I have a pretty biased opinion about New England’s “Holy Week.” I’m convinced that it’s the best racing on this side of the Atlantic.

Dan Chabanov/Meg McMahon

Just take a peek at the result sheet from this weekend at Gloucester and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the top 20 that hasn’t stood on a UCI podium. The fields are basically nationals without ten really fast west coast guys but with a bunch of fast Canadians, a Belgian, and a Swiss dude thrown in. If you’re not at Gloucester (doesn’t matter if you’re a cat 4 or PRO) and you call your self a cross racer, you’re missing out. I like Providence (the second half of Holy Week) too but we can talk about that next week.

Stage Fort Park is one of the coolest venues for cyclocross and is one of the only venues that I take time to walk around after the racing is over. If you haven’t been, it’s right on the water in Gloucester harbor. While in years past this location meant unpredictable and often muddy racing conditions, the last two editions of the race have been like racing through a sandstorm. While this generally makes for extremely picturesque racing conditions for me, it also means coughing up dust for a week. The extremely dry conditions also mean that almost every corner is sandy, dusty, or just extremely loose. Good cornering traction was the exception this weekend and getting sideways was the rule.

When it’s sandy and loose like this I go for a file tread tire rather something with more knobs. No amount of tread is going to find more traction in a sandy corner so you might as well go for something that rolls a little faster.

So around 4 o’clock I rode down to staging with a bunch of ice shoved down the back of my skin suit and prepared to choke on dust for an hour. The thing about these big races for me is that I almost feel like the pressure is off. The field is so stacked and all my UCI points still land me on the 4th row of the start grid. So my natural predisposition is “Ok, chill out. Go hard and take what you can get.” I feel a lot more stressed out at the smaller races where a top-ten result is something I expect.

This relaxed attitude usually lasts until I’m lined up in the start grid and then I get nervous just like any normal person lined up behind three rows of really fast guys and in front of 4 more rows of guys getting ready to sprint as hard as they can for that first sandy corner. I’m not sure how good my start was on Saturday. I think it was ok. I didn’t lose too many spots but I don’t think I gained any either. The important thing in the big races is to avoid any first lap trouble and not blow up trying to move up one or two spots while everyone is fresh and happy to pedal hard.

Somewhere in the middle of the first lap I found the back wheel of Travis Livermon and decided to hop on it. Travis was riding very much his own race and that race was moving a lot faster then the people around us. I was feeling great and when you’re doing nothing but passing people for the first few laps feeling great turns into feeling awesome.

It’s pretty common that spectators will call out places to the riders as they pass. Two laps in I was hearing numbers in the low twenties. But lap after lap the Travis Livermon express kept riding past people and suddenly I was hearing placings in the teens. Let me take a quick second here to point out that last year I didn’t even crack the top 30 at Gloucester and on Sunday I was all the way back in 45th. My best rides at Gloucester up to this point had come in 2010 with a 23rd and a 26th.

We’re about to close on two more riders up ahead when Travis washes out in a fast, sandy, off-camber corner. There is no waiting in cyclocross. I hit the gas and close the gap to the two riders ahead of me. It turns out to be Shawn Milne and Cam Dodge. Both of these guys have won way too many UCI races for me to be able to catch them thirty minutes into a race. But here we are and I have to stop freaking out and focus on not messing this up. Shawn picked that moment to start going hard again so I was left to ride with Cam for a bit. We actually exchanged a few quick words. Cam was obviously having an off day but even in the heat of the race he was perfectly polite as he let me pass. Eventually I made contact with Sean Milne and we started riding together trying to hold off a fast charging duo of Barry Wicks and Anthony Clark. Having riders coming up fast in the last few laps of a race like that can be really demoralizing when you’re fading and fighting the bike. But instead of the fade I felt last weekend in Baltimore, I still had gas in the tank. It’s like all the training and racing had finally started to come together and I had the full 60-minutes in my legs.

When Barry made contact, he immediately went to the front and hit it hard. The dude was definitely on a mission. I grabbed the last spot in the group in 4th. Not ideal. I wasn’t going to win any sprint from back here. The last time past the pit I hit it hard up the left side into the stairs and got the jump on the group. I figured not being the best sprinter I should try to hit the pavement with as much of a gap as I could get by putting pressure on my companions early. It worked. I managed to hold of Anthony and Barry but it’s pretty much impossible to beat Sean Milne in any finish.

The first thing I noticed when I crossed the line is that all the fast guys were still there. Normally when I finish a big race like this they are half way through the podium ceremony. That was definitely a good sign. After I wiped the thick layer of dirt from my face, I found that I had finished in 15th. My best finish at Gloucester ever and by far my best result in a field of that caliber.

Then I find out that Dan Timmerman landed on the podium with a huge 2nd place ride. We celebrated the day with pizza and ice cream in the motel that night.

Waking up on Sunday after such a good ride the day before is stressful. The high of the good result has worn off and you’re just staring down the barrel of another race thinking, “Can I do that again?” Remember how I mentioned that I enjoyed the bigger races because the pressure was off? Well, Sunday after a good ride the day before the pressure is very much on. Timmerman was feeling the same way after his podium appearance the day before.

But we get up, push all this stuff to the back of our heads and get on with doing this bike-racing thing.

My start was even better Sunday. Like it was so good that Tim Johnson actually told me so a few corners in. But it didn’t last. Kerry Warner went down right in front of me on a tricky, tight, and loose descent. I got untagged from him as fast as I could and hoped that I had the same legs as yesterday because I had some ground to make up. But first I needed to get my pit bike as my handlebars were messed up from the crash. I just missed getting onto the back of a fast moving group and settled in riding the race from behind. I still felt great. I didn’t fade and was able to fight it out with Kerry who just pipped me at the line for 19th.

I went from never being in the top 20 at Gloucester to doing it twice. Yeah I was pumped. Not just on the result but also about how I felt in the race. The good sensations probably mean that I’ll be putting a little bit more pressure on myself next weekend at Providence.