Monday, July 28, 2008

George Street Challenge/Major Taylor Race

Sunday July 27, 2008:

George Street in Worcester, Mass was, for the 7th straight year, the place to be for the annual uphill time trial race in honor of Major Taylor, the 1899 world champion and Worcester resident.
Uphill barely describes it. It looks intimidating just standing at the bottom. It goes 90 feet up within a horizontal distance of 500 feet. That's almost 18% folks! Check out this profile of the course:

Data for some other famous climbs:

Mt Washington - 12% for 7.6 miles with pitches up to 22%. OK, that one is tough. Record time =49 minutes, 24 seconds (Tom Danielson)

Alpe d'Huez - 7.9% for 13.8 km (about 9.5 miles). Record time was by a doper so who cares (under 40 minutes is good).

Mur de Huy, Belgium (La Fleche Wallonne) - 9.3% for 1.3 km (just under a mile) with pitches up to 26%. The Fleche goes up this three times every April, including the finish at the top but I haven't found any mention of fastest times up the Mur. Here is what it looks like:

So, George Street isn't the longest at 500 feet, but it is the steepest sustained pitch. It should be called the Mur de Wormtown (I wish I had thought of that yesterday while I was doing the announcing at the race, so it goes). Here is a picture from last year that gives some indication of the steepness of the course:

143 riders, the most ever in the seven year history of the race, rode the hill with new record times in most categories. This is a real bike geek's event with all types showing up to try their skills. It is the only race where the shaved leg crowd mingles with the fixed-gear messenger types, the bikes-not-bombs types (you know who you are and so does the NSA), BMXers, and cyclo-tourists, and those well past their prime, whenever that was, including myself. There were also more spectators this year than ever before, a lot more than we see at most of the USCF 'offical' events.

The new course record was 22.83 seconds set by Rich Hollenbach of Wallingford CT. I didn't do quite so well, but I have a good excuse. Actually, several good excuses. The best one is mechanical failure (of the bike, not me). I plan to remedy that with an all new drive train in the next week or so. But enough about me.

Instead, you might take this opportunity to learn a little something about bicycle racing history and the fine example that Major Taylor set in his day. It's all there at All the results from the race are posted there as well. As for the full story of the race, I'll leave that to the professionals at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette:

Thanks to Lynne Tolman of the Major Taylor Association, Peter Howard of Barney's Bikes in Worcester, and the fine folks of the Seven Hills Wheelmen for putting on a great event once again. See ya next year!

Post-Partem Depression

I am having a little trouble with post-tour depression today. It happens every year. It is a kind of withdrawal that I go through. It's a good thing I am not inclined to try harder drugs, because this is rough enough. I just don't know what to do with myself. But, I just discovered a new sport that might hold me over and help me get off my addiction to foreign bicycle racing. No, it's not mixed martial arts, it's called Red Sox baseball and it's a lot like the Tour de France.

First, there are frequent commercial breaks where the same adverts are repeated ad nauseum between the all too frequent self-promotional flogging of the host channel's other programming. I have a hard time believing all that promotion for Tap Out is going to pay dividends among the cycling aficionados. And I am now more sure than ever that I will never purchase a Cervelo or a Saab. On the other hand, I have a hankering for a Mojito right now. I liked that one every time I saw it. If they would cut out the part with the smarmy bartender, I would probably be drunk as a skunk on Mojito's right now. I like the Amsterdam ad on Red Sox games too. I want to go back there soon if only to meet the old guy who says "Ladies and Gentlemen, let's begin" in Dutch.

Also, this baseball thing, like the TdF, is usually only available on obscure cable networks except on the weekends when it sometimes makes an appearance on the big networks. Just like Phil and Paul at the TdF, there are two very good announcer/commentators (Remy and Orsillo) and a cast of not so good wannabees, especially on the big networks. Who was that breathy commentator on CBS's weekend coverage of the TdF? I hated him. He made everything sound oh so melodramatic but obviously knew nothing. The Tim McCarver of bike race commentary.

