Events: Sourland Semi-Classic 2018
My suspicions about the day of riding along Sourland Semi-Classic parcours began at four in the morning. It was the sound I suspect many other riders heard: the patter of wind-blown raindrops, precipitation slapping the windows. For a brief moment before drifting back into my warm slumber I updated my day’s riding attire. How nice it was to pull the blanket up and sink back into the mattress. The clock was ticking on those tactile moments, even if I continued to hit the snooze function on my phone.
Breakfast was a steely inner conversation. I tried not to focus on the puddle in the backyard that had been populated by ducks at one time or another. This was the fourth day in a row for rain. Someone tell Belgium we have their weather and they ours. If I didn’t show up I would be mocked for such a decision. I’m sure it will let up by the start I thought.
I – along with some seventy other hardy riders – concluded that a perfect weather ride in the spring is hardly worth its effort in anticipation. I loaded up the car and headed to Sourland Cycles in Hopewell, NJ, to sign in for the first Spring Classic of the season. Temperature 39 degrees and rain, though it looked like it would let up around start time.
I had a struggle with kit options starting the night before. I thought fleece-lined bib tights would be too much, so I made plans to use leg warmers and a standard set of bibs. But I only had Belgian Boys Club leg warmers, which, paradoxically to Belgian style I wanted to keep clean for as long as possible. I questioned whether I was hardy enough to go with knee warmers and regular bibs. Notice how my legs were becoming more exposed the more I imagined my ride. The morning of, though, the visible legs plunged from knee warmers to leg warmers to fleece lined bibs. Oh how I would thank myself later for that decision. And as much as I detest rain capes, I rode the entire route with its flappiness next to my ears. I planned to take it off as soon as the rain let up.
In the spirit of the previous Sourland Semi-Classic rollouts, we departed Sourland Cycles’ parking lot and made a left out of town. Most of us were getting the first drops on us after hanging out in the shop until forced out. Others had conspicuous splatters of mud as they had walked around the shop. Several riders had shunned driving to the start. Two riders in particular left their house near Philadelphia to ride the fifty-plus miles to the start. They would complete the course and ride home after a slight warmup in the bike shop. I’m sure they would be unsympathetic to my inability to remember my Garmin’s basic start function, ultimately pulling the head unit off the bike and stowing it my jersey. Perhaps the weather was already making me loopy.
Pulling over in the first miles of the ride meant I had to ride hard to catch my group. I had met up with Josh – one of the Whiteface challengers – as well as Topher, a manager at Bikesport Bikes in Trappe. It was the first Sourland for both of them. When I caught them I found them pushing an enjoyable pace. I was having bursts of energy but struggling to stay on the front. Considering none of us downloaded the course (it never transferred onto my Garmin is my excuse) we had to continuously wait for riders a bit more prepared, though I found myself playing the fun game of riding by memory. About half the time I was correct, which means we would have gotten extremely lost.
There’s a recurring moment in a cyclist’s experiences where it is thought, “What if I go right here?” The Sourland Semi-Classic answers that question numerous times. For the Hell of Hunterdon, riders hammer down the gravel sector of Rocktown Road, a huge favorite. Once the sector returns to pavement, the route makes a left turn uphill. But what if we continued straight? The Sourland route does just that and New Jersey continues to impress.
One further aspect that stands out in the Belgian spring classic races is the notoriously narrow road. You know the ones: they’re where you think, “How does a race down this road plus team cars, officials, and motorcycles? The Sourland route has numerous moments of skinny farm roads, painted brown this time by manure, and oftentimes bordered by a swollen creek. A strong dosage of wind added to the belief we had swapped weather patterns since Belgium was enduring near freezing weather. We hoped each turn would give us a reprieve from the headwind but alas, each turn bewildered us more by exhaling harder into our front side. How could this be?
Ride the route long enough and it becomes apparent there are a lot of bridges to cross. At one point there is even a road called Three Bridges Road with – imagine that – three bridges in rapid succession. A new part of the course sending riders through Neshanic Station to prepare for the Zion Hill climb from another direction sent us over a beautiful steel bridge with a pedestrian deck that was too irresistible to neglect. Perhaps we should ride the course over and count all of the bridges. If you’re into steel trestle bridges, this is certainly your gig. The Sourland region features quite a few.
The Sourland Semi-Classic featured four gravel sectors this year. Each sector proved to be quite the effort. Those with disc brakes maintained heavy inspection of the rotors as debris built up. It sounded like derailleurs out of their limit pinging off of spokes. Any downhill stop sign sounded like harmonicas with disc users. But the strong trait about each gravel sector was the saturation turning into absorption. It felt as though we were rolling over ground up tires on a playground. Here we thought the unpaved sectors would be rock hard, but how wrong we were. Each push of the pedal was labored and zapping. Cold muscles were protesting this new obstacle.
I write this thirty-six hours after the fact, and that is my main point. Approximately half of the registrants presented for the start of the first Kermesse Sport Spring Classic series on account of the miserable conditions. With the elapsed time since rolling the first mile the feeling is as fresh as if I were back on course. I received a text from home stating, “I would have quit.” A woman crossing the street to check her mail remarked, “You must be soaked.” I asked Mike if given the opportunity, would he have showed up at the start, “I can’t answer that.” “Aren’t you guys cold?” Gawking motorists. Pedestrian’s face agape. Is that a cyclist? Is that more than one? What the hell would possess someone to be on a bike ride today?
These are the rides we remember for years. They are the hard rides that bookend the cycling experiences. For all of the starters yesterday, somewhere in their catalogue of miles resides a juxtaposition of a hot and steamy ride where a cool wind was all that could be hoped for. I considered not participating in the Sourland Semi-Classic on account of the cold, wet weather. But I am glad I did, and those who were on the fence missed out on a proud achievement of riding. It took scores of minutes for the feeling to return to my feet and fingers. The rain stopped exactly ten minutes before we finished. We might as well not be spoiled.