Spring Classics

By Jed Kornbluh, Senior Cycling Editor

Bridge Crossing at the Hell of Hunterdon, photo by Mike Maney
Bridge Crossing at the Hell of Hunterdon, photo by Mike Maney

Regardless of the groundhog’s opinion, March 20th will always mark the first day of Spring – the start of a season full of renewal, rebirth, and regrowth. In cycling, spring is no different – it is our time to emerge from too many hours spent riding in the basement pain cave, pedal stroke after pedal stroke grinding away on some distant virtual island and praying for the warm, dry days of summer ahead. We emerge to experience the resurrection of the cyclist and reignite our tan lines, rediscovering climbs and roads that have become so familiar they are among our most everlasting training companions.

True road race fans know that Spring actually begins on February 25th (this year), with the Omloop Het Nieusblad, the first of the European Spring Classics. All eyes shift to the continent as we welcome these one-day battles, including such notable courses as Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Vlaanderen, and the queen of them all – Paris-Roubaix. In an effort to watch these legendary races, we monitor pirated race feeds and struggle to understand Flemish or Sean Kelly’s thick brogue, just for the chance to see one of our favorites dart across the finish line under race banners and a hail of confetti cannons.

Rider at the Hell of Hunterdon, photo by Mike Maney
Hell of Hunterdon, photo by Mike Maney

For a large number of riders, it’s not enough to sit back and watch Sporza as our heroes ride the Monuments, some prefer to take a stab at tackling cobble-strewn courses just days before the pros do. Those with the means can easily book travel to the sacred realm for the chance to bounce over roads built by the Romans, intended for horse carts, not carbon fiber race machines. Sportives are events that cater to such whims and many of the Classics offer this opportunity to the masses. However, not everyone in the US can drop a few week’s pay and hop over to Belgium for a 170km ride on a whim. Thankfully, a less costly and more convenient option exists. Staying close to home, one can participate in the catalog of Kermesse Sport Spring Classic Series of events, a set of organized rides emulating the great European Classics – all without need of a passport or valuable time away from family and work.

The Classics-themed series came about when Central Bucks Bicycle Club members Brian Ignatin and Bob Ruddy sought out the roughest roads and steepest climbs in Bucks County in order to pay tribute to the Ronde. Disappointed with the dearth of cobblestones, they discovered a trove of unsealed dirt and gravels roads that more than fit the bill. April 1, 2007 saw twelve riders tackle the first edition of the aptly named “Fool’s Classic”, a ride of 64 miles that included 13 dirt roads.

Not satisfied, research and exploration commenced, the ride was opened to the general public, and it now features 23 unpaved sections over its 72-mile course that wends through Bucks County. Remarking on that first public event in a post ride report to his fellow SCU members, rider Ken Gorman wrote, “Stagecoach, Smithtown, and Mt. Airy Roads were a testament to the lengths Bob and Brian took to find these hidden little gems, offering great scenery coupled with some tough climbing.” Many echo Ken’s remarks, adding that this event is the secret beauty among the Kermesse Sport list of rides. This spring, the Fool’s Classic returns on April 15th and will prove to be a taxing day for all. Registration is open on bikereg.com.

Rider at the Hell of Hunterdon, photo by Mike Maney
Rider at the Hell of Hunterdon, photo by Mike Maney

While researching roads for the Fool’s Classic, Ignatin and his colleagues realized there were many miles of unpaved roads right across the Delaware River in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. These are now prominently featured in the “Hell of Hunterdon,” a now legendary event that has sold out many years in a row, often within the first days of registration. 2016 saw over 750 riders tackle the 82-mile jaunt, featuring 18 unpaved sections.

Gary Snyder, who helped design the course, claims, “The beauty of this ride is evident in many places, but the peacefulness of Wickcheoke, the old saw mill at the bottom of Strimples [Mill], and the stream along the dirty descent of Stompf Tavern Road are all particularly picturesque. If nothing else, you gotta love the names of these roads!” This year’s event will be held in Montgomery, New Jersey on Saturday, March 25th and, though sold out, wait list entries are available on bikereg.com.

While the Kermesse Sport Spring Classic Series events aren’t races, they are very challenging recreational rides that many use as training for road and criterium racing later in the season. According to Doug Nagel, when asked about his experiences at the event in years past, “Hunterdon is absolutely the perfect training ride. It is a fantastic ‘spring classic’ for riders in the Delaware Valley and a perfect tie-in to the racing going on in Europe.” Jim Ludovici, of Bridge Velo adds, “For racers, this is a great time of year to have the events. There’s not a lot of competing events on the calendar and HoH is a good tune-up.”

Due to the overwhelming success of Fool’s Classic and Hell of Hunterdon, Ignatin and his organizing team sought out a new course using the bones of Hunterdon but with a shorter distance of roughly 60-miles and fewer gravel sections. Three years ago, the Sourland Semi-Classic (SSC) was born and has sold out quickly ever since. This event is a teaser for the rest of the Classics to follow – it’s got a little taste of gravel, steep climbs, and great food and beer at the finish. With the start and finish in the bucolic village of Hopewell, New Jersey, the SSC is among the events Kermesse Sport plans to grow into one of their own “Monuments”. The SSC is currently sold out for this year’s February 26th event, however wait list entries are available on bikereg.com.

Riders at the Hell of Hunterdon, photo by Mike Maney
Riders at the Hell of Hunterdon, photo by Mike Maney

There are a lot of riders who love watching the pros compete in the Spring Classics but are not inclined to ride on dirt and gravel roads themselves. Thus in 2011, Kermesse Sport added the “Fleche Buffoon,” a tribute to the Ardennes Classics – Fleche Wallonne, Amstel Gold, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Like the Ardennes Classics, the Buffoon skips dirt roads and gravel in favor of longer, steeper paved climbs, thrilling descents, and beautiful countryside – there is even an authentic working windmill at the top of the day’s most brutal ascent!  If this sounds like your ideal ride, registration for entries is open on bikereg.com.

While the Spring Classic rides are certainly challenging they are not without their rewards, and we’re not just talking about the satisfaction of accomplishment. Kermesse Sport works hard to set the standard in terms of return-on-investment on your modest entry fee. All riders receive goodie bags filled with useful items, while sponsors provide plenty of generous raffle prizes, with 1 in 5 participants riding away with a door prize. Most notable are the after-ride parties sponsored by local breweries and catered by local restaurants.

Though Hell of Hunterdon and Sourland Semi-Classic have already hit capacity at the time of this article going to print and entries are now only available via a wait list, entries are still available on BikeReg for Fool’s Classic and Fleche Buffoon. For more information, go to kermessesport.com, foolsclassic.com, and flechebuffoon.com.

Jed has been around cycling his entire life – his parents own a tandem shop in New Jersey and he’s done just about everything there is to do in the bicycle industry: racer, bike messenger, ham-fisted lousy mechanic, coach, salesman, sourcing agent, and entrepreneur. In 2015, Jed sold his share in clothing company Sommerville Sports and has since been focusing on other pursuits, including getting back to his love of writing, riding a lot, and figuring out how to live in New England. Expect articles on bike packing, cyclocross racing, beer tasting, and general adventuring.

Jed resides in Connecticut with his family, dog, cat, and bicycle collection.