UCI World Tour professional cycling returns to the U.S. This was the first race in three years held on U.S. soil. Welcome to the Maryland Cycling Classic.
I wanted to be a part of it so I volunteered as a course marshal. There were two, maybe three, time slot options to be a volunteer. I signed up for the early one which was 1:30-4:30. I knew that would place me in Baltimore County somewhere. I did not want to be assigned in the city – too much commotion and unsure where I could park then ride to my assignment.
As the race date drew closer so did my frustration with the lack of communication from the organization. The signup form had an auto response which gave no useful information. The first email communications came on Sunday, August 28 which was just one week from the event.
I would have liked to have known in advance about the charity ride held yesterday. I found out about it when the volunteer information was sent on Tuesday, August 30. Since most volunteers are probably cyclists, it seemed to me that this info should have been disseminated immediately, even if just in the auto-response.
Although, with a very high fundraising threshold ($500) and a deadline that had already passed, it meant that your credit card would be charged for the full amount if you signed up. I decided against doing the charity ride. But I would find the route and ride some of it, especially for the parts that overlapped with the pro circuit.
Riding the route would give me an idea of what the pros would be riding. Plus I could swing by and pick up my volunteer materials. And hopefully, I could see where I would be a course marshal.
We had Zoom training for volunteers. I did mine on Tuesday, August 30. We were told our assignment posts would be sent shortly but nothing came.
Volunteer swag was a T-shirt, water bottle, and some other items. Volunteer check-in was Thursday in Baltimore, Friday in Hunt Valley, and Sunday in either location. I really did not want to make two trips to Baltimore. But I didn’t know where my assignment was either and without that information, I didn’t know if I could check in on Sunday and still get to my location. So I went on Friday to check-in and to go for a ride.
I looked at the 50 km and 100 km routes for the charity ride and then designed my own 61 km (38 miles) route. I checked email and text for my volunteer location up until the time I arrived at Velocinno. If I knew where I was going to be I could ride to the location and check it out.
Nothing came in until 12:36 p.m. on Friday. I was just about finished with my ride. This was virgin riding territory for me. Intersections meant nothing to me until I was able to open a map.
I parked right across a creek from Velocinno at a fire station in Sparks, Md. It looked like a neat bike (and coffee) shop and a rider today told me it was the cycling center for the area. Although I had to ride on Falls Road / Md. Rte 25, it was only for about 200-300 meters before I turned onto a metal grate bridge. And just like that, I was in the country. At first, I was on rolling roads but those soon gave way to hilly. There were no flat sections.
It was pretty. Northern Baltimore County looks a lot like southern Pa. I was just 5.5 miles miles from the Pa. state line (by bike, maybe 4.5 as the crow flies) and the race got within one half-mile of Pennsylvania. Much of my ride was around Prettyboy Reservoir. There were two bridge crossings and one dam crossing. I was hoping for more water views but much of the time the roads were in a forest.
I was on Sparks Hill Road, a climb on the Reservoir Loop. I wasn’t going hard but I certainly wasn’t inching my way up. Almost out of nowhere came a rider sprinting past me. I recognized the kit of EF Education First-EZ post. I suspect it was Daniel Arroyave Canas, a rider from Columbia.
After a descent around a corner of the reservoir, Sparks Road kicked up again. This time my radar showed I was being approached and I glanced back and saw four riders from EF Education First. I grabbed my phone to take a picture and as they came by, riding not much faster than me, one called me by name. I suspect this was Nielsen Powless.
At the top of the climb, their team car was pulled over and all seven riders stopped. It didn’t look like the right time for a photo op although I stopped and put a foot down to take their photo.
I didn’t hang around but took off and enjoyed the descent to the Prettyboy Reservoir dam. It is quite an impressive structure and I slowly went across it. After snapping a photo of the dam itself I was surprised to see four of the EF Education First – EZ Post riders come rolling across the dam.
My fun done for the day, I was ready to stop. It was hot, around 88℉ (31C). And although I was only at Mile 30, I was starting to feel the effects of the heat and the constant ups and downs. The last four miles would be all downhill so I did something right.
When I finished I got a text with my assignment. If this had come 60 minutes earlier I could have scouted it out. Oh well. I drove to Hunt Valley to pick up my T-shirt and then made the two-hour drive home.
