Close to 200 cyclists take on Putnam County‘s hills
By Michael Turton
The Putnam Cycling Classic made its debut on Sunday, Oct. 14, starting and finishing on Cold Spring’s Main Street. The 187 cyclists who registered made it a very exciting start as riders sped up the hill from the start-finish line near High Street, then made the sharp right hand turn, at speed, onto Chestnut, before dashing south along Route 9D.
The event, formerly called the Tour de Putnam, is technically not a race, but it certainly had the feel of one. Going all out seemed to be strategy adopted by the majority of riders, most of whom wore colorful cycling garb, many as part of a team. A few cyclists at the back of the pack started out at a leisurely pace, but they were definitely in the minority.
The Classic is considered a recreational event, using a format known as Cyclosportif or Gran Fondo. While recreational, it is no less challenging as riders completed either a 100-kilometer or 50-kilometer course through Putnam County’s hilly landscape.
Even very youthful riders found the course to be a challenge. Seventeen-year-old Alex Gaidis of Wappingers Falls, who trained for the event by riding up the hill on Route 301 through Fahnestock State Park, described the 50-kilometer course as “awesome.” And the hills? “It was definitely hilly — I’d say about a 7 out of 10,” he said, grading the circuit’s degree of difficulty. “But it was really nice fall weather, a great ride.”
For 49-year-old cyclist George Suter of New York City, his most vivid memory may not be the hills or even his excellent finish — he had the fastest time in his age class — but rather the spill that he took. “I was coming through a turn about halfway (through the 100-kilometer circuit) and I slid,” he said. “I was leaning forward a little more than I wanted to, and I went right over the hood of a car. That poor woman in the car!” Police had stopped traffic to allow the cyclists to pass.
Suter said that as he flew over the hood, he remembered his wife’s words when he left home earlier that morning. “She told me just to be sure I didn’t break anything.” Last year Suter broke his pelvis in four places in a race in Belgium, and still finished. He was also thinking about the trip that he and his wife will take to Russia just a few days after the Putnam Classic, where they are adopting a 4-year-old girl. Suter managed to come out of the fall uninjured. “I would have been in big trouble if I’d been hurt,” he said.
In addition to the satisfaction of having met a physically challenging ride through Putnam County, cyclists were treated to beverages and a hearty pasta lunch at Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill.
Putnam County Director of Tourism Libby Pataki was very pleased with the renamed and revamped event. “I’m so excited we were able to bring together the beauty of the entire county for a spectacular ride. I didn’t hear a complaint about a single thing,” she said. “I’m looking forward to an even better race next year.”
Main Street businesses differed regarding how much the event benefitted them. Asked if the Putnam Classic brought many customers to Whistling Willie’s, waiter Zach Merante said succinctly, “We got slammed.”
Hilary Hayes, co-owner of Hudson Hil’s restaurant, had mixed feelings about the event. “It is such a busy time of year, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better held at a quieter time — such as June.” Hayes said that having Main Street blocked off didn’t hurt, but she wasn’t sure how much business she gained either. “It was hard to tell who came in from the bike race. We might have had more customers from the Open Studios event.” She did think the event was positive overall. “I felt it was a good event. There was a festive mood, and it brought new people into town.”
A bit further down Main Street, Steve Goodrich, owner of Momminia Jewelry, had a very different experience. “I did seven times worse on Sunday than on Saturday. There were empty parking spots out front until 3 p.m.,” he said. “It was a beautiful day, but it noticeably affected people’s ability to get to this part of Main Street to shop.” Despite his concerns, Goodrich is not opposed to the Classic but did suggest one major change. “If they revamped the route to not close Main Street, it could be great. I’m all for events.”
Leonora Burton, owner of The Country Goose right next to Goodrich’s shop, agreed. “I didn’t make my first sale until 12:40— a 45-cent candy. And I had five calls from people asking how they could get into town,” she said. “Closing Main Street was an ill-conceived idea, to put it politely.”
Super Race Systems, a Garrison-based company that handles timing for about 180 races each year, monitored the Putnam Cycling Classic. Two of the more noteworthy events that it times include the Gran Fondo in New York City, which draws about 4,000 cyclists, and The Bix, an Iowa ride that attracts a whopping 14,000 bikes. An RFID Chronotrack tag attached to each bike enables each rider’s start and finish time to be accurately clocked, right to the second. Super Race Systems recently donated its services to time the Castle to River Run in Philipstown.
Men and women of all ages can participate in the Cyclosportif format. This year’s Putnam Cycling Classic included 154 men and 33 women. The youngest rider was 13-year-old Owen O’Connell of North Salem, N.Y. Senior honors went to 72-year-old William Capuano of Carmel.
I would like to second the remarks made by Steve and Leonora — two of Cold Spring’s premier and longest standing merchants — regarding the bicycle race.
This was a County event that was conceived to bring more tourists and visitors to the Village. Unfortunately there were some problems, not the least of which was closing off Main Street from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a Sunday which is one of the busiest days of the week. In a tough economic climate like we are experiencing, the last thing the merchants needed was to have the road blocked off to customers. Cars were not allowed to come down Main Street and were waved on by on 9D; most of these people were from out of town and had no idea what back roads to take to get to the strip. The bicycle racers are obviously not shoppers – they have no place to carry anything even if they did buy from our stores.
There was no entourage that accompanied them that I could see, which would have patronized our stores. I’m glad to hear the restaurants did well, but the event didn’t translate into a shopping experience for most. If the County Tourism agency wants to spend its budget helping the merchants of Cold Spring, I can think of other ways to do it. For example, the Holiday season is almost here and we could all use an extensive marketing and advertising campaign to bring in the shoppers that we depend on, not just on the weekend but throughout the week as well. This can only be done by advertising on a scale that is out of reach for most of the individual merchants; it’s something that can and should be done by a government or quasi-government agency, using the money that’s collected through our taxes.