By Chris Milliman
After the all-star fields at the past two stops in the Verge New EnglandCyclo-cross series, Sunday’s round four race in Farmington, Connecticut,seemed downright subdued.
Right until the starter’s gun sounded. Despite smaller than normal fieldsand with none of the West Coast crowd in town, the cream rose to the topin Farmington and that cream had a distinctly New Englandy flavor. Saturn’sMark McCormack, the region’s undisputed bike racing hero, stomped awayin the elite men’s event, while Anna Milkowski, riding for the Maine-basedGearworks-Spin Arts squad, won the elite women’s affair.
For the first few laps of the women’s race it looked like Milkowskiand teammate Marianne Stover would decide the top spot on the podium ina winner-take-all, no-holds-barred final lap. Stover and Milkowski formeda menacing tandem, riding off the front together on the second lap andquickly putting 30 seconds into a small chase group. As their lead extendedand the teammates traded turns at the front, a fierce last lap seemed themost obvious way to decide who would win.
But with three laps to go Stover, normally a solid technical rider,botched a ride through one of the course’s two sand pits and crashed. Theensuing gap was more than enough for Milkowski, who stretched her advantagein the final few tours. Stover cruised home in second while Maureen Bruno(Dansko-Wheelworks) outsprinted Katrina Davis (Richard Sachs) for third.
“She’s normally an awesome sand rider so I’m really surprised [she crashed],”said Milkwoski of Stover’s costly miscue. The 28-year-old Milkowski, whohas signed to ride for the powerful RONA-Esker road team next summer, saidher preparation for the ‘cross nationals is progressing right on scheduleand her win in Farmington was just another confirmation of her improvingform.
“I’m feeling good,” said Milkowski succinctly, “so I have nothing tolose as far as going in and trying to have a good ride in national’s. There’sno real pressure or expectations.”
Even though he earns his living racing on the road, Mark McCormack takeshis ‘cross racing very seriously. The Farmington race may have seemed likea slam-dunk win for the former ‘cross national champion, with none of theother upper echelon national-level racers in attendance, but McCormackknew that taking a win granted proves a mistake more often than not.
“I still would love to win one with the big hitters here, but you takethem when you can get them,” admitted McCormack after his first ‘crosswin of the year. “Two years ago at one the Verge racers where there wereno heavy hitters I wasn’t able to win and I was hoping that wasn’t goingto happen today.”
As it turned out McCormack had nothing to worry about: he led the elitemen’s race from first lap to last and won comfortably. Behind him though,the fight for the other podium spots proved more interesting. After formerjunior national champion Mike House (CSK) tried to keep pace with McCormack,he dropped back to a group that included strongmen Jeremy Powers and MikeCody (NCC-Bikereg.com).
Powers attacked out of the group and set out on his own, establishinga big enough gap to sew up second behind McCormack. Cody went next, dangling off the front of small chase group for the final half off the race andfinishing third. Overcoming a horrendous first lap, Ben Turner (7-Up-Maxxis)went from last to fourth in the hour-long race, coming up six seconds shortof catching Cody for the final podium position.
“Mark drove it right from the start and it was hard for me to get going,”admitted Powers, one of the early favorites for the U-23 national title.“I bobbled a little bit at the start and had trouble getting it togetherafter that. I tried as hard as I could to catch Mark but I may have overdoneit a little bit.”
For his part, McCormack sounded an ominous tone when assessing his ownform for nationals.
“I feel like I’m getting stronger now,” said the defending USPro roadchampion. “I’ve transitioned my training to train for one-hour events andnot five-hour events, so we’ll see. There’s still two weeks to national’sand it’s a mystery, that’s the beauty of one-day racing.”
The Verge New England series continues next weekend in Rhode Island.
Round 4 of the 2003 Verge New England Cyclo-cross seriesWomen
1. Anna Milkowski/Gearworks-Spin Arts, 33:54
2. Marianne Stover/Gearworks-Spin Arts, 34:26
3. Maureen Bruno/Dansko-Wheelworks, 35:07
4. Katrina Davis/Richard Sachs, same time
5. Sara Cushman/Gearworks-Spin Arts, 36:08
6. Pauline Frascone/Arc-n-Ciel, 36:23
7. Kerry Litka/Dansko-Wheelworks, same time
8. Rebecca Wellons/NEBC-Cycleoft, 36:27
9. Darcy Cornell/Dansko-Wheelworks, 36:28
10. Maryann Martinez/CCB, 36:40Men
1. Mark McCormack/Saturn-Timex, 58:50
2. Jeremy Powers/NCC-Bikereg.com, 59:26
3. Mike Cody/NCC-Bikereg.com, 59:44
4. Ben Turner/7-UP-Maxxis, 59:50
5. Matt White/NCC-Bikereg.com, 59:58
6. Jon Hamblen/Fiori di Fruitta- Wheelworks, 1:00:05
7. Johannes Huseby/Fiori di Fruitta-Wheelworks, same time
8. Matt Svatek/Sportsbook.com, 1:00:17
9. Mike House/CSK, 1:00:31
10. Matt Kraus/Independent Fabrications, 1:01:08