The Gate City Cyclone, now in its third year at Holman Stadium in Nashua (or actually around the stadium) is fast becoming a favorite of racers from New England and beyond. With a little something for everyone on its 0.75 mile loop, the course is just challenging enough for great racing without being too technical for the entry level racers. And nearly constant primes, compliments of Goodale’s Bike Shop in Nashua, don’t hurt either. Even the Cat 4-5 race was sprinting for three-place primes every 2 to 3 laps.
The guys from the BOB (Bunch of Bikers) club had the course set up and looking great before the Kids’ races started at 8:45. Besides being huge on the cute factor, the kids’ races are where the future Gate City Cyclone champions are forged. Big fields of 10-15 kids contested the first few age groups for the youngest kids, but participation tapered off to just one racer in the 12-13 year old age group and none registered in the 14-15. What happens to kids when they reach 12 that they no longer ride their bikes? I can understand a big drop off in participation at 16 years old when kids get their driver’s licenses, but why at 12? On one hand I hope that some of them become part of the great sport that is bike racing. But on the other hand, I could understand why a parent wouldn’t encourage their kid to enter what is starting to seem to me like a dangerous endeavor. But we’ll get to that….
There were a few 14 and 15 year olds in the Cat 4-5 race and they could have had a decent kids’ race just amongst themselves. But the Kids’ Races are meant for beginner racers, not USAC licensees so they were in the Cat 4-5 race because there was no USAC junior race on the program this year. Both Nate Morse (CLNoonan), who is about 14, and Tommy Goguen (Minuteman Road Club), who is about the same age, both won primes in this race.
The pace was relatively fast for a Cat 4-5 field with the prime bell ringing every few laps. The Cat 5s who had never raced for primes before (Cat 5 races can’t have primes unless the race is combined with Cat 4) were probably shell shocked with about 10 three-place primes in this 24 lap race. Plus, the prize list went to 10 places for the almost full field of 70 starters.
The front of the race stayed together throughout but lots of inexperienced riders fell off the back. I hate to see them get pulled out because that is so discouraging to a new rider, but on a short technical course like this, it had to be done. And as the announcer, I have to tell them that they are done for the day. In that situation, I always remember when Dick Ring pulled me out of my first race, the UMass criterium in 1988, for which I was nowhere near prepared. Fortunately, I am stubborn by nature and persevered through quite a few more races where I got the hook. I hope the current crop of Cat 5s does the same.
Chris Esposito, a junior recently upgraded to Cat 4, won the race with Bryon Lewis (Colavita) right behind. A total of 47 riders finished of the 70 that started. I’ve seen Chris Esposito ride well a couple of times now. Some team should pick him up while he is still unattached.
A small but very strong field of 11 lined up for the women’s race including three Nashua locals: Sally Annis (Hub Racing), Kerry Litka (UNH) and Katherine Snell (Northeast). Also present was Rebecca Wellons (Northeast) who seems to be winning everything this year, and a strong team from the Sunapee squad. This is the first time I have ever seen a race with more prime prizes than racers, but race promoter Ron Bingham wanted to stick to the plan and give it all away despite the relatively small field. There were a total of 7 three-place primes (21 prizes total) in this race of 11 riders. Crazy!
Wellons, Clara Kelly (Northeast), Anna McLoon (Altarum), and Danielle Ruane (Sunapee) got away about half way through the race. The chase formed and dissolved and reformed but those 4 would stay away with Wellons winning the sprint by two bike lengths. This was a change from recent races where Rebecca has ridden away from the field for solo victories including New Britain and Yarmouth. Maybe she was getting tired of riding alone in races, but more likely this field was a little stronger with the very fast Anna McLoon (who would later ride and finish the Men’s Pro123 race) and several equally strong riders from the Sunapee team all ready to ride hard. Anna was next followed by Danielle and Clara.
