Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Visit to the Quabbin Road Race

It would have been a little hard for me to come up with an excuse not to go observe the Quabbin Road Race today. It was 75 degrees and sunny, and the finish line was seven miles from my house. I haven’t seen a lot of bike racing up close and personal, so I stopped by to absorb what I could and enjoy the day. You certainly can’t find a better race venue; miles of water and trees as far as the eye can see, and not a house or business in sight.

Upon arrival, there were maybe seven spectators in the area. Five or so folks manned the finish line tent, situated at the top of the hill that makes up the Quabbin park loop. About a quarter mile up another hill was the starting line and podium, and parking area. I’ve never seen so many cars in the Quabbin park since I moved here. But there was hardly a soul around; everyone was out on the course, giving the area a weird “abandoned disaster area” feeling.

The fans along the road were quite nice, and I struck up a couple of enjoyable conversations. There was a little bit of finish line dramatics, but only one category actually featured a field sprint. The reason for the mellow scene was a finish at the top of a one-mile, roughly 6% climb, after 61 or so miles of hammering. I saw so many tongues hanging out I thought I was at a dog race.

In a humorous turn, the pro field got split up about three-quarters of the way around the 62-mile course. The break went the right way, and the field went the wrong way, which resulted in a slightly ironic situation: The first people across the line for the day were racing for positions eight through 10. Positions one through seven rolled in about five minutes behind them.

Blasting across the line after a hard 62 miles of rollers and hills.
(Look closely to see the fist in the air.)

Now, I don’t like to report this part, but I think I have to. Interactions with organizers at the finishing tent were sometimes pretty unpleasant, even surly. A half hour before any finishers rolled in, when I was practically the only fan there, I asked for a quick update. Folks in the tent mainly rolled their eyes. Eventually, I got about half of the story. I heard roughly the same from another fan.

An hour later, as the lower categories were rolling in, it occurred to me: Okay, they didn’t have a loudspeaker, and therefore of course no race announcer… but the folks in the tent weren’t even bothering to say anything to anyone about what was going on. Something simple in a loud voice, like, “The 35+ field is approaching the final hill, led by a seven-man break” would have been neighborly and useful. And not too difficult; they were getting constant updates via radio. Help like this was all too rare, and was clearly an afterthought. Fans usually didn’t know what field was currently rolling across the line, or who was behind them just out of sight, so there was no anticipation building, no excitement.

An exciting breakaway finish by... someone... from, uh... some category.

In fairness, they had a lot to do today, and they had a split field heading the wrong direction. Putting on a race in general is probably a very challenging thing to do. They did a reasonable job for the racers overall. I think the general problem is, they think that’s all they need to focus on.

Finally, I got further confirmation of the unpleasant attitude of higher category racers. One of them was hanging out at the booth, and when there were just a few of us around, I said a couple of things to him, and he responded quickly and evasively, as if it was physically painful for him to speak to me. Yet he was being quite expansive and friendly with the organizer. The pro riders were equally detached, with an air of desperate intensity hanging over them. As far as I could tell, not one of them was actually having a good time. Some of the cat fours, on the other hand, were chatting amiably with each other as they rolled across the line. Some of them even playfully sprinted against each other at the last moment, laughing like two ten-year-olds on their way back from the corner store. Now that’s the way I’d want to race.

All in all, I’m glad I went. I learned a lot. It was a beautiful morning. I gather it’s a pretty challenging, good race; it’s long, and there’s a lot of big rollers and some long stretches of climbing. I enjoyed the triumph on the face of some of the finishers, and the camaraderie of some of the more humble ones.

Neutral support dudes hang out and complain of mistreatment by racers.

No comments: