Being There: The Bucks County Classic
I wanted to get out to Berks County for the first day of the two-day bike race that finishes on the streets of Doylestown on Sunday. Life got in the way preventing me from taking the trek out to Reading, PA, site of the new road course that apparently saw quite a bit of carnage. When I talked to Dennis Ramirez from Gateway Harley-Davidson, one of the riders we hosted last year, he stated there were many crashes and punctures. The race was run in a downpour.
To get to Arts Fest is something people should consider, even from a great distance. I’ve run into the same group of artists in Penn State, and the show in Doylestown is a similar laid-back affair with the added bicycling festivities on the docket for Sunday. I try to make the Sunday race when I can because I never know who I’ll see racing. It’s a UCI sanctioned race that pulls some of the larger continental pro teams to this town.
This year there was a new addition to the cycling line-up. Adding to the Cyclosportif that departs from town prior to the day of racing, preceding to the professional women’s race, before the children’s races, and starting the morning of the men’s professional race was a Category 2/3 race that gave the local riders a chance to attack the same corners with the same marshaling. It was a 75-minute affair for the nearby teams to race in front of family, friends, and the community.
Amidst all of these events the Cyclosportif ride returned from trekking around Bucks County. The riders were making their way to the tent stocked with food and beverages off the finishing stretch. The route included covered bridges and even a potentially well-timed propeller aircraft experience near Van Sant Airport. It also borrows some roads from the Bucks Cycling Covered Bridges route, as well as the Nockamixon Century route in the Upper Black Eddy region of Bucks County.
The women’s race was a one-hour affair, which featured several local riders from Doylestown Bike Works. A twenty-year-old Australian rode away from the three-woman breakaway in the final laps to solo to victory. Femme Fatale finished first, fourth, and fifth on what would certainly be considered a successful outing in Doylestown.
Some of the women who raced even took time to ride alongside their kids during the young racers events. Some kids exploded off the front and hammered on the uphill finishing sprint while others soaked in the attention from the screaming public on both sides of the barriers. Unofficially, girls seemed to have outkicked the boys this year for podium results. The future of cycling was on display prior to the men’s professional race.
It was after the kids’ races I got to converse with Dennis. I also got to wish luck to the Hincapie Sportswear Development Team that I follow on Instagram as well. I got to oversee the signing-in process. I also got to see riders conversing, competitors pinning numbers on each other. Other teams soigneurs offering fluids to those who asked, regardless of the colors they wore.
The best part about the 1.3-mile course is its accessibility. A spectator can walk the entire course during the race, see every corner and straightaway, and return to the finish line in time to see the closing sprint. This year we employed the same strategy, watching the start from behind the line.
Riders make a right down Pine Street and pick up remarkable speed into a quintessential criterium turn. The smell of burning cork fills the air for those brave enough to stand on the outside of the turn. As Mark Wahlberg said regarding a Top Gear cameraman standing his ground outside of a turn, “You gotta lotta balls standing there” certainly applies to spectators and media alike. It was here we heard – but did not see – what sounded like a tubular snap. People began waving their arms to the approaching riders as it was third place who hit the deck on lap three. Once we walked around the turn he was gone. He must have been all right considering the clapping by those who witnessed the crash. One little girl stated, “That crash really scared me.” With rain clouds moving in, I kept this spot in mind for later, although I don’t care to see carnage.
Moving on down the course, we stopped and watched them race by us on the second and third fastest turns: left onto Main Street, and a rocket-fast open right hand turn that brings them onto a downhill straightaway. Here we stopped for slices of local pizza at Jules Thin Crust Pizza, watched them race by every couple of minutes, then moved on with our locations.
Instead of heading down to the southwestern corner of the course, we cut through using Clinton Street where we met up with the race as it was passing the mechanical pits to access the uphill straightaway on Court Street. It was this right hander where we watched Chris Horner – the same Chris Horner who won the Tour of California in 2011 – orchestrate the race by being in the break, dropping back to the peloton, then bridging the gap to bring the race back together. He did all of this with his trademark suffer-smile.
It was the first time we decided not to squeeze into the finish area. Instead we opted to stand at the midpoint of the finishing stretch. It did not disappoint. The Kelly Benefits Strategies team had dictated the pace for the final three laps by forming their leadout train. It looked like they were in a commanding position to win when the American Criterium Champion flew past our location. The peloton flew by wide open with Dennis in the thick of it. Moments later, and off the back after working all day for his team, Chris Horner came home to finish his day.
The Bucks County Classic is an extremely family (and pet) friendly weekend-long event. It was enjoyable to listen to spectators asking questions about bike racing. It was even more enjoyable to hear eager bystanders to help them understand tactics, the culture, and the excitement that is bike racing. It was also enjoyable to hear people cheering on the riders who have lived with them for the weekend. I could go on with the positives. Even more positive was the fact that the rain held off – they had enough of that the day before.
So we went home thinking the aura created by the Bucks County Classic was over. But as I walked the dogs around the block when I got home, I saw three kids out riding bikes, three kids who I had never seen insisting on their bikes before. I’d like to think the next generation of American cycling has just got on their bikes.