by Mark Hotchkin
The first week of May brings us many great things in the Michigan cycling world. Occasionally, pleasant weather is one of them, but the Grattan Race Series is a constant. Now in its 33rd year, people have been racing bicycles at Grattan longer than my time on earth. I think we’re all excited for this Wednesday.
A new addition to early May – though not quite in Michigan – is the “I Love Goshen Bicycle Criterium,” and the name really could not be more appropriate. Goshen is a small town with a small college of the same name in northern Indiana. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Grand Rapids, depending on your adherence to posted speeds. Of course Leadout’s own Peter Beels attended Goshen College during his early post-secondary years, so it must be a great place. The town really turns out for this race. Leading to the final race of the evening, people line the streets cheering loudly. You don’t always get that in a small town crit. Plus the course is a wide, smooth, and non-techincal, seemingly designed to maximize speed. Racing on a Friday night is a rare treat too, if you can duck out of work early enough. You might even get to enjoy a normal Saturday at home.
Early May also brings us Cone Azalia. You either love it (Paul Martin; certain former MBRA directors), or you hate it (most people)…or you’re kind of indifferent and you show up just hoping not to break your bike. Anyway, while Lori and I were in the area for Willow TT and the Ann Arbor training crit (more on those in an upcoming post), we drove the Cone Azalia course to check out the road conditions.
Bottom line…definitely better than 2011. If you’ve ever wanted to ride your bike through mud-filled potholes every 5 feet while riding 25 mph, 2011 Cone was your dream. 2012 looks to be better. The first gravel section is 2.5 miles long, occurring just after the start/finish line. It is very smooth. There is some loose gravel on the edges, but potholes seem to be very sparse. The gravel at the time had been packed down nicely by a light rain throughout the day. Gravel section 2 occurs a mile after section 1, following a much appreciated stretch of fairly decent pavement.
Gravel #2 is a bit rougher. While section #1 is very open, generally surrounded by fields, #2 is a bit more wooded. I think the trees contribute to a greater number of potholes…maybe their shade causes less or slower thawing in the winter, something like that. Section #2 before the left-hand turn is about 1/2 a mile, and is still decent, but a few more potholes. Section #2 after the left turn (heading west) is the worst of the gravel. Potholes are more common, and the gravel seemed to be looser (and deeper) here. I would guess that this road is much less traveled, so any gravel laid down is going to stay on the road longer.
Arguably the worst stretch of the Cone course is the paved road coming off of the last gravel section (Dennison Rd.) Where there are not gaping holes in the pavement, there is a patchwork of shoddy chip-sealed repairs. Anyone who’s done the race knows this is nothing new, but I think it’s gotten worse.
I will probably race at Cone Azalia this year. I’m about 90% certain. I vowed if the gravel was anything like 2011, I would not return, and it appears that it is improved. Who knows what could happen in the next week with rain and Monroe County road maintenance. It’s also quite possible that driving a car does not provide adequate perspective, but I also drove some of the gravel last year the difference in a car was noticeable. I would say I’m cautiously optimistic about course conditions this year.
Hope this report helps. See you at the races.