For the first time in 11 years, national titles for cyclocross, a unique terrain-style cycling race, were presented in New England this past week. Saturday's winter storm that unloaded about seven inches of snow in the capital provided the perfect backdrop.
Riders already face peril designed to challenge their physical ability to complete a race in the sport rooted in European terrain competition because of the course's inclusion of natural obstacles such as hills and wooded areas. Nonetheless, an estimated 1,700 participants from across America competed for 34 awards in Hartford this past week.
"It wasn't so much snow that it wasn't manageable and the riders tended to pack the course down," said Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP) Executive Director David Hoyle.
Certain stretches of the course are so treacherous, namely the famed muddy hillsides that attract racing enthusiasts to the sport, that riders hoist their bikes over their shoulders and traverse portage sections similar to Track and Field's Steeplechase event. The professional races in this week's event lasted approximately 60 minutes on a dog-bone shaped course about two miles in total length.
"You come into it as prepared mentally and physically, but your bike and all of your equipment must has to work perfectly," said 1992 world champion Team Time Trial rider Jan Bolland-Tanner of Canton.
Riders were able to embrace Sunday's event in Hartford, even though the course was slicker than usual due to the snow.
"They love it," said Hoyle. "It's very slick and there are a lot of ruts that have frozen into the course so it is very technical for that reason."
The bid for Hartford to house the national championships was submitted nearly three years ago. It was announced in January of 2015 following that year's finals in Austin, Texas that Connecticut's capital would carry the 2017 installment. The CCAP, a non-profit organization dedicated to "giving Connecticut's youth access to the sport of cycling" acted as the local organizing committee for this year's event.
"Our main job is to make sure that the local community around Hartford and Connecticut is rallying and coming to this event," said Hoyle.
A New England site has hosted the U.S. Cycling Cyclocross National Championships just six times since the inaugural event in 1963. The last time the outdoor cycling extravaganza came to the region was in Providence in 2006--the second consecutive year that the Rhode Island capital presented nationals. Spectators braved below-freezing temperatures to watch elite Men's and Women's National Championship Cyclocross for the first time ever in Hartford.
Katie Compton won the U.S. Cycling Cyclocross Women's National Championship for a 13th time. The most decorated United States Cyclocross athlete finished her six-lap race in 49 minutes and 25 seconds.
"No, because I love the snow," said Compton, asked if Saturday's snowfall changed her race strategy. "It definitely feels good to ride on the east coast instead of the mountains sometimes."
On the men's side, Stephen Hyde, a New England resident, won in one hour, five minutes, and three seconds.
"This is my adopted home now. I live 40 minutes from here in Easthampton," said Hyde. "It's as New England as it gets -- an epic course!"
Niantic native Jeremy Powers failed to win his fourth consecutive title, finishing 24th.
The 2018 U.S. Cycling Cyclocross National Championships will take place in Reno, Nevada.