It wasn’t until Friday at 7:30 p.m. that an email came in with our assignments. My name was nowhere to be found on the attachment. I immediately replied asking for clarification. Since I was assigned at Falls Road and Prettyboy Reservoir Road I checked the spreadsheet and my name was nowhere to be found.
The assignment was on a loop that the riders would contest twice as they made 1 3/4 passes around the reservoir. On the second pass, they did list a volunteer’s name, but it wasn’t mine. So I asked for clarification and never received a reply.
The assignment was also confusing because the direction on the first pass was to flag the riders to continue straight while the second pass was to tell them to turn right. Absent a response from the organization, I would report as directed and just figure things out. And that is what happened.
Although the text said to be there by 1:30, I was there at noon today. I rode a short bit and chalked the road for Tom Skujins. An email that went out earlier today said a course marshal captain would be by and hand out flags to those who were signaling direction on the course. None came by. Not to worry because I brought a referee flag.
Around 2:30 the other volunteer showed up. We had a brief discussion and he left for another corner presumably to spectate. A few people started gathering on our corner. As the race got close I got into a safe position off the road yet one where the riders could see me. There was a couple there and I told them I was giving them fair warning – I was going to be blowing a whistle hard.
Although I have blown the whistle in more than 1,000 soccer matches, I don’t think I have been more nervous than blowing the whistle for 25 riders approaching a sharp curve at 30 mph and me waving a flag. All got by safely so I must have done a good job.
Since there would be about 30 minutes before the second pass, I went back to sit in the chair that I had brought. A woman had two dogs and asked me a question. The most common question I got today was how many riders were there. Answer: 112 (16 teams of seven riders). Her dog, Rudy, barked at me and I tried to make nice. I leaned down and held out my fist. The dog got close as though he was going to sniff and then lunged at me. Nipped my leg. NEVER BRING A DOG TO A BIKE RACE!!
The second pass was uneventful. There were some riders way off the back, mixed in with the spectator cyclists who were back on course. I had to blow my whistle once at four cyclists to get off the road as the race was still on, although it wasn’t the front of the race.
I had a great experience with the Baltimore County policeman assigned to the intersection. It was a sweeping right-hand corner with Fall Road coming in from the left. I rode through here on Friday and never once did I wonder which was to go. It was clear the road went to the right. This was not a location where a course marshal was needed. Let alone two that were assigned.
By the time the race passed a second time, with 74 miles to go, it had been completely blown apart. The teams may have expected an early breakaway would be allowed to form with a 5-6 minute lead and then pulled back with 4-5 miles to go. Instead, 25 riders got away, built a lead to four minutes, and the peloton just became one of many chase groups 10 minutes down. Ultimately, only 46 riders finished the race, the last one to cross was Callum Ormiston (Pro Touch) at 21:17. Pre-race favorites Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) and Dylan Gorenewegen (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) missed out, finishing at 9:54.
Eventually, a 12-man group broke free which became a four-man group for much of the last 10 miles but was joined by Andrea Piccolo (EF Education First-EZ Post) with two miles to go. In that four-man group that was at the front all day were Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech), Nickolas Zukowaky (Human Powered Health), Nelison Poweless (EF Education First-EZ Post), and Toms Skuijins (Trek-Segafredo).
That would be the finish order with a four-up sprint as Piccolo dropped off. I was hoping that Toms would pull this one out. But a finishing sprint involves not only the fast men but perfect tactics including when to go. And, of course, whose legs still have anything left.
I did not get down to the Inner Harbor to see the finish. Traffic leaving my spot was too heavy although with planning, maybe I could have. But I watched it on TV (the GCN+ app).
I have been a course marshal for USA Cycling Nationals, UCI World Championships, the Amgen Tour of California, and the Tour of Pennsylvania. They all had different challenges. ATOC seemed to need marshals at the start and finish towns. They had different coordinators for each town and they used traveling marshals in the middle. The Maryland Cycling Classic assigned marshals for the entire course so, in some ways, it was a much bigger challenge. From the perspective of my history at other events, they had more hiccups than my other events. However, the second time around will be better and I would love to go back. What a great day!