Being There: Thompson Bucks County Classic 2017
All photos are courtesy of Mike Maney Photography. Be sure to check out his work; he is a fellow cyclist in the Bucks County cycling community with multiple KOMs to his name.
(2017) This past Memorial Day found me in the central region of the United States. I was in Indiana for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. It is a race that tests man and machine over 500 miles around a 2.5-mile circuit. Hundreds of thousands attend the event, and millions around the world tune in to spectate. Before the Indy 500 though, there is a race down the street with roots to the hallowed Brickyard. It’s called the Night Before (the night before) the 500. And it’s alluring.
The sprint car has been relatively unchanged over the course of several decades. With the same style as the fifties, the cars have essentially added larger tires and a roll cage. Looking at a past USAC Silver Crown (sprint) car, one can see how we got to the present by looking at the past. But that’s not the alluring part. In a USAC Silver Crown car, much of the driver is visible from the torso up. That’s the part I dial in on. I love to watch the drivers work.
The USAC Silver Crown cars are monsters. They have high horsepower, 800 to be exact, and run multiple laps on smaller circuits. Sound familiar? In the cycling world a criterium racer fits somewhere between a track racer and a road racer. A good criterium cyclist has a lot of horsepower to run multiple laps on a repetitive track. For the fans bordering the Thompson Bucks County Classic course on September 10th in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, they got to witness something similar to the tried-tested-and-true racecars from the Night Before the 500 race.
This past post-Labor Day found me watching as the men’s Bucks County Classic zoomed by multiple times down Pine Street. Pine Street is the initial downhill in the Doylestown circuit that leads into a couple faster downhill turns. Through this vantage I got to watch the exact same working effect I looked for in the USAC cars. I feel it’s the raw portion of the sport: racers showing their trade on a technical course.
While USAC Silver Crown drivers flick the wheel constantly throughout the corners of track, I love to watch the cyclists making adjustments. They are usually benign changes. Sometimes they are physical such as grabbing a bottle. Sometimes they are verbal such as two riders yelling at each other, but the real thrill is watching them set up for potentially dangerous situations and coming out unscathed.
As I watched each lap from Pine Street, the crit riders swapped lead for lead and breakaway for gruppo compatto. They would line up to take the hard right-hander onto Oakland Avenue only to snap into the inside line at the last second to have a clear line through the next two fast corners. Some riders expressed discontent at other teams’ reluctance to chase the lead down. Watching the professional and category one riders alike force their bikes into grippy situations fascinated me.
With one lap remaining I made my way to the finish chute of the front straightaway. This gave me a decent vantage point to see the final four hundred meters or so. As the sprint unfolded a rider went off the front. We could tell that from watching the JumboTron. I was standing next to the soigneur of Holowesko/Citadel p/b Hincapie Sportswear and I nudged him and said, “That’s your guy, right?” He nodded and made way to his rider, Oscar Clark. Stephan Hall (PA Lightning) and Dennis Ramirez (Gateway Harley-Davidson Development) rounded out the podium.
I liken the criterium rider to a USAC Silver Crown sprint car. All that horsepower is produced on a small (ish) course with crowds excited to see the group come by every few minutes. The guys on the race showed their working mannerisms; some scrunched their nostrils, some stuck their tongue out, some yelled for others to pull through, while all reached for water bottles and brake levers. The criterium racer is like a USAC Silver Crown pilot. Sawing away on the controls while making adjustments each lap can propel one to victory. It’s controlled chaos. Oscar Clark powered himself to victory, but he did so with the gallop of a massive pursuit trying to catch him in the final few meters.