Wind: 0 mph
Triskaidekaphobia be damned – the 13th edition of the Green Mountain Stage Race was blessed with extraordinary luck when it came to the moods of the weather gods. Meteorologists had stewed up an unsettling forecast mix for the Labor Day weekend, which was supposed to be beset by an off-and-on showerfest, with a few thunderstorms tossed in, during the four days of racing.
But the weather gods chose instead to put on a happy face, showing nothing but mercy for the nearly 700 GMSR riders who put rubber to the road. The roads remained dry, the wind laid low, and sporadic cloud cover kept most of the sun's heat at bay. The result was weather almost ideal for pedaling a bike as fast as humanly possible.
When the wind did rise above 10 mph for much of the day Friday, August 30, it was a rider's best friend – a tailwind. Coming mainly from the south, well-directed huffs and puffs provided an extra nudge forward for riders negotiating the 5.7-mile time trial course from Warren Village along Brook and East Warren roads. With the forces of nature working in their favor, racers in the start area began thinking that course records might well be broken, but it was not to be. Stage winners Cameron Cogburn, with a time of 13:26, and Amy Bevilacqua, with a time of 15:26, came close, but both finished four seconds behind record pace.
But if they failed to set new course standards, both Cogburn and Bevilacqua did something far more important. Their wins kickstarted racing campaigns that would eventually lead, by the end of Monday's criterium in downtown Burlington, to the overall 2013 GMSR titles.
Neither of them, however, had an easy time of it. Less than a minute behind Cogburn were four serious challengers, including Jordan Cheyne, who won the 95-mile Stage 3 race to the top of the App Gap in the extraordinarily swift time if 3:43:23, and 2012 GMSR champ Tim Johnson. Meanwhile, the Canadian speedballer Lex Albrecht, who won stages 2 and 4, chased Bevilacqua like a shadow all weekend, but after giving up a minute on Sunday's hilly Stage 3, she ultimately came up 24 seconds short when the final overall times were calculated.
Albrecht had come to the GMSR to ready herself for the road-cycling world championships later this month in Toscana, Italy. "My goal was to get hard, specific preparation for worlds," she said. "The GMSR was perfect." (The GMSR has a long and strong connection with world-championship riders. Seven members of the U.S. team going to Italy are former GMSR participants; the top U.S. rider at this year's mountain-biking world championships, Lea Davison, is a former GMSR champ.)
In fact, Albrecht found that the GMSR flirted with perfection in many ways. Having raced all over the world, she singled out the GMSR as "off the scale in terms of atmosphere and positiveness. It's special and rare that there is an atmosphere like this." She particularly enjoyed all the spectators who had chalked the road with greetings to the riders as they ascended the final, gut-busting 500 meters to the top of the App Gap at the finish of Stage 3. (See Albrecht's own take on the GMSR at lexalbrecht.com.)
If Albrecht was impressed with the positive atmosphere, perhaps the most impressive thing overall about the four days of racing for the elite men's field was the literally breathtaking speed. After the near-record time trial on Friday, the guys covered Saturday's 72-mile circuit race course – three and a half laps around the Route 100-Route 2-Route 100B loop in Duxbury and Moretown – at almost 27 mph.
For the 95-mile Stage 3 race to the top of App Gap, the average speed was even higher until the final climb, with the winning speed settling in 25.5 mph – mighty quick given the 20 percent gradient at the finish. And, if that slower average speed Sunday might have seemed sluggish after Saturday's rocket ride, the boys made up for it in Monday's criterium in Burlington by pushing the speedometer to an average speed in excess of 28 mph.
Yes, at several points during the course of the weekend's racing, they exceeded the legal speed limit, but fortunately the crack crew of Vermont state troopers, who have been instrumental in making the GMSR one of the safest bike races on the planet, looked the other way. The blue lights came on only to warn the world of the presence of a fast-moving pack of pedal maniacs.
Speed was not the exclusive province of the elite men. All 10 fields that competed in the full four days of racing seemed intent on pushing pedal through the metal. Even the old fogies, the Masters 50-and-older men, managed to hold back the ravages of age and clock in with an average speed of nearly 25 mph on Saturday and nearly 27 mph on Monday.
That was a bit too brisk for local Woodstock-generation legend Bob Dillon, who had a hard time sticking with some of the best masters racers in the country. But every racer, Dillon included, in every field came to the GMSR with personal objectives that might have had nothing to do with being first across the finish line.
Dillon was ecstatic at the end of Sunday's road race with the relative ease with which he climbed App Gap. Experimenting with new gearing, he rode up that final 500 meters with less effort than he had ever experienced. Sharing in the ecstasy was Marc Hammond, riding in the Category 4/5 field and finding his climb to Sunday's finish so smooth and relatively pain-free that he took the time to slap some congratulatory flesh as he crossed the line with a giant grin.
Big grins were also seen on the faces of local business proprietors, who happily welcomed not just the 700 riders but also the many family and friends that accompanied them. While the number of 2013 entries was down slightly from a few years ago, "the GMSR has become an anchor event for the entire year," said chamber of commerce director Susan Klein. "With multiple consecutive room nights and ancillary spending, the GMSR brings roughly $1 million to the local economy."
Apparently the local community is also getting used to the idea of spending Labor Day weekend with a bunch of shaved-leg aerobophiles and some of the traffic inconveniences that bike racing inevitably brings. "I am always the first person to hear negative comments," said Klein. "So far I haven't heard anything negative."
So perhaps this marks the end of the superstition that the number 13 brings nothing but misfortune. Good weather, fast, safe racing, smiling faces, economic uplift, an unruffled citizenry – it's hard to find much that is unlucky in all of that.