Events: The Lehigh Wheelmen Donut Derby
(2015) While the Vuelta garners all the attention of the Grand Tour calendar, it can’t truly say it hosts the best cyclists on America’s Labor Day. When amateurs aspire to make it to the bigs, they learn they’re trying to make it to “The Show.” For more years than many can identify, the Lehigh Wheelmen’s Donut Derby showcases some of the greatest cyclists in the world who can put a significant dent in the local supply of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. I’m no laborer. So to have Labor Day off is a strange experience. Because of this, I decided to labor intensely on the roads of Lehigh and Berks County chasing donuts that, when fully consumed, each knock three minutes off my time. Last year I forced down twelve donuts while riding with teammates. This year I had lofty goals of going faster and eating more donuts.
The route had been slightly altered this year because of road construction. This was of no concern as I had a plan: I would ride among the Kapelmuur Independent team who no doubt would shelter their past-five-years’ champion, Frank Gonzales of New Mexico. Frank must love Krispy Kremes to make the trip from the land of enchantment bringing with him his talent of consuming over fifty donuts in one outing, a number offered by the volunteers. Having fifty donuts means one’s time would have 150 minutes removed from the gun time. Incidently it's also adding 9500 calories to your day. That’s approaching negative splits.
Multiple concerns were discussed at the starting line by the event organizer. Riders could dunk their donuts but not wash them off. There was to be no throwing them up. That certainly didn’t count. Throwing away the marker popsicle sticks before turning them over to the controller meant a lost donut. Chucking donuts into the woods was not allowed either. And something about this not being a race (which it very clearly was).
The gun was fired and the (not) race was on. This year I positioned myself in front of the MAWs as I called them: Much (less) Aero Wheelmen. These are the cyclists who bounce around the road unaware of others around them. Also unaware would be the first intersection traffic controller who was still in his police car as we rumbled toward route 100. This was (not) a race, but we managed to sort out the details of the next two major intersections and much jostling.
I was riding with Tyler from Cycledrome Bicycle Shop, stationed in Breinigsville. This was his first experience with The Show. He and I tucked into the band of Kapelmuur riders let them do all the navigating and pulling. Tyler and I both sat up and enjoyed being pulled along by not just the Kapelmuur team, but also one of the tandems that I called buses. There were two of these buses. They not only had two riders, but they also either pulled a kid along in the trailer as the Kapelmuur tandem did, or it had a kid’s seat off the back as the other bus did.
Those familiar with the decades-long Derby that departs from the Lehigh Valley velodrome every Sunday would recognize large portions of this course. We wound through farm land as much of area is known for. Corn was everywhere. Slight risers were everywhere. When the first rider turned, we all turned. As in racing, we all sprinted out of the corner to return to group status. I was feeling great.
I got close to Mr. Gonzales. For a couple of miles I rode either next to him or hooked onto his back wheel. Imagine my star-struck-self riding next to someone who was possibly going to add to his legacy this year. There was talk about a ringer being brought in from Texas to dethrone him, and I wondered if he was concerned about that. Flying eating specialists in? That’s serious business. The Donut Derby has crossed a line into The Show of Shows. Mr. Gonzales would get unhitched on the inclines. Aha! A vulnerability! Riders also rode off the front to put multiple minutes between themselves and the hungry peloton.
I was feeling comfortable as I inched my way forward. Twenty minutes in and we were rolling toward the first donut stop. That is, until some curious material in the road gave me the gut-wrenching sound of rhythmic pss-pss-pss-pss as I realized my rear tire went down. This was a disaster! Everyone moved away from me. I rolled into the grass thinking my race was over. I stopped next to an older woman tending her garden.
“Yes I’m fine.” I probably said that twenty times to passing cyclists. “Oh man that sucks.” I heard that ten times. “Well, he got it.” I heard that. I’m assuming people noticed the object in the road that I hit. I surveyed my tire and saw the cut. This was the worst-case scenario. The Donut Derby needs team cars! By now I would’ve been pushed away by my mechanic after getting on the radio directly. “I should fix this and go back,” I thought. A voice in my head replayed something the Missus has said about my personality: “You always follow the rules.” I would tell people to go home with a puncture like this. Perhaps I shouldn’t follow the rules today. I turned to the lovely lady tending her garden.
“Do you have a cardboard box lid by chance?” I asked her.
“Oh sure, does it matter how thick it is?” she replied.
