(This article first appeared in the Sept. 19, 2013 print edition of the Vermont Standard)
By Michelle Fields, Standard Correspondent
Residents may hear bikes racing through the streets in the future if Peter Vollers of the Woodstock Bicycle Club has his way.
Vollers wants to launch the Vermont Overland Grand Prix next September.
“It would constitute a new form of bike racing that has never been done in Vermont,” said Vollers to Trustees as he outlined a 53-mile loop race that is primarily on dirt roads in Woodstock, Pomfret, Barnard, and South Royalton. “The idea of this race is to showcase and bring to light that there is great biking in Vermont on the dirt roads. To truly give it an epic quality and a European flair would be to start and end in the village.
“We started doing our Wednesday night Woodstock Bicycle Club rides on dirt roads several years ago and it was then and there that the idea of dirt road racing occurred to me. There are other gravel road races out there, but few, if any, are almost entirely on dirt and none that I know of contain our unique Class 4 road ‘Vermont pavé sections. Pronounced pa-vay this is a French term for the rough cobblestone sections prevalent in many European spring cycling classics, especially the famous Paris-Roubaix,” said Vollers.
Vollers, a former professional bike racer himself, outlined an image of a large professional bike race with prize money (likely $1,000 to the winner with smaller amounts to the top 10 –racers would pay a $75 entrance fee). Although the proceeds would go towards supporting the Woodstock Bicycle Club’s Junior Racing Team, this is not a charity event but a real race. It would also be open to the public.
“Everyone who enters…will be treated to an after-race celebration including a massive feed of locallyproduced fare and beverages. It’ll be a great party for everyone. Yes, a top regional racer will no doubt be the winner, but it’ll still be really cool for the rider who finishes two hours later to know that he or she raced his/her heart out against that same winner,” said Vollers. And the idea is for the community to share in the excitement by having the race start and end in the Village concluding with a short one-kilometer loop, providing prime viewing opportunities as racers fight towards the finish. Vollers is even considering having a time trial through the village the day before to determine the start list for the proposed race.
The idea, according to Vollers, is to capture some of the flair and excitement of a European race here in the United States. In the U.S. races are usually closed circuit loops that do not travel through populated areas much. “Here in the U.S., downtown bike racing is seen as little more than a hindrance to our all-important traffic flows, whereas in Europe, downtown village start/finishes are the norm and everyone thoroughly enjoys the spectacle,” said Vollers.
That traffic flow hindrance was noted as a concern among the Trustees when Vollers originally suggested shutting down Route 4 for most of a Sunday to accommodate the race.
“You’re going to have to figure something out for Route 4, “ said Village Manager Phil Swanson. One suggestion was to not allow parking along one side of Route 4 and have bikers do the final loop traveling in the parking lane.
“A similar race, the Dirty40 up in Newport, Vt., attracted more than 300 racers in its first year and that’s with very little prize money. I’d expect similar numbers for VOGP,” said Vollers of the proposed event.
If the race is approved, Vollers will not be riding, but will be in the first car following the leaders as the race director. He will be in a 4-by-4 (due to the terrain) and will be supported by others in these vehicles from the local overlanding community, as well as members of the Woodstock Bicycle Club who will run the event. Dual-sport motorcycles will be the lead vehicles for the race.
“I think this is tremendous…it is a wonderful idea but it is too soon for this year,” said Trustee Chris Miller of the originally proposed Oct. 20, 2013 date.
Vollers noted that it will take more coordination and he will look to plan this for fall 2014 with the hopes that it will become an annual event.