Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Here we go, here we go, here we go again

The 2008 bike racing season starts this weekend. Sure, there were a few training races and there have been two weeks of "real races" so far, but I didn't ride in or announce at any of those so they don't count. This weekend I break out the speakers and the microphone (and all the parts that go in between) for the first time in 2008.

It all starts Saturday with the Rick Newhouse Criterium on the bike race course at Ninigret State Park in Charlestown RI. Rick Newhouse was a member of the Arc-en-ciel Racing Team out of Rhode Island who died of cancer a couple of years ago. The feature race of the day started last year with a memorial parade lap lead by Rick's wife. I hope they do it again. The proceeds go to support the family Rick left behind.

The course alone makes this race unique in New England because it was made specifically for racing bikes. It is a perfectly flat paved loop with lots of little turns thrown in to make it somewhat interesting. The wind is usually blowing like hell off the ocean there in April and its usually raining whenever I am there. As I recall it was the only place that I ever experienced a Cat III field forming echelons. Very Belgian. They didn't last long though because the longest straightaway is only a few hundred yards long then suddenly you were going 10 miles per hour faster with the wind. At least the poor fool on the point didn't have to take the brunt of the wind for too long. On the bright side, there is absolutely no traffic to contend with and no potholes. And there is a nice covered wooden structure that I can do the announcing from, so no matter how bad the weather gets, I can stay dry if not warm. The forecast for Saturday was good last I checked.

Then, Sunday is the Doyenne of New England (Doyenne means something like grand old lady in Belgium and France) . They call the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Race "La Doyenne" because it is the oldest of the classics. The Myles Standish Road Race is one of the oldest in New England and within one lap you will be certain that the roads haven't been paved since before the race was first conceived by the Mass Bay Road Club years and years ago. My dad took me to see the Myles Standish Road Race when I was about 10 years old. It was the first bike race I ever saw. That was about 33 years ago and I am pretty sure the roads haven't been paved since. I would like to say that seeing the race inspired me, but I didn't enter a bike race myself for at least another 12 years after that. These things take time. Bring your strongest wheels and maybe leave the tires a few pounds light. It's going to be a little bit like Paris Roubaix. Flats will happen, things will break, and water bottles will fly so bend those cages down extra tight if you don't want to loose yours. That is unless they are those new fangled carbon fiber cages in which case a wrap or two of duct tape around the bottle would be a better choice.

Race promoter Bill Sykes altered the route last year so that the finish line is in a safer place. The short uphill finish helps keep the top speeds down a little bit. It probably favors the all rounder with some extra leg strength over the pure sprinter or pure climber.

The Myles Standish race got a reputation over the years as being a bit dicey, especially the finish. But that was on the old course with the finish line way out on the back roads. Since the dam at East Head Pond broke through a few years ago, the course has been shortened and the finish moved. The finish used to be on a wide open windy stretch of road after a couple of rolling hills. It seemed that when there was a tailwind finish the front of the pack would wind up too early and fade before the line. This left them fading back in anaerobic agony as the second wave accelerated to top speed. That two way traffic is what I always thought caused the crashes. And the fact that almost no one had sprinted at 38 mph for 6 months didn't help either. SQUIRRELY!! If the wind was blowing the other way (a headwind finish), the top speeds were more reasonable and the sprints were safer. You just looked for any wheel you could hide behind until you had to make a move. But what do I know, I never won it.

Then, as soon as the last race is over, it's off to Logan Airport for my flight to Amsterdam. I'm going to see the Fleche Wallonne race in Belgium on Wednesday and hopefully fit in a little riding in the heartland of bike racing. I will try to take some pictures for the next post.

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