UCI-C1 event in the US this weekend, the races in Thompson will be well attended by top North American racers. However, Katerina Nash (Cliff Pro Team), who has won more than any other woman at Providence, will be racing closer to her San Francisco home at Reno, Nevada.
US Champion Katie Compton (Trek-Panache), who won the Jingle Cross World Cup last weekend in Iowa, will be racing. She last won in Providence in 2014. Compton is likely to be challenged by Katie Antonneau (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com), who Compton used to coach. Antonneau currently leads USA Cycling's Pro-CX calendar with 298 points, and has been steadily improving over the past few years.
Other threats to Compton include French Champion Caroline Mani (Raleigh Clement) and Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing). Both are racing with a new ferocity this year. Mani has set as a goal to win the World Championship, while Noble is sixth in the World Cup, and with two C1 podium results under her belt, looking to move up.
Amanda Miller (Boulder Cycle Sport-YogaGlo), Courtenay McFadden (American Classic), Emma White (Cannondale) and Crystal Anthony (Maxxis-Shimano) are also potential podium finishers
Men's Racing this weekend
Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing), who won the last four C1 events in Providence, is nursing injured ribs and a head cold and is a likely non-starter. His season has had some ups and downs so far, particularly with worse-than-hoped-for results at the World Cups in Las Vegas and Iowa City because of his injury in a crash before Wisconsin's Trek CXC Cup. He is aiming further down the road at the Pan American Championships and Valkenburg World Cup.
In his absence, Stephen Hyde (Cannondale) takes on the role of favourite. His top 10 finish at the Jingle Cross World Cup is likely to give him renewed confidence as well. He has won the C2 races at Providence for the past two years. He also leads USA Cycling's Pro CX calendar with a commanding lead of 222 points.
"I always look forward to KMC Cross Fest," Hyde told Cyclingnews. "Now that it's moved to a new venue I am looking forward to some changes and trying to beat the course."
Other podium threats include Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz), who is in second place in USA Cycling's Pro CX calendar with 169 points, Dan Timmerman (Stan's NoTubes), Curtis White (Cannondale), and Danny Summerhill (Maxxis-Shimano).
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for race reports, results, and photos from Thompson, Connecticut, this weekend.