When I replied it didn’t she disappeared behind the shed and returned minutes later with box tops and her husband. “I got a compressor if you need it,” he stated several times. While I repaired the tire, we discussed how their garden was coming along. The green bean crop was doing well, but the peppers were having a rough year. And aren’t the tomatoes coming in just lovely? He also told me about a bike shop down the road that he’s ridden his riding mower to, because they also fix riding mowers I think. Thanks to this couple’s affinity for chocolate pudding, I crammed the box top where the rip was and decided my Donut Derby was not over. Their PA Dutch would leave me trying to translate what they essentially said for the remainder of the ride. I still haven’t figured it out.
I climbed back on the bike and lit the fires. I was going to put myself back in this race if it was the last thing I did. That last sentence was quite possible considering I was sprinting for the rest stop to eat as many donuts as possible. I needed luck. After passing dozens of MAWs, I looked up and saw it. The train had come in! In between the train and myself was a large group of angry-looking riders. At first I thought, “A train now, too?!” But the last car passed through and the gates came up as I blew through full flight. While people clipped in, I rolled around them and came into the first stop with an appetite for fixing my time. Even Tom Boonen had to stop for trains.
Welcome to Bowers Park, the donut stop. Don’t get me wrong my tire was on the back of my mind. I was concerned about puncturing again, but I needed to be distracted by donuts. I grabbed one and it was down the gullet. Two, three, four donuts went down well. The guy next to me was on fifteen when I looked over and his face concerned me. He had a cup near his mouth and his eyes had that horror show look to it like breakfast was coming back up. I panicked mentally and tried to think of something else, but turned around and saw the bike support and I thought of my back tire. “What is this madness?” I thought. I glanced back over and the look was still on his face. I got six down total and decided this was nowhere for me to hang out. The controller grabbed my popsicle sticks, counted them, broke them, and wrote the total on my number. I essentially wiped out my stop on the side of the road.
Feeling good still, I hammered down Fleetwood Lyons Road. This is where the Sunday Derby opens up and hovers around thirty miles per hour. We were going the opposite direction. I kept picking riders off. I would focus on the back of the rider in front of me and drive the pedals to catch them. I’d pass them and repeat the process. This is where I also saw the two Mennonite girls riding Schwinn Varsity bikes with designer sunglasses and traditional dresses. I was pushing myself for this oh-so-serious event.
We returned to Bowers Park for the second (and last) time. The mental experience of the guy’s face was still with me. I could only muster two. Since I felt that any time spent over three minutes was a detriment, I got out of the park with a lame ‘two’ marked on my race number for stop two. I wiped out twenty-four minutes on the day. Since it was running time from the start and not rolling time, I was not going to challenge the podium for my age group. Yet I found inspiration to keep hauling.
Feeling good still, I got around more riders. A new problem presented itself: I was pursuing faster riders who were making it harder to pull back in a timely manner. Groups up the road stayed up the road longer. I saw a larger group and decided I would get a rest behind them for a moment. Upon catching them, I read their name as United Slackers of America, and decided this would not do. I went around them and continued toward Trexlertown. Another challenge came in navigation. Large expanses of empty rode lay ahead of me so I had to start reading the road markings. Imagine going off course. This place all looks the same. I’d never be able to describe where I was to Search and Rescue. I was convinced I was drooling donut glaze.
Unluckily I ran into two stoplights within the final two miles when disaster struck again! My tire was flat with a mile to go. I had no tube. I had no one near me, so I decided to gingerly limp home. Each turn was taken with the utmost care to avoid sliding out. I couldn’t believe I had another tire go down. I pulled my left foot out of the pedal to go around the last turn. Unbelievable.
I crossed the line with some time or other to see Tyler at the finish. He had been there a while clearly. So much for passing into the velodrome like Cancellara, thrusting my hands in the air Roubaix-style, cutting off the race for third, and collapsing in the infield a champion. No. My rear tire had other plans for my day. On top of that, I suddenly had indigestion. I probably didn’t drink enough water. Tyler broke the news that the champion had been dethroned today. I relayed the comment made by a volunteer at the donut stop who said he could "only" get 54 down this year. Every other year he gets 55.
Despite the two flats, I enjoyed the 2015 Donut Derby. I persevered through a difficult few miles to keep control of what was in my grasp. It’s fun to tell people about this event, and how they screw up their faces repeating the event name, “Donut Derby? What is that?” The following few sentences allow the Derby to extend beyond the roads of Lehigh and Berks County. Perhaps I’ll be back to The Show, perhaps not. I felt this year would have been the best result. If one is interested, this race happens every Labor Day and is capped at 300 participants. Try it at least once so that while one is riding, he can decipher the code that rang through my head, “Did he say he rode his riding mower to the bike shop?”