Putney. The word is like Valhalla. Or Mecca. Or Nirvana. Any CX racer worth their mud, sweat and no gears has heard of Putney. It is the oldest cyclocross race in New England. West Hill Shop has produced some of the best cyclocross racers in the region. And when you race them on home turf you learn a few lessons in a) the course and b) cyclocross 101. For those maybe not in the know I will now try my best to share my deep love of West Hill CX, Putney and Vermont in general. New England is a weird err unique place. Quick without googling how many states make up New England? No cheating. Oh so sad for you, you included New York didn't you? And probably left out Rhode Island. The number is six: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. I can't think of a region with six more different states. I mean the Pac NW will tell you Norcal, Oregon and Washington are TOTALLY different but are they really? No not really. Not like NH vs VT? Or CT vs RI? And these states are CLOSE to each other. So you pick faves. VT to me is it. If I could figure a way to move to VT I would do it in a heartbeat. The people, the terrain, the air, everything. It just speaks to me. This will sound weird but it is even in the soil. The course at West Hill is unlike anyplace you will ever race cyclocross. There is mud and then their is Putney. In the ten or so years I have raced there I don't think I have ever raced that course when it was dry. I don't think that a dry Putney is possible.
Ok let me backtrack a touch. As stated earlier West Hill/Putney is the longest ongoing CX race in New England. Not the oldest race in the US. That goes to Surf City in Santa Cruz. God bless those hippies out west. But the oldest in New England. And a monument. I remember when I first joined HUP. Zac Daab spoke of Putney in revered tones. My teammates would talk story about freezing their asses off and the brutal run up and the insane drop off. My eyes would get so big hearing them talk about it. Most of my fondest CX memories are from my trips to Putney. The best way to do West Hill is with a packed van and a crew. And at least one trip to the Putney Co-op. I mean two visits would be optimal but one is mandatory. So you probably are getting the idea that this race is a CX rite of passage or pilgrimage? Yeah it is. And all the hype is true. So a few years back when we were getting the Zank SSCX series calendar roughed out I asked Mike about Putney. Would they go for it? I think my friend Derek Griggs asked Jim about it. He loved the idea. And from that point on West Hill has been a part of the series. This year the largest field of the event was the SSCX field! I mean that is incredible. I love that people love SSCX. And I love that all the SSCXers get it. Putney is a must do event. I personally will never miss Putney. Not as long as I race cross. It means that much to me.
This year I drove up with my partner in grime Matt Myette. He is always up for a road trip. We did a Putney trip with David Wilcox that is such a fond memory. As we were plotting and scheming this trip we realized that trip was 8 years ago. Eight?! How is that possible? Time flies by my friends. Soak it in while you can. I know I am going full send until the end. I picked up Myette and we packed the van with Zanks. I feel beyond lucky to have so many rad friends and a friend who builds me some of the best bikes on the planet. We took the ummm scenic route as Matt HATES traffic. I don't blame him really. Massholes are the bane of my existence. And the Mass Pike is full of Massholes. We roll up to West Hill and get our CX on! I just love seeing that shop. Imagine a bike shop but it looks like a ski lodge. There are wood burning stoves, beautiful wood work, the nicest floorpan you have ever seen in a bike shop. I should put quotes around "bike shop" because West Hill is much more than a bike shop. Even if cross isn't your thing the history at this shop alone is worth the trip. West Hill is tucked off highway 91 right above a cornfield. In the old days we used to have to race around that cornfield. It was where souls went to die. I don't really miss that part of the course I won't lie. But how many bike shops do you know that have a LEGIT cross course on their property? I mean seriously.
The course has changed a bit over the years. For lots of reasons but the main elements have not changed: Mud. Greasy, gnarly mud. You better bring your A game to Putney. This is NOT a grasscrit. It is real cross as the kids like to say. I love mud. And love tech. I have never understood those who thought the course was too technical. White Park is far more technical. Putney has a really great mini-pump track, a nice woodsy section, a drop off, and run ups. Oh you will run at Putney. I am not a runner. But love the runups at Putney. They are hard. And greasy. And now you run up and then drop in to a chute and run up again. You are getting what I am cooking? It just keeps throwing challenges at you. That is why we all got into cross in the first place right? I mean sure it is cool to race really fast on a wide open course....full stop. No that is not actually fun. Sorry. Not sorry. That sounds like hell to me actually. I want barriers and a course that will send you to a dark place. But then you will have amazing moments where you overcame some crazy drop or transition. And you will feel like a hero even if you see the photos later and are like wow....
This edition of Putney did not disappoint. Like I said we had a big field. 45 I believe. And what really amazed me and still amazes me is you had juniors and all manner of racers. The front is super fast. Much respect to them. But you also had just people who love SSCX. A guy with a broken ankle raced. That guy is literally me hero. The entire Fritz team to me deserve a massive shout out. They embody everything CX is about. They roll as a crew. Set up their tent. Spread the love via 3Cross beer. The promoter raved about how cool they were. Any time you can trade beer for putting your team tent up at a race you know you are doing it right. Jim is the type of promoter I love. Loves seeing everyone having a good time. Appreciates the little things like beer or someone spending the time to thank him or his crew. He just gets it.
The race started out fast and furious. Kate Northcott came FLYING by me. I settled in with the Fritz boys for a bunch of laps. I love riding with them. At some point Kate's son came caught me. That was a bit of a wake up call. Ok you just got passed by a 10 (?) year old. Ok maybe pedal a bit harder. Wow this kid can drive a bike. Oh that was a sick line. Oh shit look out for that tree. Yeah I got beat by a 10 year old. I am not ashamed. It has happened before. I also got to ride with Kerry Litka for a bit as she passed me. Damn. She just floats over stuff. I tried to follow her through a mud bog and as she floated through it my front tire dug in and sent me into the trees. God I love CX.
I had a blast. Results are meaningless for me at this point in my CX "career" I race because I can and because it is like my church. Seeing everyone. Racing with so many cool people. Getting to hang out with some of the raddest people I have ever known. That is what it is all about. Thank you to all you SSCXers who get it. We have two more races in this here rolling circus. Secret Squirrel and Ice Weasels. Those two will not disappoint. A HUGE shoutout to Jim, West Hill, Kate Northcott, and the whole crew up at Putney. Thank you for making the series so rad. And a special thanks to Andy Cooper for these great photos.