The 20th edition of the CRAFT Sportswear Gran Prix of Gloucester kicked off the 2018 Vittoria Northeast Cyclocross Series presented by Clif Bar and Cycle-Smart on Saturday in Gloucester’s iconic Stage Fort Park. A day of changing and unpredictable course conditions with rain early made for wet and greasy course conditions for the elite women, then became dry and fast for the elite men. Maine’s Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing) took a commanding win in the elite women’s field, riding away solo for her seventh podium finish this season for USA Cycling Pro Cyclocross (ProCX). Curtis White (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) took the win in the elite men’s field for his first ProCX victory of the year.
In the elite women’s race, Noble was victorious in dominant fashion, leading the race from start to finish. “Starting the race, it was still really slick,” noted Noble. “It got super tacky by the end, but at the beginning it was really slippery. I wanted to be able to have my choice of lines and be able to dictate the pace, so I started hard. It just felt natural. It wasn’t like I was trying to do anything exceptional, I just wanted to ride hard at the start. I was able to get a small lead and it felt good to just know that I had some wiggle room. I just wanted to leave it all out there.”
Erica Zaveta (Garneau-Easton p/b TLC) raced to second place, 1 minute and 28 seconds behind Noble. She had to whittle down a small group of riders later in the race. “I just needed a moment to collect myself and relax,” said Zaveta. “I feel like sometimes before the start it’s so nervous, that you have to get into the race before you can actually relax. So about two laps, I calmed down and then I just attacked the group and just rode good lines. The key to this was not going too fast on just the fitness parts so you are focused and smooth through all the technical parts. That’s what helped.”
Local favorite from Beverly, Mass.,Crystal Anthony (Liv Cycling) hung in for third place 27 seconds behind second place Zaveta. “I had a good start off the line, and then sort of got swarmed on the hill. My legs were not great today. I ended up battling with Erica (Zaveta) and Cassie (Maximenko) for most of the race. Ellen had a really good jump on all of us. I was able to get a gap in the last lap. I almost stopped on those last stairs over there, but had enough of a gap to pull it off.”
With the course drying out for the men’s race, the fast conditions were prime for group racing dynamics. Winner White put the pressure on late in the race, taking Jack Kisseberth (Garneau Easton p/b Transitions) with him to the lead. But a late race effort from Cooper Willsey (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) and Jamey Driscoll (Pivot-Maxxis p/b Stans-DNA Cycling) made the final half of a lap a four-up sprint to the line.
“I wanted to make sure the position was good, to watch the other guys, see where they were strong, where they were weak,” said White about the early laps of the race. “With three to go, I hit it over the climb and the pavement. Jack (Kisseberth) was the only one who could stay with me. Then for the last lap, lap and a half, it was pretty tactical. Spencer Petrov, and a couple of Devo riders behind. I put more pressure on Jack. It was his race to kind of drive. They bridged up to us, but I stayed ahead of the carnage and hit it going by the last pit section. That was it.”
The ride of the day came from Driscoll, who had a tough start and had to climb back to the front through over 30 riders. “It was one of the worst first minutes of a race I can remember,” said Driscoll with a laugh. “Off the line, feeling a little out-gunned on the pavement. And then once you got in the turns, loads of people botched it. I had to dab a foot and then unclipped with both feet. It was a hot mess for me out there. And then when I finally settled in through the zig-zags up here, it was single file and I was close to 30th. It was full gas, as hard as I could and trying to (chase) those guys. I was essentially at the mercy of them resting up, because it ended up being a fast day in terms of conditions for us. When I caught those guys, I knew that first and second (riders) were up the road, and so the best thing for me to do was rest up there and try to wait for the last podium spot, which I fortunately did get. I put that last dig in that last half lap and was barely able to get it. I was actually last over the steps (in group), but able to pick Cooper there in the final meters of the pavement.”
UCI Elite Class 2 races will be held again on Sunday for the professional women and men. These races will also provide points for ProCX national standings. Heading into tomorrow, Noble and White will wear the coveted Verge leader’s jerseys for the Vittoria Series.