It seems that stimulants and steroids are common in both sports and the authorities are finally catching wise in hopes of saving what is left of their reputations. But there is no need to worry, the fans were willing to turn a blind eye for years, they will come back once the appearance of propriety is restored.

They play almost every day with only an occasional day off to annoy us addicts and make us appreciate them all the more when they do play.

As observed by George Carlin, we don't know when a baseball game is going to end, but it somehow fits into a three-hour broadcast, just like the TdF.

That's all I got for now. Feel free to add your own in the comments (please comment, it's lonely here all by myself without Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Claremont and Yarmouth

July 19th: Claremont Criterium
The Claremont NH Criterium was a wild ride once again. With a short and somewhat technical course in the downtown business district of Claremont, it is always a barn burner and frequent primes only add to the challenge and excitement. Adding to the wildness, in the four years that I have done the announcing there, it seems like there has been a threat of a thunderstorm each time. This one was no different.

The racing started in the mid afternoon with races for the kids. Two through six year olds and then seven to nine year olds did 150 meter sprints to the start/finish line. I didn't catch the name of the winner of the 2-6 heat (bad journalist, but I was busy announcing). The winner of the 7-9 year olds' heat was Grace Vollers, the daughter of former pro bike racer and UMass standout, Peter Vollers. Grace wouldn't admit to having had any coaching from her dad and was non-committal about her future in the sport in a post-race interview. But, judging by the way she blew past the rest of the kids, there is a future for her in bike racing if she catches the bug.

The Juniors 10-14 were up next and had a strong field of riders. There is a big difference between 10 and 14 year olds in both strength and experience level, so the cub juniors races usually split apart. This one held together a little longer than usual, but eventually, 14 year old Peter Goguen won in a two man break. All of the 15-18 year old juniors elected to race in their categories so no Junior 15-18 race was held.

The Masters 35-plus started with dark threatening skies to the north. Weather radar indicated it might stay there as the race began. After a few laps Mike Barton (Boston Scientific) and Paul Richard (CCB) had a gap approaching 20 seconds. But then all hell broke loose as a very scary cyclone blew through the course. The race was immediately shut down while winds of at least 50 mph knocked down branches and blew sand into everyone's eyes. This was as close to a tornado as I ever want to see. In about 30 seconds it was over. Once the debris was picked up from the course, the riders were given a warm up lap to check the course and the race was re-started. Only a few laps later, the thunder and lightening and rain finally came to the area and the race was halted again. The riders took cover and waited it out. Eventually, the field was called back to the line and given 10 wet laps to finish the race. Barton and Richard were once again given their 20 second lead, then the pack was let go to chase. At the end of the ten laps, the finish between the two breakaways was too close to call and they were both awarded 1st place while the promoter split the prize money for the first two places equally among them.

The Cat 3/4 men's race saw a break of 6 get a solid advantage over the field in the latter part of the wet race. They built up almost a half lap lead but coming into the final turn before the flat finishing strait of about 200 meters, Christian Eager, sitting in third position in the break, let centrifugal force over come traction and slid into the hay bales on the outside of the slightly off-camber 90 degree corner. The rider immediately behind, with no where else to go, launched over him and tumbled. Eager (Quad Cycles) quickly gathered himself up, ran a few yards down the road toward the finish line and,using his cyclocross skills, jumped smoothly back onto his bike. However, the chain had come off the rings in the crash and was all twisted up making pedaling impossible. Instead, he stretched out across the bike superman style with feet over the back wheel and chest on the bars. I leave it to you to figure out what was left to rest on the saddle, but he looked comfortable enough crossing the line in 6th, just ahead of the field to claim the last of the prize money.

The Pro123 had no weather issues as conditions improved and the course dried off. During the race, Alder Martz (Hot Tubes) had three flat tires on the same back wheel and eventually abandoned. Since he didn't bring spare wheels to the pit, the tube had to be replaced each time and quickly pumped up to race pressure. Given the short course (less than 1 minute per lap), multiple free laps were allowed when needed. Race sponsor and volunteer John Lambert actually manged to change the tube and pump it back up and get Alder back in the race in three laps the first time, very impressive pit work. The second time the officials told Alder he had to chase. The third time he abandoned. His team manager, Toby Schultz didn't seem to have much sympathy saying "It's his responsibility to put spare wheels in the car". He probably won't forget again for a long time. Ironically, Alder won a prime for a new Kenda tire during the race and neglected to pick it up afterwords. At the finish Ryan Fleming (Metlife) took the win in a two man sprint with Mike Barton.

