White Wins Best in Show at NJ State Fair|
By Buck Walters
The New Jersey State Fair in Augusta is host to countless competitions each summer. The best vegetables, the strongest tractors, the sleekest and most nimble horses, the finest cattle and dozens of other agricultural, culinary and horticultural products are awarded the fair's coveted blue ribbon, representing the highest achievement in their respective fields. On Friday, August 11, 2006, 23 year-old bike racer Matt White of Somers, Connecticut took home two blue ribbons, and some healthy cash, in the inaugural FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS�Summer Cyclocross at the New Jersey State Fair, hosted by local bike club Skylands Cycling.
Competing under the bright lights in the featured elite men's event, White, riding in the colorful lycra of the Fiordifrutta pro team, dueled with Jelly Belly's Jeremy Powers, two-time Mid-Atlantic Cyclocross (MAC) Champ Ryan Leech, local favorite Roger Aspholm and a few others for several laps before pulling away for the win in the 45 minute event. Fairgoers whistled and cheered as White bunny-hopped the double barriers directly in front of the grandstand. Race announcer Joe Saling speculated on whether bunny-hopping truly saved time, but there was no doubt in the minds of the cheering crowd: they loved it.
Jeremy Powers, of the Jelly Belly Pro Racing Team, fought back from a crash to claim the second place ribbon, while White's teammate, Michael Cody of Northampton Massachusetts, was third. Phildadelphian Leech, of Fort-GPOA finished fourth and Kenda Raleigh Racing's Alec Donahue, Northampton, Massachusetts was fifth. Many time New Jersey road and cyclocross champ Roger Aspholm, competing for Westwood Velo was sixth.
The FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS cyclocross track snaked around the Miller Light Outdoor Entertainment area of the Sussex County Fairgrounds--commonly known to locals as the demolition derby pit�for 2800 feet, according to the surveyor's wheel. Employing a bucket loader, backhoe, dump trucks, power compactors and a multitude of rakes and shovels, Skylands volunteers and fair employees on race day rapidly constructed BMX style features on the hard-packed clay in the enclosed 150x 50 meter pit, bounded on all sides by concrete jersey barriers. The varied terrain showcased the speed, bike-handling skills and gracefulness of the elite riders, all in full view of the spectators.
The start was located well outside the pit, allowing riders 250 meters of fast wide track to pursue the prized hole shot. Once inside the confined area, racers sped along concrete barriers to the north end of the pit and a 180 degree banked berm, with a three-foot bump at the end. Following a short straight, the course turned right and crossed two tabletops in quick succession, then went through a series of tight S-turns. Coming out of the turns, riders were confronted with an 8-foot high�but rideable--pile of dirt nick named "Denali" by Joe Saling. After making a sharp right turn on top, riders were launched into a 100-meter straight, with double barriers waiting at the end. The course exited the pit through the north end and passed directly in front of the bleachers in an out-and-back straightaway, before crossing another set of barriers and returning to the pit and the long, wide finishing straight.
The night started with the Sussex Bike and Sport Flying Lap competition. In this individual start, timed event, riders began in the start area, but the clock did not start until they entered the pit. Matt White showed he was ready for battle, clocking the fastest time by more than four seconds over runner up Justin Lindine of Maplcrest, New York.
In the women's event, Caroline Hacker of Tri State Velo and Heidi von Teitenberg, C3/ADG/Joe's, stayed together for most of the race, with von Teitenberg doing the lion's share of the work. With two laps to go, Hacker put the hammer down for the win. Evolution's Racing's Tammy Ebersole earned the final ribbon, while Lisa Most, current MAC masters champion, was fourth.
Seventeen year-old Robert Schmidt of Athens New York took the Blue Ribbon in convincing fashion in the U19 race. Schmidt, a member of the Northeast Regional U19 team, left second place finisher Zack Adams of Forte-GPOA behind early in the race. Andrew Logiudice of host club Skylands and former teammate Trevor Dericks of VCC Racing duked it out for third place, replaying their battle in the 2005 NJ State Championships. Logiudice, who lives in Augusta about 2 miles from the fairgrounds, did well in the technical sections, having spent the entire afternoon riding the course. He was no match for Dericks in the straights, though, and Trevor pulled away with one lap to go for the final ribbon. David Devine of Watchung Wheelmen/High Gear Cyclery was fifth.
The highly competitive sub-elite (Cyclocross categories 3 and 4) race saw a field of 53 riders packed into the short arena-style course. U19 winner Robert Schmidt, former MAC B champ Kelly Cline of Wissahickon, Beacon's Wade Hess and local first-timer Jon "Jonny Rocket" Kameen, 25, riding for Action Outfitters, set a blistering pace for the first few laps, with lap times that approached those of the elite men. But while the elites negotiated the terrain with apparent ease, the sub-elites experienced some difficulty. Riders stalled and fell on top of "Denali," forcing those caught behind to dismount. At times, the eight foot high mound, with the 45-degree approach was littered with several bikes and bodies. Spectators cheered as riders came out of the tight S-turns, climbed Denali, and simply fell off the top into soft dirt. Volunteers quickly assisted fallen riders, and there were no injuries reported.
Schmidt eventually rode away from the field and, like Matt White, took his second blue ribbon of the evening. Ted Meyer of Hanover, New Hampshire was second. Wissahickon's Kirk Reisinger was third and Wade Hess, promoter of the popular Beacon Cross in October, held on for fourth. New Yorker Matt MacGregor, eschewing traditional bike clothes for safari shorts, a dress shirt and tie, rounded out the top five.
The final race of the night was the masters 45+. Ed Burgess, of Newburgh, NY, was unstoppable and led from the outset. Burgess, a digital graphics specialist who designed and printed several large banners specially for the event, is a veteran of the November Augusta Cross series', having won the overall 45+ title in 2005 and the overall Men's B competition in 2002 and 2003. Burgess had no complaints about the lack of prize money. "Money you spend and forget about," he commented after the race. "But this blue ribbon is something I'll be telling my grandchildren about. I'm thrilled just to be a part of this." Patrick Kennedy of Denville, NJ, riding for Liberty Cycle, crossed the finish line second, and Fafar Bayat, Strictly Bicycles, was third.
All told, it was a happy, if tired, bunch of riders that left the NJ State Fair, having feasted on funnel cake, organic milkshakes and the rare opportunity to get a jump start on the upcoming cross season. Fiordifrutta's Michael Cody, of Northampton, Massachusetts, was among the satisfied racers, calling the race "fast, technical, and a nice way to start the season." Paul Dericks of Denville, NJ, father of U19 competitor Trevor, was nothing if not elated. "This is the most fun I've ever had on a bike," said the veteran racer as he crossed the finish line.
Skylands president Kevin Kielty, who directed the construction crew, felt good about the night's racing. "We worked incredibly hard on this," he commented as he worked to tear down the course in preparation for the next day's tractor pull. "And I think we provided something unique for the riders. We lost a little money, but that's irrelevant." Race director Bob Cary is already planning for next year's event, lining up more dirt and more heavy equipment. "I'd like to put another berm in at the other of the pit and add a fixed gear race," he said. I can't imagine there'd be too many guys riding the 55+ fixed gear cyclocross, so maybe I'll get a ribbon."