With only 11 racers, this was the only field of the day’s four races that was not either filled or close to the 75 rider field limit. With perfect weather for racing and no other road racing events in New England in conflict, there is no obvious reason. Not many promoters are going to be able to offer prize lists and primes, or precious time on a race’s schedule of events, for 11 rider fields. Are there really that few women racers around? I heard someone mention maybe including Cat 4 women in the race next year to increase attendance. That seems like a good idea, but how many entry level women are going to want to race against Cat 1s? Separate fields on the course at the same time might be an option, but I’ve seen that go terribly wrong more than once.
Dick Ring, aka “the Voice of New England Bike Racing” grabbed a mic at this point and the stories and insight started flowing. While I tried to keep up with him, I did not get to watch as much of this race as I would have liked. As we traded pulls on the PA system, a few moves went up the road, mostly thanks to Bill Yarbrody (NBX). But they were all brought back when the pack decided not to concede the race so early to a solo time trial or small group. Kyle Gates (Millwork) won the half way prime, a Cycle-ops trainer worth $350. Greg Melone (Gearworks) went on a solo flier with about three laps to go in a do or die move.
In one of the greatest ever examples of Murphy’s second law (if something can go wrong, it will go wrong at the worst possible time), the generator ran out of gas just before the bell rang for one lap to go. The PA went dead and more importantly so did the finish line camera. So, the Masters race had a silent finish that had to be picked old-school by the officials without the benefit of the camera. It all worked out ok even though it got close at the end. Melone barely stayed clear for the win with the charging pack sprinting to full speed across the road behind him. The one closest to catching him was Patrick Ruane (Sunapee), followed by Steve Stockwell (Sunapee), and Ciaran Mangan (CCB).
Men Pro 123
After filling the generator with gas, we got the Men’s Pro 123 race going. A full field of 75 took the line including a strong showing of 7 riders from Equipe Volkswagen-Specialized from Quebec. About 5 laps in, there was a bad crash on the first sweeping corner right after we rung the bell for the first prime. Peter Bell (Met Life) and another rider were down but Bell could not get up. The race would be neutralized when they came around again however the hard charging pack was gunning for its first prime of the race. Fortunately the crash was a few hundred yards after the line so there was time to neutralize the field. They were however surprised that the pace vehicle (a very “mod” yellow Vespa scooter) reacted to the instruction to slow down much quicker than did the racers, many of whom narrowly avoided the scooter while decelerating. Good thing it wasn’t a car!
Bell was taken to the hospital in the ambulance and after a 20 minute delay, the race was restarted with one neutral lap to get the blood flowing again, then the racing resumed. The Volkswagen-Specialized team snagged most of the primes tipping their hand as the dominant squad in the race. These boys didn’t drive 5 hours from Quebec to watch the locals race, especially Guillaume Boivin who took either first or second in almost every three-place prime. There were some attacks throughout the race but nothing stuck. The Quebecois kept at least two riders at the front of the field the entire race and when it really mattered, Boivin took the sprint from 100 yards out for the win. Morgan Hiller (CLNoonan) took a very respectable second place only a bike length or so behind the Canadian professional. Jake Hollenbach (CRCA)rounded out the podium.
I haven’t heard how Peter Bell is doing and I didn’t see the aftermath of the crash from where I was. I heard he was taken away on a backboard and that is a common precaution for victims of crashes of any kind. But it gets me to thinking about the safety of this sport. I’ve crashed a few times but never anything serious, just the red badge of courage on a hip, elbow, or knee. But a lot worse can, and sometimes does, happen when we suddenly hit the ground at high speed. We all have our war stories, but have we ever really thought about the risk we are taking riding elbow to elbow at 30 mph wearing nothing but a thin layer of spandex over most of our bodies? That is part of what draws us to the sport and creates some of its legendary mystique. But people have died doing this. It’s no wonder that parents aren’t encouraging their kids to race bikes. Any parent that saw what happened to Peter Bell, whatever the outcome is, would be crazy to send their kid off to the same fate. They could get most of the same benefits from playing soccer or competitive swimming and have very little risk of serious injury.
Maybe I’m just thinking about this too much given the recent accidents at the Tour (is Jens Voigt out of the hospital yet?), Nashua, and a member of my club who crashed at Wells Ave this Sunday and is still in the hospital with broken facial bones. Accidents will always happen at all levels of the sport, but can we make this sport safer somehow?