Events: Kermesse Sport’s Sourland Semi-Classic 2017
(2017) All photos are courtesy Mike Maney Photography. Please check out his incredible talent by visiting his site. We'd like to thank him for allowing us to use his work on creakybottombracket.com.
There I was bouncing along by myself on any number of roads in the Sourland region of New Jersey for the commencement of the 2017 spring classic season with Kermesse Sport’s Sourland Semi-Classic. The ride had become a lonesome affair after a rest stop. I lost the numerous groups with which I was yo-yoing. Being in the Sourlands, and having descended Lindbergh Road, I got to thinking of the region’s most famous resident.
The route of this year’s Sourland Semi-Classic took us past the Lindbergh estate at mile 53.5. The man known for his famous solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean had lived in a house called Highfield with his wife, Anna Morrow, and their son, Charles Jr. Nearly 85 years to the day, Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped from that very house. The tragic outcome also played out nearby months later. The subsequent murder trial was dubbed, “The crime of the century.” Here modern day cyclists passed through without so much as a regard to the historical significance of this region.
The reason Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight was on my mind was my application to the Sourland situation. Lindbergh's flight and the Sourlands Semi-Classic both departed with much fanfare. The beginning portions of the ride had numerous contacts, just like Lindbergh passing by Boston and Cape Cod. There were beacons of hope as we huddled around the anticipated Kermesse Aid Station, much like Lindbergh contacting Newfoundland by radio. After that fracture, many riders had to resort to inner motivation as some had empty roads both in front and behind. I was one of those riders.
This was the third year for the Sourland Semi-Classic, a ride that began and ended at Sourland Cycles bike shop in Hopewell, NJ. The ride is a nod toward the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad classic and sends riders in many areas visited by another Kermesse event, the Hell of Hunterdon, which is fashioned after the Tour of Flanders. Notable about this year’s event was the fact it sold out in one day. There’s good reason: this route is beautiful but easy to underestimate. It’s certainly why I found myself exhaling loudly, certain no one was near me by about a quarter of a mile.
The ride took place on what felt like a weird day, though all the weirdness had happened in the week prior. Despite the calendar saying February, this area had witnessed multiple days in the seventies. Hardly mid winter conditions. Yet on the eve of the Sourlands, a powerful thunderstorm (another freak event for February) blew through and ushered in a cold front. On Saturday we had hammered out miles in unzipped summer kits, now on Sunday we had shivered through a nagging headwind and persistent freezing temperatures.
I sought shelter with the parade of riders as we left Hopewell. It felt quite authentic to ride in various echelons seeking solace from the droning wind. With sixty miles on tap for the day, taking rides was in order. I was snapped out of my comfort by a rider’s kit that had the sublimated word “Wheelsucker” on the rear end of the bib shorts. The game worked and I came around to earn my status in the front group.
All these efforts would add up though. The combination of notable headwind with the punchy climbs as well as the first effort of the season saw me spend a lot of effort to stay up front. It didn’t take long for me to be uncoupled from the lead group, frustrated by their neither pulling away nor getting closer. Here I befriended a fellow straggling rider named Grant who established a rotation, but he was too much for me. He managed to make it back into a group while I went searching for more lonesome stragglers.
In the meantime I couldn’t help but admire just how beautiful the countryside is on this route. Often we zipped down one-lane roads with miniscule arched bridges. Should anyone want to see a vast array of farm animals, this is your route. There are numerous beasts of burden through here. One rider even captured video of a woman walking her dog and miniature horse down the road.
For the middle portion of the ride the route mellowed out and I managed to mingle with groups. I was discharged and then reestablished. I felt inspired. The road surfaces were just what the peloton ordered for large groups to roll without anxiety. Here and there we picked up a tailwind, but for the most part we were leaning into it or taking it head on. I felt comfortable knowing I could hang amongst these riders, especially considering I didn’t have a Garmin telling me when to turn. Having company eased my navigational concerns considerably.
We turned down Cider Mill Road, and the flapping Lion of Flanders flag was at full attention as we approached the aid station. The D&R Greenway graciously allowed an aid station to be plopped in front of a beautiful view of rolling countryside. Standing around I instantly got cold. I still prioritized my traditional Fig Newtons and took a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich for good measure. I was sweating heavily because I had not garnered the courage to remove my Hincapie Fahrenheit jacket. The jacket was that hot, but the sweat was making me that cold. Reluctantly I eventually rolled away and relatively alone. Which brings us back to where our story started.
This is when I began to think about Charles Lindbergh and his cross Atlantic flight. His notes stated the wind velocity regularly, sometimes as high as thirty miles-per-hour. He kept a low altitude at first in the same manner the Sourland route’s elevation profile does compared to the other Kermesse events. Toward the end of his flight he increased altitude just like the riders’ experiences with Zion Hill Road and Montgomery Road, two of the long dragging climbs in the final third of the ride. Our finishes would differ with the amount of fanfare. Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic, a feat never before accomplished. I rolled in with bikes aplenty racked in the parking area of Sourland Cycles. There was no raving French public, and I was not carrying mail. No matter, I had finished the Sourland Semi-Classic having felt great at the prospect of conquering many of the route’s challenges.
The finish line bike shop was the perfect way to finish off the experience. Sourland Cycles was warm and inviting. Finishers had their choice of cola or bottles of Weyerbacher brews as well as several seats and tables. The conversations meandered among cycling topics and ride details. The most comforting touch regarding the finish area was certainly the turkey (or vegetarian) chili. It was so good I went back for more. The tiny corn muffins and shredded cheddar cheese toppings was a nice warm way to decompress those earned miles.
It’s attention to detail just how beautifully Brian of Kermesse Sport lays out a course. Several times in the route a participant could simply lop off a significant portion. But what’s the point? The roads are chosen with purpose. Imagine cutting off Lindbergh Road to whittle a couple miles off of the day? The satisfying portion wasn’t the finish though. I grinned as I roared down Hopewell Amwell Road. It felt great to descend the hill I will be climbing in a few weeks’ time. Until the time I approach the road from the other direction, I will sit in luxury knowing that my fastest speed over the entire sixty-mile course came at a hill that’s caused me much grief in the Hell of Hunterdon. Speaking of the Hell of Hunterdon, you should register if possible before you miss out riding many of the roads the Sourlands Semi-Classic visited. There’s plenty of history along these roads.