By Chris Milliman, Special to VeloNews.com
As racing goes, cyclo-cross is straightforward – the objective is crossing the line first. But when you get to the final race of a season-long series, as in Saturday’s WE Stedman Grand Prix of Cyclo-Cross in South Kingston, Rhode Island, sub-plots and alternative motivations can come into play. When the day was done, Mark McCormack (Clif Bar-Colavita Olive Oil) and Mary McConneloug had won their respective races and Verge New England series titles, respectively. But more was afoot than met the eye.
McCormack entered the final event of the seven-race Verge New England series with a lock on the overall title, and decided to use the day as an opportunity to work on his weak points. One of McCormack’s protégés, defending U-23 national champ Jesse Anthony (Cyclocrossworld.com), entered the day in position to win the U-23 New England title, but Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly-Aramark) was in position to upset the apple cart.
Fresh off the plane after having spent the fall racing ’cross in Belgium, Powers showed that a season of taking his lumps in Europe’s biggest race had done its job: He was flying. Under Powers’s relentless impetus a lead group of five formed on the second lap, with Anthony, McCormack, Michael Broderick (Seven Cycles), and Tyler Johnson (Richard Sachs) filling out the escape. Anthony and Powers animated the riding over the rolling, grassy fields, with Anthony intent on winning the race, a necessity if he wanted to take the U-23 series lead. Johnson and Broderick dangled off the back, with both getting dropped before scrabbling back on with one lap to go.
For his part, McCormack sat back and watched the fireworks, content to follow wheels and tune up some of his rustier riding skills. But when it was showtime, with two corners to go, the defending New England champ turned on the jets and sprinted away from Anthony, with Powers on the deck after an inopportune spill in the final corner. Johnson, who’d looked totally out of contention for the podium with two laps remaining, scooped up third as Powers struggled to get going.
“I had no motivation to sit on the front today,” admitted McCormack, who won three races in the series. “For me, one of my weaknesses is following tight on guys in the tricky stuff, so I was making an effort not to lead today. I wanted to be put under pressure to try to force myself to hang tight, knowing that I really had nothing to lose today.”
McCormack sat at 11th in the UCI ’cross standings going into the race, a ranking he viewed with a sense of humor: “It’s always great to take another UCI win and keep my points in the overall standings. It’s kind of weird to see my name so far up there considering I never race in Europe.”
By virtue of finishing ahead of Powers, Anthony added the New England U-23 title to the USGP U-23 champion’s jersey he won in New Jersey. “I felt really great,” said the 20-year-old. “I had a good race here last year as well. I know Jeremy’s going really good right now and I’ve had a good year too, so it’s really all down to next weekend at nationals.”
Powers admitted falling prey to the McCormack-Anthony juggernaut and knew that some bumping and tactical trickery was inevitable, given the coach-athlete relationship between the two Massachusetts riders. “I played their game and lost,” said Powers.
McConneloug races against herself
To the untrained eye it may have looked like McConneloug was having an easy day as she won her fifth race in the 2004 series. But the two-time defending champion rode full pressure for every minute of the elite women’s event, even though her nearest competitors were nearly two minutes adrift. As a means of preparing for next weekend’s national championships, racing as hard as possible, even solo, made the series a perfect place to hone her form, McConneloug said.
“It really helps my fitness to come out here and push myself to the limit,” said McConneloug. “I’m good at pushing myself even if I don’t have someone breathing down my neck. I think it’s such a great series, the races are awesome and I don’t want to miss any of them.”
Behind McConneloug, Maureen Bruno Roy (Cyclocrossworld.com), Mackenzie Dickie (Bicycle Alley), and Anna Milkowski (Rona) sorted out the final two podium spots. Milkowski jammed a chain with two to go, leaving Bruno Roy and Dickie to fight out. Bruno Roy used her light touch to gap the more powerful Dickie and the former Saturn team soigneur dashed home for her best result of the season.
“It was a real power course, so it helped to stay on a wheel,” said Bruno Roy. “I’m not as afraid of course like this as I used to be, I’ve been building power all season.”
WE Stedman Grand Prix of Cyclo-Cross, Verge New England Series, round #7South Kingston, RI. December 4.
1. Mary McConneloug, Seven Cycles, 42:05
2. Maureen Bruno Roy, Cyclocrossworld.com, 44:00
3. Mackenzie Dickie, Team Bicycle Alley, 44:08
4. Anna Milkowski, Rona, 45:01
5. Rebecca Wellons, Gearworks-Spin Arts, 45:17
6. Celeste Drumm, HUP United, 45:51
7. Sinead Fitzgibbons, Aquafina, 46:06
8. Pauline Frascone, Mystic Velo, 46:21
9. Susan Maclean, Gearworks-Spin Arts, 47:30
10. Stephanie White, Dansko-Wheelworks, 48:33
1. Mark McCormack, Clif Bar-Colavita Olive Oil, 1:00:15
2. Jesse Anthony, Cyclocrossworld.com, same time
3. Tyler Johnson, Richard Sachs, 1:00:22
4. Michael Broderick, Seven Cycles, 1:00:41
5. Jeremy Powers, Jelly Belly-ARA Mark, 1:01:11
6. Matt White, NCC-Bikereg.com, 1:01:53
7. Jonathan Bruno, Independent Fabrication, 1:02:05
8. Johannes Huseby, Fiordifruitta, 1:02:17
9. Adam Craig, Maxxis Giant, 1:02:39
10. Matt Kraus, Alan Factory Team, 1:02:47