We received notice the other day that due to a national decline in the participation of organized bike racing, especially stage racing, The Tour of the Catskills will be moving away from their beloved 3-day Stage Race format after this year and will become a 1 day classic. In light of hearing this news we felt compelled to take pen to paper to once again highlight an event that we love, and for many reasons has become a fixture on our summer calendar.
There is no question that one of the appeals of Stage racing is for all non-pros to feel, well, Pro. No matter what field you race, when you are planning for 3 stages and roll out of a start-booth for a time trial, and sign-in each morning and watch the GC list as it changes, and have King of the Mountain Points, Sprint points, time-cuts, and everything else that a pro race has, you can't help but get pro-fever just a little bit. But after you get over that silly feeling, there is the natural beauty of the Catskills and the course itself. There is registration at a ski-lodge and the overwhelming feeling that this is a big-time event. There is the mountain air and the unpredictability of the weather. There are a lot of things both tangible and intangible that bring it all together. It is a special weekend with a lot to offer, and lucky for us the TOC is a home-town race being just a couple hours North of Manhattan. Just a few hours North feels like a lifetime away though in the dog-days of summer when New York City can be massively oppressive and suffocating at times. TOC weekend always feels like a vacation: The hardest, most exhausting, demanding, often demented vacation of your life. But a vacation nonetheless.
The memories burned into our minds from this event will be long lasting. The year the humidity was bordering on a billion percent and it started to downpour at the foot of the infamous Devil's Kitchen climb was classic. The temperature dropped fifteen degrees and in an instant our race and the pro race which had just caught and merged with us with impeccable timing was blown to pieces. As we rounded each corner and looked up the next 20% ramp there were more and more bodies lying in the road. Riders were off their bikes massaging cramps and guzzling water or had simply dismounted unable to take one more crank of the pedals to get up that un-godly stretch of pavement. You literally had to ride around men lying in the road groaning. It was true road racing carnage and a sight that as a bike racer never leaves you. The same goes for the less dramatic but just as memorable sights and sounds of laughing bright-eyed, back-woods, local kids standing on the edge of their lawns in awe and excitement trying to hand-up plastic cups of hose-water as group after group raced by. Future bike-racers all of them for sure. Without question the TOC is a legendary event. And we imagine the 1-day version to come will be just as memorable in its own way. But we are sad to see the race as we know it enter it's final go-around.
The TOC is a marker for us. It is always around the 1st of August and for us it means the beginning of the end of the road season. Soon it is time to rest the body and get ready for Cross. It is the culmination of another year of training and racing on the road. The big question we are left with, however, is why the steep drop-off in bike racing attendance these past couple years? And what does it mean for the future? There can be plenty of speculation, and it just might be a cyclical thing as cycling clearly boomed a few years ago and swarms of riders old and new to the sport were taking over roads everywhere. Or maybe it's just the reality and fatigue setting in that bike racing is so incredibly hard, grueling, mind-warping and gut-wrenching, that perhaps some of the pack has receded back to something a little more sane and has found refuge in the woods of distant lands with distant friends. Perhaps the level of competition has risen to a point so high that some feel too deflated going out the back each week when they planned on going off the front. Maybe it's just too darned expensive to keep up these days. Who knows? Hard to say. There are probably many factors. And we wonder if it is just racing that is on the decline, or if people are actually hanging up their bikes for good in favor of something new? Are roller-blades coming back? You never know. But for those that have felt the true joys that we have riding any type of bicycle on any type of road, we know cycling will be just fine. The freedom of riding a bicycle is one truth in life that never wanes and can last a lifetime. We were riding and racing bikes before the boom and we will be doing the same after it. We hope you will be, too. We will also be at the Tour of the Catskills in a few weeks for one final epic stage race and another ascent of that Devil-Bastard of a hill at the end of Stage 3. We hope to see you there.