Events: Kermesse Sport’s 2017 Monument Season
(2017) In the epic heroic poem of Beowulf, a monster lurked for many years on the fringes of the Geats' kingdom. It could be said it was waiting for Beowulf all through his fifty-year reign as king of Geatland. The dragon our hero was slated to fight wreaked havoc over the countryside before the king decided to take action. Until he did, the challenge lurked out there.
For mid-Atlantic cyclists, there are lurks a-plenty encompassed in the Kermesse Sport’s Spring Classic calendar. What’s better are the changes for 2017 to make the registration process more manageable as well as some event upgrades. Anyone who reads this site knows we throw our support behind every Kermesse event. There’s a reason: it’s quality; it’s challenging; it’s quintessentially spring cycling. On January 25th at 7:00pm, those quick with the keyboard or registration app will be able to register for all events or individually.
There are challenges awaiting each rider. Zion Road is waiting for riders right now. Pine Hill Road is out there lurking for any rider who dares to attempt its multiple inclines. The gravel switchbacks of Lodi Hill Road are patiently awaiting any visitors in its wooded climb. A road simply known to the riders of the area as Uhlerstown loves to challenge everyone. They’re all out there waiting for us to attempt them.
Let’s get right to it. For this year, Kermesse is offering a ticket, the Spring Classics Series Pass, to all four spring classics in one registration ($165). This saves a participant a spot in each of the challenges laid forth across the months of Febraury to April. With routes that deliver each year, this is certainly the way to go. However, if you’re wondering how each event compares to one another, have a read at what we’ve thought of each event (then go on ahead and sign up for all four challenges).
Sourland Semi-Classic ($30 early fee, February 28)
Among the four events, the Sourland Semi-Classic is the newest- and shortest- ride. It starts and ends at Sourland Cycles in Hopewell, NJ. If Hell of Hunterdon is the Flanders, Sourland is Flanders' warmup mimicking Het Nieuwsblad. It’s shorter but hits some of the Hell of Hunterdon roads. This year it has expanded to four open pave sectors, all of which appear in the Hell of Hunterdon, two the standard direction, two the opposite direction.
What’s refreshing is the route’s constant visiting of the Sourland Mountain Preserve. Aside from the conversation of fellow riders and the clicking of shifted gears, there are long periods of peace on this event’s route. If you’re unsure about your legs being prepared for Hell of Hunterdon in four week’s time, this is a perfect test route to ease you into the 2017 season.
Two features that stand out on the route aside from the Sourland Preserve is the inclusion of the always favorite Rocktown Road, a sector that also appears in the Hell of Hunterdon, as well as Zion Road’s hill climb toward the end of the event. As John Eustice once said, “[The route planner] always has a surprise up his sleeve.” Zion Road into Montgomery Road hill climbs should fully demoralize any unsuspecting rider.
The reward is a welcome committee at Sourland Cycles and flowing craft beer. The folks at Sourland make sure Youtube videos of global cycling events run continuously to entertain their guests. The year we rode the Sourland Semi-Classic, we didn't want to leave because of the relaxed vibe and conversational atmosphere. At thirty dollars (early fee), it’s tough to beat the price, the experience, the after party, and the fact that you’ll get the best of Zion Road and brag about it for a whole year.
Hell of Hunterdon ($75 early fee, March 25)
Forget just Pine Hill Road. The entire course of the Hell of Hunterdon is out there waiting for you. We have ridden this event in cold rain, warm dusty conditions, remarkable wind gusts, and everything in between. Several attempts have been made to assemble group rides to revisit this route in other seasons, with record defections. We’ve seen it outgrow its humble start in Lambertville, NJ, to current day Blawenburg, NJ. The Hell of Hunterdon is a great tune-up ride for Great American Cycling’s Tour of the Battenkill. The fact we keep coming back should speak volumes to the experience.
This 82-mile event, limited to 750 entrants, starts and ends at the Princeton Elks Lodge. It has been operating for its nine years, and each year improves upon itself. This year's edition will certainly live up to its demand. The last three years have sold out in fewer than 48 hours. Stats like that solidify that the Hell of Hunterdon is the real deal.
With eighteen unpaved sectors, the Hell of Hunterdon mimics the European pave classics. Think more Flanders hilly pave than flat Roubaix. These unpaved sectors are the stars of the event because they range in difficulty from flat and packed to downhill and winding. This is an epic battle of man and machine versus the back roads of Hunterdon County. Be prepared to make small mechanical repairs on the road, and be prepared to see your cycling compatriots making repairs along the course. Take comfort in knowing Kermesse has neutral service vehicles, shop cars, and even a Mad Max inspired dirtbike mechanic orbiting the course to provide any assistance.
What further sets this event apart is enjoyable after ride party. The Princeton Elks Lodge provides the perfect venue for post-Hell libations and food. I personally love the food served after eighteen sectors of dirt as well as Pine Hill Road and the coup de grace, Hopewell Amwell Road. The food is a nod to Flandrian regional eating. It will definitely have you getting in line for seconds after earning your beer. This post- ride gathering is a laid-back affair as evidenced by the amount of participants who are in no hurry to depart. It's one of the few times we've been in a room with that many cyclists to discuss how the ride went and how the Spring Classics in Europe are progressing.
If you’re looking for one of the most authentic atmospheres in American spring classic events, this is where to look. Be ready to sign up on January 25th though, like the previous four years, this one will definitely sell out quickly.
Fools Classic ($45 early fee, April 15)
There is a cloud of mystery that hangs over the Fools Classic every year. Two years ago it was removed from the calendar because of heavy snow forced the Hell of Hunterdon to reschedule. Other years it was heavy rain. Many of the riders who participate in Hell of Hunterdon overlook this event, the one that started it all.
With scant mileage and a major river separating the roads of Hunterdon County and Bucks County, the unpaved roads in Pennsylvania give a darker feel. It typically draws a more specialized crowd of gravel grinders, cyclocross riders, and misplaced roadies to take on the secret roadways and hidden hollows of the Fools Classic.
Think the Hell of Hunterdon was tough? Fools Classic is definitely tougher (we sent Mike to do this on account of suddenly falling "sick"). The course will mangle a pristine bike if the conditions persist year after year. Losing a main group can be hard to undo considering the winding nature of the course and the deep valleys of Bucks County. But don’t let this deter you. This is a proper course. The unpaved sections vary from hard clay to wooded, winding switchbacks and everything in between. This course is a challenging day out, but isn’t that why you’re here?
Returning for the second year is the host venue of Point Pleasant Fire Company. With ample parking and an inviting large space, riders can debrief their day out with fellow cyclists. Also returning is Mad Princes' Brewing Company who specializes a concoction just for this event. And what would an ode to the Spring Classics be without Liege- style waffles? With the new venue participants can have a seat and take a load off after struggling through what we regard as the toughest of the Spring Classics by Kermesse.
Each year we lobby for more riders to check out this course because it showcases historic Bucks County beautifully. If you’ve climbed the ladder of Sourland Semi-Classic into the Hell of Hunterdon, the next logical step is to slay the Fools Classic. The gravel climbs and single lane roads are out there waiting for you. The only difference with the Fools Classic among the others is that it tries a little harder to challenge you.
Fleche Buffoon ($35 early fee, April 29)
Last year we finally got to roll off the starting line of the Fleche Buffoon. About three climbs in I began thinking, “I don’t belong here.” (I'm not a climber.) If unpaved sectors are not for you, but 6,100 feet of climbing is your thing, this is your ride. Instead of gravel sectors, the Fleche Buffoon seeks out the thirteen hardest climbs on both sides of the Delaware River.
In the final perfect tune-up for the 2017 road season, this event stands on the precipice- rather the base- of some of the most notorious climbs our area has to offer. What the East Coast lacks in long climbs, it makes up for with gouging stingers that want to dismount you. Just when you thought you’ve slayed one climb, another gets to try its hand at convincing you to get off and walk.
If you ask any local cyclist to rattle off ten of the hardest climbs, they’ll inevitably say the ones on this course. Though there are perks to the Fleche Buffoon route. It has a smaller feel, which means like- abled riders stick together and regroup at the summit. The route passes at least five coffee shops, one of which we stopped at last year where others were discussing their success or failure of Uhlerstown Road. It also knocks over the Delaware River and back from Bucks County into Hunterdon County and back again. Riders certainly get a sampling of both styles of climbs: The Bucks side’s violent uphills compared with the longer, slightly less steep but drawn out hills of Hunterdon County.
This year Fleche Buffoon is offering food at the finish to reward each participant for taking on the Ardennes- styled classic. Rubber Soul Brewing, all the way from Salisbury, MD, will sling the beers for anyone who can make it to the beer tent. If the legs have managed to carry you over thirteen climbs and two states, the beer tent won't seem as far. And by the way, Rubber Soul's libations are the perfect cap to the uphill struggle. You’ve come this far into the Kermesse Spring Classic season; you may as well just register for all four. Once completed, the 2017 season should be a breeze. Just don’t make the same mistake we did by using a standard double, opt for the compact. You’ll thank us when you’re close to breaking the rear derailleur lever looking for the phantom last gear up Uhlerstown. These climbs are waiting for you, and all at once.
The Spring Classics are not that far away, and we're getting excited to usher in a new season of traditional- style bike riding. With the Kermesse Spring Classic Series Pass available, those looking for inspiration and motivation can now find it in one fell swoop of an action. Remember: the challenges are lurking out there. Taking little nibbles on the shop ride is one thing, tackling them all at once is on a different level.