Smith and Keough Stage Upsets at NBX
December 3, 2011No Comments
The final weekend of the Shimano New England Professional Cyclocross Series presented by Verge kicked off with a bang as two of the best races of the season were decided by a wheel’s width. Perfect weather, with light breezes and temperatures in the high-40s and clear skies were over Goddard Park in Warwick, Rhode Island for the NBX Gran Prix of Cross. Today’s racing was riveting and some of the biggest crowds in New England were on hand to see it.
The course offered its usual top-level challenge, with a steep ride up, long sections of deceivingly tricky woods, sand run on Narragansett Bay and an extremely fast, downhill finish. This racecourse has all the features that we think of when we want to define proper cyclocross, and the best names in the sport came out in force.
This season’s racing in New England has seen a battle pitted between Laura Van Gilder (C3 p/b Mellow Mushroom), Sally Annis (crossresults.com p/b JRA Cycles) and the trio from LadiesFirst Racing, Andrea Smith, Crystal Anthony and Elle Anderson. Van Gilder has been dominant this season and holds a sizable lead in the Shimano Series coming into the final weekend. She picked up a pair of victories last week at Bay State Cross and hoped to do the same at NBX. Annis and the women of LadiesFirst had other plans. Maureen Bruno Roy (Bob’s Red Mill p/b Seven Cycles) took the holeshot and was the first out of the sand, driving the initial group of eight women. The pace was taken over and lifted by Van Gilder and the selection was made quickly. At the front, it was Van Gilder, Annis, Anthony, Anderson and Smith. For the first time this season, the women of LadiesFirst worked coherently as a group to put Annis and Van Gilder under pressure. First, it was Anderson launching an attack, which was closed by Van Gilder, then Anthony went, putting the pressure on Annis. Smith was, all the time, sitting safely in the group, clearly biding her time. As the race went on, Anderson launched a final attack and, once reeled in, fell off the back of the group. With the group reduced to four, it was Anthony’s turn to take off. Her attack came very late in the game, with little more than half a lap to go, and put Van Gilder and Annis under pressure once again. When Anthony was reeled in, Van Gilder stayed on the front, hoping to undo her luck from last year by leading out the sprint. Van Gilder was the first to the pavement, but Smith came in hard and shot through, outfoxing Van Gilder and picking up a great victory. Van Gilder held off Annis for second with Anthony ahead of Anderson for fourth.
The Elite Men’s field was absolutely star-studded with six-time Swiss National Champion Christian Heule and his Cannondale/cyclocrossworld.com teammate Jamey Driscoll joining the pinnacle of New England racing. The Series leader, Luke Keough (Champion System p/b Keough Cyclocross) came back to defend his jersey following the World Cup in Koksijde, holding a slim lead over Justin Lindine (bikereg.com/Joe’s Garage).
The racing was furious from the gun, with Dylan McNicholas (cyclocrossworld.com) taking the holeshot and leading the field into the sand. For the first few laps, despite the intense pace, the front group contained twelve racers with leadership switching between McNicholas, Mike Garrigan (Lapierre Canada), Shawn Milne (ECV/Mazda) and the duo from Cannondale/cyclocrossworld.com. Notably, Keough, while rarely on the front, was never behind third wheel and was quick to cover all moves.
The clip slowly began to shed racers as Driscoll turned on his big diesel engine. The group was eventually trimmed to seven with Driscoll at the front, followed by Heule, Keough, McNicholas, Lindine and SmartStop/MOB p/b Ridley teammates Jerome Townsend and Adam Myerson. While Myerson, McNicholas and Lindine each were put into difficulty, each demonstrated their grit and determination by coming back to the lead. A split came with four to go as Heule, Driscoll and Keough went off the front, forcing the group of four to chase. At two to go, thanks to some chess playing at the front, the gap had come down and it came back together. With seven racers evenly matched together, this looked likely to come to a sprint. On the final half of a lap, Heule attacked out of the sandpit and Keough dug incredibly deep to stay with him. McNicholas, slightly gapped, turned himself inside out and made contact with Driscoll behind him.
On the final 180-degree turn onto the pavement, Heule was at the front with Driscoll second and looked ready to pick up his second Shimano Series victory of the season. Keough, dug deep into his reserves and uncorked one of the finest sprints we’ve seen all season and came around Heule for the most prestigious victory of his young career. Heule held on for second ahead of Driscoll. McNicholas came across the line fourth. Townsend picked up fifth ahead of Lindine with Myerson seventh.
With only one day of racing left in the Shimano New England Professional Cyclocross Series, we’re bound to see another race as exciting as today. Our series winners will be crowned on Sunday. You can follow the races on Twitter using @NBXBikes, @VergeNECCS and @NEProCX. The weekend’s hashtag will be #NBX.