The Tour of Millersburg
Updated: Oct 22, 2019
Riders: Allen Carr and Sean Gordon Friday night I strapped a trunk rack to the top of my messenger bag and made my way over to Allen's place. With my spare wheels in my left hand and handlebars in my right, I rode in a way that felt like the cycling equivalent of walking barefoot through Legos. After packing into the rental car what seemed like an excessive amount of stuff for one weekend, including air mattresses, vintage tri-spoke HED wheels, and a several bags of "nutrition" products (candy, lets be real), we were off to the Tour of Millersburg.
Millersburg is a stage race, and its special in a lot of ways. Does it have the elevation, pageantry, and spectacle of some of the other northeast stage races? No it doesn't. The Tour of Millersburg is a small, family-run two day stage race through rolling hills and farm fields of rural Pennsylvania. Saturday consists of an individual time trial in the morning, followed by a criterium race in the afternoon. The longer, queen stage follows on Sunday. There's a lot to like about Millersburg and it would be my first "real" race this season, after recovering from an embarrassing, mountain biking related surgery.
Friday night on our way out, gas was low, the bike rack was starting to sag off the trunk and we needed a break. We stopped at one of those weird New Jersey gas stations where a technician must operate the pump. I try to think of this as a luxury but for some reason it never feels that way. We pulled to the side and tried to get the rack secured per the instructions that I hadn't read prior, and in our struggle to lift the rack into place (without removing the bikes) we both covered our jeans in black grease from one of Allen's "well oiled machines." Looking like auto mechanics, we decided it was time to leave the gas station before we ended up working there. Long after dark and driving through several towns where the only lit sign was for the "BAR" we rolled into a church parking lot. There's only one small hotel in town, so the race organizer arranges guest housing at the local church. We had a classroom to ourselves and access to a huge kitchen. In the morning, I awoke swaddled in my deflated air mattress. After wresting myself free from its rubbery clutches I headed to breakfast where I ran into Dana from Kruis CX, who had fared much better. Since she was the only woman staying in the church, they had set up a bouncy castle for her to sleep in better privacy. Allen and I rolled down through the fog to number pickup and the start of the time trial:
Allen crushed the course with his Trek Speed Concept (and amazing fitness) and earned a top placing and front row start for the next stage. I did my best with my road bike with aero wheels but still hadn't hit my stride.
By mid afternoon the sun had burned off the morning fog. With a front row start, experience, and late season fitness Allen had no trouble keeping up with the fast guys at the front and projected authority with his mirrored shades. The Millersburg criterium course design is simple with 4 turns, However, its narrow and features a fast 40 mph downhill leading into a steep power climb - the transition from down to up is sudden and will challenge your tire's grip on the road and eject your bottles. With more mountain biking and cyclocross under my belt I've started to really enjoy crits - I love a turning war. However, with a fourth-row start and a few missed clip-ins ahead of me, this race had me at a disadvantage in the first few laps.
In a crit, positioning is everything and if you're not moving up your moving back. The trick to conserving energy is different from a road race - rather than staying out of the wind and saving your efforts for the end, its important to stay towards the front to avoid the accordion effect in the corners with riders ahead of you braking and accelerating in, and out of the turns. I switched on my afterburners and fought my way to the front but realized I was taking too many risks and saved fuel for the next day.
The night before, we talked tactics over dinner with some other NYC riders. The finish of this stage is technical and risky - a long, fast descent leads directly into a 90° right turn, and then a partial turn the wrong way round a traffic circle with a rose bush at the apex. We wanted to get away early rather than try to win this sprint. We'd make our move on the last lap, right after the King of the Mountains sprint (KOM), hopefully when the other guys are trying to recover from the climb.
Midway through the race, things were going well. The course has some short steep climbs and technical cork-screw turns which created opportunities to whittle down the lead group. My NYC compadres and I felt fresh, and though a few riders tried to push the pace or break away the group was still together and we were ready to make our move. On the final lap, we approached the KOM. I stood on the pedals to attack the hill and heard the crunch of a dropped chain. I hopped off the bike, reset my chain and began to chase the pack - they had just crested the hill and were out of sight.
Luckily, a few other riders had been left off the back as a result of the surge in pace and we were able to work back together to bridge back to the main group. Unfortunately, I had burnt all my matches clawing my way back into the race. Allen was still with the leaders, but no breakaway could be established - the whole pack would finish together.
In the final miles, the race looked more like a scene from Ben-Hur. Each rider fought to move to the front and be in the first few wheels down the hill and into the final turns. Elbows and shoulders were thrown, and I watched an overly eager junior fall into a flat spin and slide backwards down a grassy hill, (which was funny because he was OK). Allen stayed ahead and out of the fray and finished well, I was just behind the crashes but kept the rubber side down. That's racing - you need to be willing to risk a crash in order to win. There's nothing wrong with that - but it's not for everyone.
Afterwards I watched Allen eat at least two ice cream cones, two McDonalds cheeseburgers, a bag of Swedish Fish, and three woopie pies. He's a young dad and can't get away with eating junk food in front of his son. I ate two woopie pies to prevent him from eating all five in the box. Worth it. The reason Millersburg is such a great event is that the community in the town and the surrounding countryside is so supportive. There are very few places in the US where cyclists are truly welcome, or at least, not a nuisance. Not only did the church and other organizations open their doors to racers to stay free-of-charge, but kids ran around with wagons filled with cold drinks and snacks. Further, every corner on the course was marshaled by volunteers, and the roads on the back-side of the course were totally closed to traffic, which meant we could use the entire roadway and really test each other. With fewer and fewer road races on the calendar, we need more big-little races like the Tour of Millersburg.