Being There: Thompson Bucks County Classic 2016
Cover photo is courtesy of Mike Maney Photography. Be sure to check out his work; he is a fellow cyclist in the Bucks cycling community.
(2016) Across the Atlantic Ocean, British cycling is seeing a remarkable surge in participation. Sure hosting the Olympics four years ago could have something to do with it. It could also be Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome’s Tour de France success in that same amount of time. But what many people say is the catalyst behind the rise in British cycling enthusiasm is the country’s promotion of the sport. Proceeds of the British lottery goes to less popular sports throughout the country. Cycling has a rough time breaking the stronghold of the English Premier League, so it gets a boost from the lottery. A country that promotes something usually sees a return on its efforts.
John Eustice, former criterium champion and Bucks County Classic organizer, echoed these thoughts. He stated the Doylestown race is so lengthy because it needed to mirror the difficulty of European criteriums. Want to be competitive overseas? Excel in Doylestown. The race pace is relentless, as evidenced by the names ripping around the outside of Doylestown’s Arts Festival 1.3 miles at a time.
The names are remarkable: Janier Acevado, Edwin Avila, Matthew Busche, Robby Carpenter, Danny Pate, Chris Horner, Bobby Lea, current USA Criterium Champion Brad Huff, and former USA Criterium Champion (and also defending Bucks County Classic champion) Eric Marcotte. These are easily recognizable riders to any fan of cycling. Some of them have had their names mentioned on the Tour of California, the Olympics, or the Grand Tours of Europe. This race could be any race, but with names like this among the field, it took it to an unprecedented level.
The race delivered in excitement. Immediately the pace was hard. It would be that sort of day for racers. The hot weather from Reading road race the day before had been blown out and replaced by beautiful skies and temperature. Every lap saw a new combination. Some laps saw a single leader; others saw a breakaway, then multiple groups around the course. Each lap was an exciting mystery to see how the race progressed.
Our cheering section enjoyed multiple areas of the course as we have done in years’ prior. We started our fandom downhill from the finish line for several laps. We then moved to the fast left-hander in the center of Doylestown. For a couple laps we saw different lead combinations.
And then something changed. Three leaders came flying through and then a remarkable break. We waited. We waited some more. And then slowly riders came through the turn at an obviously stagnant pace. There had been a hard crash on the fast downhill turn after the start. The field was neutralized and EMTs were called. One rider from Gateway Harley Davidson/ Trek had gone down. A teammate of his was observed escorting his bike around the course, signifying his day was over. We had thought about going to that corner but decided against it. Nearly every time a crash has happened in the Classic, it’s been at that corner. News of the incident traveled fast. It grew quiet only to have the silence broken by the Lexus pace car flying through the corner again followed by the pack.
We moved from our spot again, this time at the exit of the fast turn (it had everything to do with nearby Zen Den’s advertisement for nitro coffee). For many laps we cheered on the leaders. I began to pick up the intensity of cheering toward one of the cyclists we hosted a few years ago, Dennis Ramirez. Part of the intensity was results driven. Dennis had found himself near the front of a chase group and was looking incredibly strong and showing capability of closing the gap. I was getting excited.
Our cheering section inquired as to how many laps were remaining and decided it was time to walk up to the finish line. It was at that time that Dennis had bridged the gap with one other rider to slot in with the eleven other breakaway leaders. I could hardly contain myself. I was shouting as loud as possible each lap. If he was entertaining any thought of dropping back, I wanted to make sure my voice was loud enough to drown it out. At least that’s what I wanted to believe was happening.
Lap by lap riders from the main bunch tried to come across to the leaders. Some maintained their distance in No Man’s Land, never catching nor getting caught. The lead group’s advantage remained virtually the same lap after lap. I couldn’t imagine how Dennis was feeling to look over and see Eric Marcotte, two-time winner of this race, or Chris Horner, WorldTour rider, taking pulls with him. For a couple of turns Dennis was on the front earning his place in the group.
The feeling of excitement was tangible as Arts Festival goers began filling in the spots behind the fence dwellers. The one-to-go card was pulled from the pace car and it looked like the finish was going to be one of the best in the race’s history.
Attention turned to the JumboTron near the finish. The group stayed together on the long downhill as well as the uphill return. The anticipation got heavier as the pace car became visible, then the lead group, then the sprints opened by anyone looking to go for a long one. From out of the tunnel of noise and spectators came Eric Marcotte blasting his way to the finish to make it his third victory in Doylestown. It was an impressive result after having finished second the day before in Reading’s 120-mile road race. Second place went to Robby Carpenter and third went to the Colombian champion Edwin Avila. Dennis finished with the same time as the leader, an impressive sixteenth for him.
One of the great aspects about criterium racing is the noticeable suffering face on riders. Today featured many blank looks from riders digging deep to accomplish short term and long-term goals. Riders trying to bridge gaps looked in absolute agony. Those trying to hang in there looked inspired in their efforts. And the sprint by Eric Marcotte was all he had minus enough effort to claim his victory at the line.
With the kids race prior to the women’s pro race it could be a possible promotion that leads to a future return on its efforts. Those kids who raced today could grace the starting line in a decade or so. While the race has had riders from over twenty-five countries, it’s never had a hometown rider thrust the hands skyward. When that happens, it would certainly feel like winning the lottery.