As the Warren Store threw open its door for a day of gangbuster business on September 1, 700 Green Mountain Stage Race riders, in eight fields, began arriving at the start of the opening-stage time trial on Flatiron Road. The objective: cover the 5.7-mile course along Brook and East Warren roads as fast as humanly possible.
The quickest rider was rising star AJ August, just 18 years old from western New York, who crossed the finish line in 13 minutes and 20 seconds in the elite men's field. The fastest woman, however, was unquestionably a surprise. The time put in by Emma Betuel of New York City -- 15:52 -- was almost a full two minutes faster than her time in last year's GMSR.
In an exceptionally strong junior field, Ashlin Barry returned to defend his 2022 GMSR junior title by smoking a host of junior national champions (U.S. and Canadian), and even one junior world champion -- Canadian Ethan Powell, who just a week earlier won world-championship gold in the points race on the track in Colombia.
On Saturday, the racing shifted to Randolph for the 37-mile loop formed by Routes 12 and 12A. The intermittent morning fog did little to hamper the first field out, the elite men, who were assigned the task of covering three laps, or 111 miles. Racers covered the distance in under four hours at a pace of nearly 28 miles an hour. Laurent Peloquin of Quebec led an enormous bunch of 103 riders to the finish.
Slowed down by a couple of crashes, the elite women weren't as fast, but a bunch sprint was still the order of the day, with Quebec's Jade Parent-Lafreniere hitting the line in front of a 50-rider group.
While the junior field finished as a large group as well -- 80 of 101 riders finished together -- they played a tactical, cat-and-mouse game. Maybe because riders were looking over their shoulders for someone attempting a sneak attack from the pack, wheels collided and a big pile-up at the finish ensued. When the finish-line mayhem was cleared, Canadian Jonathan Hinse came away as top dog of the day among the juniors.
Onward to Sunday and the grueling, 60-mile stage finishing at the top of App Gap (with the elite men doing an extra 30 miles). While the smart money for the elite men might have been on the preternaturally gifted August, it was, instead, Owen Wright of Amherst, Massachusetts, who pulled away on the final, 20% pitch to the finish. August wasn't far behind in eighth place, but by finishing 1:48 behind Wright, he ceded the yellow leader's jersey to the Amherst rider.
Meanwhile Emma Buetel continued to turn the GMSR into a personal coming-out party. At the top of the gap, Buetel edged out Dahlia Rohm of Durham, North Carolina, by three seconds. Rohm stepped up admirably to the elite level after winning last year's overall GMSR title in the women's category 3/4/5 field.
Those wild and crazy juniors. . . after playing a wait-and-see game on Saturday, they blasted full-speed-ahead from the start, covering the 60-mile course faster than the elite men. Quebec's Samael Fleury-Nadeau pipped Powell at the finish by 24 seconds, but Powell snatched the yellow leader's jersey from Barry, who finished 1:21 back. The fast pace took its toll -- junior riders, unable to match the speed of the leaders, were strewn behind in small packs all over the northern Vermont countryside.
The criterium in Burlington was the final stage on Monday. Buetel completed her impressive performance by staying near the front of the pack zooming around a course featuring several high-speed turns and tricky ups and downs. She didn't win the day -- the stage victory went to Canadian Kiara Lylyk -- but she won the weekend, going home in the yellow jersey as the overall 2023 GMSR champion.
In the men's elite field, Canadian Laurent Gervais accomplished a feat all but unheard of in the GMSR criterium -- pulling away on his own and winning by 21 seconds ahead of a sprinting peloton averaging just under 30 mph. Wright, finished comfortably in the pack to secure the overall winner's jersey by almost a minute over Chris Prendergast of West Hartford, Connecticut.
Powell started the day in the junior leader's jersey, but he didn't leave with it. The stage win went to Julian Ruhe of Atlanta, Georgia, in a bunch sprint, but Barry, following closely in second, again took the title of overall junior champ. On the sidewalk after the race, Powell, having finished far back in 30th place, conceded, "It just wasn't my day." But he said it with a smile, and why not? The guy had won both a national championship and a world championship title in the same year.
Local participation in the GMSR has dwindled in recent years, with one lone exception: Marc Hammond of Fayston, even when his fitness level might not have been ideally suited to the task. Hammond gave it a great effort in the men's Category 4 field before raising the white flag after Stage 3.
Participation for 2023 was up more than 30% over the previous year. "We had a great turnout," said GMSR race director Gary Kessler, "and from the feedback we're getting, it seems like pretty much everybody enjoyed their long weekend in the Mad River Valley."