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Trailblazers: Cyclocross event brings spectator sport to Northampton

  • Members of the J.A.M. Fund Team string fencing at Look Park in Florence late Wednesday in preparation of two days of cyclocross racing this weekend. The 28th annual Verge Northampton International Cyclocross races, presented by Cycle-Smart International, comprise rounds 3 and 4 of the larger Vittoria Northeast Cyclocross Series. From left are Daniel Vaughan, Ian Gielar, Kale Wenczel, Trent Blackburn and Natalie Tapias. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Current U.S. Masters 45+ Cyclocross Champion Adam Myerson pauses Wednesday afternoon after riding a prelimanry set up of the course for the 28th annual Verge Northampton International Cyclocross races that will take place Saturday and Sunday in Look Park in Florence. In 1991 Myerson was the original promoter of the race which is now presented by his organization, Cycle-Smart International. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Current and former members of the J.A.M. Fund Team talk with Adam Myerson, right, on Wednesday during a break from setting up the course for this weekend's cyclocross races at Look Park in Florence. The 28th annual Verge Northampton International Cyclocross races, presented by Cycle-Smart International, comprise rounds 3 and 4 of the larger Vittoria Northeast Cyclocross Series. From left are former J.A.M.team member and four-time National Cyclocross Champion Ellen Noble, currently with Team Trek, and current J.A.M. team members Chris Norvold, Kale Wenczel, Ian Gielar, Scott Smith and Trent Blackburn. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Members of the J.A.M. Fund Team head home late Wednesday afternoon after clearing brush and putting up fencing for this weekend's cyclocross races at Look Park in Florence. The 28th annual Verge Northampton International Cyclocross races, presented by Cycle-Smart International, comprise rounds 3 and 4 of the Vittoria Northeast Cyclocross Series. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Charlie Schubert, riding for Bikes Not Bombs, clears a pair of hurdles in the Category 3 Men/Juniors 15-18 class of the 20 th annual Cycle-Smart International cyclocross race in this file photo taken Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010, at Look Park in Northampton. FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Brant Hornberger, riding for BikeReg.com stays in the pedals for a steep climb in the Category 1/2/3 Masters 35+ class of the 20th annual Cycle-Smart International in this file photo taken Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010, at Look Park in Northampton. Hornberger, of Leominster, finished in the top 25 to earn points toward the Verge New England Championship Cylco-Cross Series. —FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Friday, November 09, 2018

FLORENCE — It’s dusk in Look Park, and in the fading light, a crew of college-age volunteers and aspiring cyclists are blazing a trail through a wooded hill. They joke around as they cut brush, hang plastic fencing and clear a year’s worth of leaves from the paths that they’ll be riding this weekend.

They’re among the 750 riders and countless spectators who will descend upon the park Saturday and Sunday for the 28th annual Verge Northampton International Cyclocross races presented by Cycle-Smart International. They’re also all members of the J.A.M. Fund Team, a locally grown organization dedicated to cultivating the next generation of cyclocross racers. It’s Wednesday, and the group has two more days to complete the setup of the course in time for the first races at 8 a.m. Saturday. Each day's races consist of a dozen categories from ages 9 to 60+, topped off by the Elite men and women riders. A total of $8 thousand in prize money is in play over the weekend, split evenly between the men's and women's podiums.

Though the races started in an apple orchard on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus in 1991, they have taken place at Look Park ever since 2003.

The original promoter, Adam Myerson of Boston, was a sophomore in the UMass cycling club in 1991 when he volunteered to convert the informal Orchard Hill mountain bike races into an annual cyclocross race. Myerson, 46, is now the event’s president and also still races — last week he won the PanAmerican Masters 45+ Championship. Being a competitive rider gives him an edge when it comes to fine tuning the nuances of the course.

“I think that’s why people (riders) like our course so much,” he says, after riding a rough outline of the course  to make adjustments to it. “It’s because we actually get out and ride it, make small changes and make it flow better.”

Cyclocross is an ideal spectator sport as the looped course, about 3 kilometers long, provides ample room for people to walk around freely or stand just inches from the riders as they pass by, usually completing five to seven laps within each race’s set time span of 30 to 60 minutes. The sport reigns in Europe but is still a mystery to much of the American public. You could think of it as a 40-minute wilderness hike with your bike, only going as fast as possible and with a party-like atmosphere — expect a gallery of noisy revelers and good-natured hecklers to lift your spirits. You can stay in the saddle as much as your legs will allow, but you’ll need to dismount regularly to run up the steepest of hills, over multiple barriers that only the most adept riders will attempt to bunny-hop, through deep sand and the odd unforeseen mud pit. The official cyclocross season is September to February, so throw in the occasional cold drizzle — though clear skies are forecast for this weekend’s races.

The Northampton Cycle-Smart International races are the longest running cyclocross races in the country and since 2000 have been sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the world’s governing body for cycling. Cyclocross racers can earn points toward their World Cup rankings in the Look Park event, and as such it consistently brings top talent to Northampton. This year, a team from Belgium will be competing, along with four-time U.S. National Cyclocross Champion Jeremy Powers of Easthampton.

Watching the races is free and open to the public, save for the cost of admission to the park. There will be special youth races to ride in  each day at 12:45, free and open to anyone under the age of 9 with a bike - be it a push bike, bike with training wheels or a regular pedal bike.