Racer: Joe Kaehler
Date: June 24,2003 2:00PM
Location: Smethport, Pennsylvania
Distance: 7 miles
After many years and plenty of miles on my bicycle, the time was right to try my legs at competitive racing. The sesquicentennial celebration of Smethport, Pennsylvania offered me this inaugural opportunity. The event, the Gold Watch Race, took place on Sunday June 24, 2003. I had confidence going into the race having over 900 miles of riding time in the saddle for the year. I arrived in Smethport an hour and a half prior to the starting time in hopes of finding out the course route. Unable to secure that information I began my warm-up session with some high cadence spinning. In addition to this, I took advantage of Smethportís terrain and did some climbing on the steep side streets of town. At 1:30pm, spectators and racers alike were gathering around the start area of the race located at the McKean County Courthouse. For the next half hour, I mingled with my new friends and observed carefully the caliber of competition I was about to face. The group of fifty some riders were the garden variety ranging from the recreational riders to the very serious racers. Five minutes before the start of the race, the event directors briefed us on the rules and the race course.
The seven mile race, known as the Gold Watch Race, was based on a race held one hundred years earlier in which the runner was awarded a gold watch. I was very relaxed and had determination and confidence as my allies. At 2:00pm sharp, the starting gun fired and away we went. The short length of the race made it necessary for me to establish my position immediately and that I did. Heading down Main Street east on Route 6, I hooked up with a pack of a half dozen riders as we kept our sights on the escort vehicle provided by the Pennsylvania State Police. The pack wasnít overly tight so I was able to focus more on my cadence than on my handling at this point. A mile into the race we rounded a curve and headed toward East Smethport. The temperature was in the mid 70ís with a slight breeze from the south. At the flashing traffic signal in East Smethport, the race turned south unto Route 46 and we found ourselves going into a formidable headwind. Shortly after this turn, I managed to be the lead person with others right on my wheel. For the next mile or so there was some jockeying of positions as others assumed the lead position. With wind as my nemesis and more than half the distance to the finish I did not push to the extreme on this stretch of the road. The average speed up to this point was in the low 20ís.
The smooth roadway on Route 46 was nice but that all changed as we turned on to Galico Hollow Road where the bumps were quite noticeable. Aware of the gravel at the turn and the consequence of riding through it at high speeds, I made a wide turn and managed to maintain my status in the lead pack. This flat road quickened the tempo as six of us were positioning ourselves for the last half of the race. In less than a mile on this road, we made another right hand turn on to West Valley Road. The pack bumped up the pace a notch as we were averaging a speed of 25mph. Working for positions, the pack stayed very tight and the chatter amongst the riders came to a silence as each of us focused on the task at hand. All was well when suddenly a loud bang scattered the pack unaware of which cyclist just blew a tire. I was in the middle and the incident occurred right behind me so I knew I was safe. The remaining riders immediately regrouped poised to finish out the final mile of the race. As we approached town behind the Rose Hill Cemetery we made a sharp left turn. Fifty yards out of this turn I made my move. Going into sprint mode the others were quick to get on my wheel. I pedaled furiously to stay out front but my legs eventually succumbed to the demand and three cyclists passed me. Three blocks later, the course made another left turn up a steep hill where the finish line was awaiting us at the Smethport High School parking lot. My first attempt at racing landed me a 4th place finish overall and 1st place in my age group of 40-49. I was pleased with my results and the efforts of those whom I hung with for the majority of the race. A learning experience it was and it will be used as a stepping stone to expand on for other racing opportunities.
Other Links of interest:http://www.smethporthistory.org/500.block/racestart/racestart.htm