Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Before Philly Week existed, hell, before there were even enough pros in the US to play a pickup basketball game, the best cyclists in the country still made a beeline to the Northeast in late spring for a trio of highly prestigious, big money (sort of) events. The pre-Philly Week triple crown, in the era of 7-Eleven Davis Phinney vs. GS Mengoni Steve Bauer or the original McCormack brothers (Alan & Paul), crammed all three races into Memorial Day weekend on the roads of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Monday and Sunday events, the Tour of Somerville and Tour of Nutley respectively, were your basic fast and furious, flat as a pancake criteriums. The odd man out, and by far the most brutal of the weekend’s events, was the kickoff event to the weekend’s festivities: Saturday’s Gotham Cup in Allentown, PA. Threshold Sports is in search of a new race venue to replace Trenton’s place in the Philly week calendar, and I’d venture that a phoenix-esque Gotham Cup revival would be a worthy retro addition to the week’s festivities.
I only raced the Gotham Cup once, in 1988, and my memories of the course are probably suspect. However, what still stands out to me was dealing with Allentown’s baby Koppenberg, a narrow, cobbled climb dubbed “The Goat Path”. Turning the cream of America’s and Europe’s pro teams loose on that would be entertaining theater. Probably not more than 200-300 meters in length, The Goat Path resembles this view of the Koppenberg: steep, earthen banks on either side; not much room for passing; replete with cobbles almost certainly nastier, probably more reminiscent of the Koppenberg of yore, before the 2002 re-surfacing. I remember weeds cropping up between large gaps among the cobbles, I remember a wall of sound from the spectators who were almost literally right in your face (this was also the feed zone which accounted for a good number of the people jostling along the edges), I remember how momentum was at a minimum since one had to negotiate a sharp, near 180 degree turn at the climb’s base, I remember how passing was nearly impossible, I remember the mercy of kind souls in the feed zone who had pity on a very thirsty 19 year-old in way over his head (me) parched and out of water, I remember being too stupid to bring granny-ish gears and suffering immensely on a 42×19 low gear, and I remember succumbing to yet another case of 2/3-itis. For the first few years in the Pro/1/2 ranks, whenever I raced with riders of a national caliber, no matter what the distance, I would inevitably complete 2/3 of the distance and completely blow up. So in the Gotham Cup, a race of approximately 100 km, I was shat out the rear end of the peloton at about the 42 mile mark. The next day in Nutley, I bid the peloton goodbye after approximately 35 of 50 miles. Doh!
The Gotham Cup existed from 1971-1998 and I’m sure any number of reasons could have contributed to its demise. I don’t know if this particular nugget of information had anything to do with its disappearance from the race calendar, but I’m sure glad that the weather was balmy and rain-free in 1988. Just prior to The Goat Path on the course’s 4 mile circuit stands a narrow bridge, an ominous steel-decked fright-fest. Steel-decked bridges are spooky enough when it’s dry and you’re crossing them alone. At 30+mph, in a pack of about 100 jostling for position for the upcoming Goat Path, it’s rather tense. I swore my legs were practically brushing the steel guardrail on the right side each lap as the road funneled from 2 lanes to 1 at the bridge. And god help the poor soul who eats it on such a structure, suffering either the lesser or more hideous gradation of evil: The Cheese Grater or Cheese Grater Deluxe. The simple Cheese Grater operates just like one would imagine, hit the deck (steel deck, that is) and have swaths of epidermis peeled off in a matter of microseconds. The Cheese Grater Deluxe has all the pleasure of the prior affliction, but the Deluxe element constitutes a truly unfortunate bonus for the extra-cursed amongst us: having your fingers snapped in the steel grid’s plentiful holes. Ouch, ouch, and triple ouch.
My one feeble effort at racing the Gotham Cup wasn’t a total bust. After all, this race is the one time in my life I can say I rolled up to the line with Viatcheslav Ekimov. He was an amateur trackie at the time, part of the Big Red Machine, and part of a bunch of Russian pursuiters travelling stateside who re-wrote the record books at T-Town the night before. If memory serves correct, the entire squad of Russians rolled off the front of the Gotham Cup fairly early and executed a crisp, textbook display of TTTing. However, much to the chagrin of their burly KGB hired-goon handlers, they began to implode on the penultimate of the race’s 15 laps. Matt Koschara managed to bridge up alone on that lap and I’m sure he thought he had those desiccated trackies beat. But alas for Koschara and his bonking commie comrades, the race came back together for a bunch gallop on the last lap. Sunkyong’s Matt Willis emerging victorious and was heralded for his effort of vanquishing the Red Menace and once again making the world safe for democracy.