Events: The 2018 Fools Classic as Tro-Bro Leon in Bucks County
Cover photo and trailing photo 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.
Despite its rustic appearance, the professional bike race Tro-Bro Leon - also referred to as The Hell of the West, or Le Petit Paris Roubaix - has only been around for three decades, fifteen as a professional race. While the mention of spring classics for many American riders evoke images of well-spectated cobbled climbs or screaming fans with rippling flags along cobbled farm roads, Tro-Bro Leon is a ride uniquely modern and historic at the same time. Despite the lack of cobbled sectors in the Bucks County region, I imagine some of our unpaved roads would slot nicely into the Tro-Bro Leon order. Since the Fools Classic, rescheduled due to a snowy forecast is coming up, perhaps one can attack the twenty-seven (Tro-Bro Leon has twenty-four) sectors and think, “I could succeed in Brittany, France.”
With Tro-Bro Leon's dirt paths, cobbles, gravel roads, and farm tracks (all of which is referred to as Ribinou), I imagine the original designers of the course gathered on a windy farm field, speaking French. In my imagination they are wildly gesticulating into the distance and saying, “That dirt track? We’ll send the racers over to connect with… that dirt track over there. Hopefully the cows will have moved away on race day. Splendid.” At one point the race takes the appearance to ride right through an estate and up the driveway. The passage through a round tunnel via a farm road instills memories of cross-country ski trails needing to go under access roads. Racing through the same circumference tunnels on a bike at race pace along with team cars seems like chaos.
Through its whole experience, there is a feeling of past versus present. The dirt road movement is so hard to ignore that the Tour of Flanders added Plugstreet, dirt road sectors passing through the Belgian hamlet of the same name. Old roads are considered ‘new’ again. Where the rutted farm roads of Brittany harken back to cycling’s roots, the event is strangely only thirty years old. Many ghosts of cycling’s past probably wonder why the current generation is so eager to find old roads. The asphalt roads of today would certainly feel dreamy compared to the single format of kilometers of gravel.
When I ride one of the nearby Bucks County sectors, a short jaunt away from the front door of the creakybottombracket.com office, I romanticize with Tro-Bro Leon. Sheephole Road is barely kempt, yet riders of the Fools Classic love to attack it. In the same spirit as Tro-Bro Leon, the road is similar to a farm road. It’s lumpy. It’s winding. It has two trestle bridges requiring keen attention. Best of all it is supremely beautiful as it crisscrosses Tinicum Creek. On dry days the dust gives a professional coverage to the following riders. On wet days it is a battle to pick the least resistant line through the Pennsylvania clay. All it needs is a tunnel to complete its best-kept-secret status. In its current form, it does just fine as a great quiet dirt road.
The Fools Classic was started in 2005; five years after Tro-Bro Leon became a professional race. It is one of the longest standing mixed surface events still in operation. It has that old feel to a relatively new event. After a major change to keep the entire route in Bucks County, the event has stuck to its roots. Last year we rode the event for the third time and followed the slightly altered route to pathways we had never knew existed. After growing up in this area, it is a testament to the Fools Classic organizers to locate and send riders down lesser-known roads.
Much like Tro-Bro Leon, the Fools Classic delivers with mixed surfaces. There’s the aforementioned clay surface of Sheephole Road. Then there are the gravel roads, one of which sends riders within feet of an extremely popular mountain bike trail. There are two winding technical gravel descents into rocky climbs, one of which is Berger Road, a sector that’s unbiked us the last several attempts. There’s a hidden gravel road in northern Bucks County nestled between hedgerows so secluded our friend in a support car blew right past its entrance. Of course there’s the double switchback on the steep Lodi Hill Road. The ride’s final sector, Old Carversville Road, has been traversed so often it is outside the description of a gravel road; it has become a hard pack throughway that rises and falls alongside the Paunnacussing Creek.
The Fools Classic is an extremely diverse challenge packaged into a 72-mile ride with full support, aid stations, and a finisher’s party. Under certain circumstances, one could return from the course with Spring Classic effects: either the dusty shoulder caps and caked teeth or the mud sunglasses where grit is gnawed for hours beyond finishing and the eyes are the only clean parts on the body.
This year the route has been further altered into a circuitous exploration of northern Bucks County. With nearly the same amount of gravel sectors as Tro-Bro Leon (occupying nearly a quarter of the distance) participants will certainly get their fill of mixed surface riding. Where the Tro-Bro Leon is a professional race, the Fools Classic is a personal challenge. Where Tro-Bro Leon has a tunnel, Fools Classic ups the ante with a historic wooden covered bridge. While you could race in Brittany, France, one cannot stop at several coffee shops like the ones lining the Fools Classic route. With Lodi Hill Road now located at the back end of the route, topping off with an espresso might give you the shot necessary to summit. Hopefully, if following convention, you’ll have to order a cappuccino. Espressos are ordered after noon in Europe. Good luck trying to figure out if the crunch in your mouth are coffee grinds or Bucks County grit.