The Women's (all categories) race started with a field of about 15riders. However, it didn't take long before Eve McNeil (Sunapee S&W)) and Elle Anderson (Onion River Sports) decided to work a little harder than the rest of the field and established a winning breakaway. Because several of the races had been shortened to make up for the earlier wind and lightening delays, the announcer (me) had lots of primes left to give away and nearly everyone in the field, even lapped riders, got something, from socks and free ice cream to tires and cash. Five place primes for fields of lapped riders weren't uncommon. In the end, Eve McNeil took the sprint for first with Elle Anderson second.

July 20th: Yarmouth Clam Festival
The Yarmouth Clam Festival race (this year the 28th annual) is one of the rocks of the New England Racing calender because it is one of the best supported races around. The sponsorship is strong and on top of that, it seems like almost every local business and bike racing fan wants to donate a prime. We actually had to turn down a couple of primes because we ran out of laps to assign them to. In other words, there were primes every lap for both the men's and women's fields and they often went three places deep.

Being relatively short races (36 and 22 miles respectively) didn't help much with the prime scheduling, but it sure kept the action fast and furious. And that's exactly what the thousands of fans in attendance wanted to see. They were treated to a sprint every few minutes with as much as $100 on the line for the winner. Recent high school graduate Luke Fortini (Coast to Coast/KAM) took the first prime of the day with one lap complete. A sprint for the cash ensued every lap until Justin Spinelli (Kelly Benefit Strategies) took off at the half-way point of the race. He started reeling in the primes solo while the pack let him build a 20 second lead. He got a huge ovation from the crowd each time he came through town as did the field and then even more of an ovation was heard for those struggling off the back.

Justin built on his lead and got it up to 40 seconds on the field while Morgan McLeod (Mechanical Services/PVC) got himself into purgatory halfway between Spinelli and the rest of the field. He was eventually reeled in, but Spinelli just kept rolling lap after lap. It was not hard to believe that Spinelli might be the strongest individual in the field but it was surprising that he was stronger than the combined might of the all the others. As he time trialed away from them, he won almost $300 in primes and got to hone his time trialing skills for his upcoming trip to compete in France for a couple of weeks. With two laps to go the field made some progress cutting down Spinelli's advantage. This gave Ward Solar (NERAC) the idea that Spinelli might be tiring out there alone so he decided to take a flier off the front and try to catch him solo. Coming into the last lap Spinelli got the bell 20 seconds ahead of the field with Solar about half way between. Amazingly, that's how it stayed for the finish except Spinelli's time gap was allowed to grow as the field apparently decided to position themselves for the sprint for the remaining 8 places in the prize list instead of chasing the leaders.

The Women's race saw primes, usually two or three places deep, on every lap. The race stayed together until shortly before hearing the bell for the final lap when Rebecca Wellons (NEBC) and her teammate Sally Annis (NEBC) established a gap of a few seconds on the rest. They came down the hill into the finish a few minutes later with the the narrowest of gaps on the rest of the field and had to sprint full out to stay ahead of Maryanne Stover (Portland Velo). Rebecca took the sprint and Sally must have been able to sense Maryanne charging up behind as they finished 2nd and third right behind Rebecca.

In a nice touch of local color, race promoter Dave Brink awarded both the men's and women's race winners paintings by a local Maine artist. Those will last a lot longer than the prize money.

It is surprising that fewer than 100 riders competed in these two events combined. This is one of the best races in New England and should attract full fields. If not for the racing, then for the clam festival. Where else can you race for primes every lap, get a painting if you win, and then fill yourself with fried clams all afternoon? This race is worth the ride no matter what gas costs next year.