With just one week to go before the official event, we ran the traditional Volunteer ride on Sunday March 25th. Four of us showed up at the start, constituting the mighty Escargots Volants Fleche team (Katie, Christine, Janice, and yours truly) that will defy much of PA and NJ in three weeks time. Three of us actually met at Teddy's Restaurant, just round the corner on Cranbury's Main Street, for a light breakfast. Teddy's technically opens at 6h00am, however it's rather 6h30 before the shop really gets going so you may want to get yourself checked-in with us before heading towards Teddy's for your pre-ride breakfast.
Back to business, the order of which was merely the gentle route of the Cranbury 200. So gentle, in fact, that one of us (who shall remain nameless) overslept and we started 22 minutes late. What better Fleche training than having to regain 22 minutes on the first stage of a Brevet, the day after having completed one of Tom's, right?
Temperatures were distinctly cooler than the day before so the short sleeves and legs of the PA200 were nowhere to be seen as we engaged the rolling countryside of Central Jersey under threatening skies. A little wind was working against us, as is always the case on this stage and time of the year. And my promise at mile 8 that we had just passed the hardest climb on the route fell into distinctly deaf ears, or perhaps were they just sceptical. On the positive side, traffic was really very light and remained so for the whole stage, helped by some re-routing we started to implement last year. Was it sore legs from the PA200, or is it a consequence of the design of this stage which never offers really fast sections, I wasn't feeling great and though we had the impression of making reasonable time, we merely scraped by 11 minutes under the wire by the time we reached the Burger King in Union Beach, after having sampled our first ocean views in Keyport. Breakfast was very welcomed and went down without touching the sides.
Stage 2 started with a cat-and-mouse game with Rt 36, crossed no less than three times, and some guesswork of how this ocean looks like - just close enough for that we can hear it, while hardly ever managing to catch a glimpse of it. The amusement park in Keansburg offered its usual ghost town feel to us cyclists who only ever ride past it in April, however we kept going with a little help of the wind and soon enough we hit one of the main highlights of this ride on a clear day, the scenic and gentle climb over the Atlantic Highlands and to Mount Mitchill. The overcast day unfortunately didn't provide much in terms of views, and New York City was more guess than sight. On a bad day, you may well find mist in that area, so make sure your lighting is in good order (we will check it at the start anyway). I'm told the question for the Info Controle at Mount Mitchill was easy to find; if you can't find it, blame my Fleche teammates.
Just at the bottom of Mount Mitchill the route diverges from past editions, due to Oceanic Bridge to Rumson being closed for construction work. So instead of crossing the Navesink River we went above it and towards Chapel Hill, up a climb new to the NJ series! It is worth the effort since the area is really beautiful with plenty of horse farms; and before you start moaning, remember that the vicinity is full of lovely little dirt roads offering gradients of 25%, so if you didn't like Chapel Hill, you might get those in a next edition.
Shortly thereafter we hit the worst railroad crossing of the day, by the TFL at mile 53.5 also crossing the military road. We require you on the cue sheet to walk this RR crossing, and if I were you I really would. It has all you need for breaking a cyclist's collarbone, or worse.
From then on for about 10 miles the road became less scenic and considerably more traficky, though we always had a shoulder. We went over some serious rollers at first, generating sarcastic comments that there was a hell of a number of hills on this flat route. However by now I had learned to live with sarcasm with this particular team and New Jersey geography was actually working in our favor as we kept heading South and the rollers kept flattening. To the point that we managed to clock a couple of fast and easy miles, pretty much for the first time since the start. Just pay special attention when you cross Rt 18 at mile 61, traffic there is fast if light so make sure the road is clear before you change lanes.
The last few miles of the stage saw traffic abating a lot and scenery getting better, and in due time for lunch we reached the Quick Check in Neptune with 42 minutes to spare and well into the second half of the ride. Things were starting to look good. The Quick Check offered a good choice of food, as well as tables indoors and outdoors, a much improved option over the gas station of past editions. Welcome to the NJ Gastronome's series!
Out of the controle some pleasant and scenic miles followed, and we rejoined the old route at mile 73 saving you the trafficky suburbia at Sea Girt of years past. Of course we didn't have the Shore views either, however that didn't seem to bother our RBA who declared the new route better than the old. It's probably true if you have a special fondness for horses, and probably less so if your type of animal is rather the swimsuit-clad Shore creature. You'll decide for yourselves.
There is not much to say about the rest of stage 3, apart that it continues to offer some rather fast sections, some of them trafficky, and before you know it you find yourself on a long straight road battling a headwind towards the promised land of a Wawa. Where we indulged in sizeable portions of food, this being the NJ series and these being the Escargots Volants after all. What's the point of having gained 54 minutes spare time if not to spend them enjoying food?
By that point miles were starting to make themselves felt on our legs, to the point that some anonymous team member was entertaining the thought of begging Rt 33 motorists for a ride to Cranbury by means of a technique that is best kept confidential on a family-oriented board. That would have been pretty much overkill, though, given that Stage 4 is by en large the easiest of the ride, offering plenty of fast sections separated by enough little humps to keep you interested. Traffic remained uncredibly quiet, wind was gone at that late hour, scenery was at its best, and the sun was making a guest star appearance just for the benefit of us slow riders! A spectacular and very enjoyable finish to a great day out, getting us back to Cranbury with 1h18 to spare despite our very moderate pace over the last stage.
Updated cue sheet and Safety Instructions are attached. Make sure you read the latter before Sunday, and looking forward to seeing you there!
Organizer, Cranbury 200, 2012
- C200 2012 - Safety Instructions.doc
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- C-200 - 03.26.2012 - RIDERS.xls
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