What's Cool In Road Cycling

Photog’s View: READING 120!

To say I was disappointed to hear of the demise of the Bucks County Classic Road Race last year is a huge understatement. I really loved capturing the grandeur of a bike race on the roads I grew up riding on. But John Eustace came through with a great replacement in the Reading 120. The course was truly a grand showcase for the beautiful country roads of eastern Pennsylvania.

Chris Horner was the big draw and fan favorite for the starting line call ups in the historic town of Reading Pennsylvania

The course consisted of a 74 mile loop on narrow two lane roads through Pennsylvania farm country. Once back in Reading and through the Start/Finish, the race continued with five 9 mile circuits. This included a climb past the famous Reading Pagoda, then along Skyline Drive with the KOM directly in front of the historic fire tower. This gave the fans 5 chances to cheer for their favorites as they raced along the demanding loop.

The Peloton crosses the Lindbergh bridge on the way out of town. The town of Reading can be seen in the background. Though the forecast was for afternoon showers, I could feel the sparse drops of rain hitting my face and it was only only 10:30

The combination of 180 riders and tight back country roads with rain soaked, slick surfaces meant that I would be spending a fair amount of time at the back of the race. Not to mention the numerous instances of cyclists getting taken out by race motorcycles in recent races across the pond. Everyone was playing it safe and being extra cautious.

I don’t see making my way around the Peloton anytime soon under these circumstances

Grabbing a few pics from the back while waiting for the road to open up

Soon we’re out in farm country. Fields of 10 feet tall corn rows are everywhere. The roads are still too narrow to make a safe pass. It’s also taking a while for the breakaway to form. With all the activity at the front of the Peloton, it looks like my view of the race will be from behind for a while. It’s also raining steady at this point so taking pictures of the race has my lens doused in a matter of seconds. I tell myself to be patient.

I quickly grab a shot of the riders as they make a left among the corn in front of me. Now to duck behind my driver and wipe the rain off the front element of my lens

The road finally opens up enough to get by the peloton. We ride off the front in search of something interesting to shoot. The roads are very slippery now so our cautious speed really doesn’t have us making any head way on the race. I usually like to get a good 5 to 10 minute lead on the pack, to give me a little time to set up my shot, before they catch up to me.

Looking back, I can see we haven’t been able to gain much time on the peloton. I grab this shot across a field and tell my driver to take off so we can stay in front of the race

We then go to take off and the bike barely moves forward as the rear tire just spins. I ask my driver, “Did we go through some mud when we pulled off the road?” He tried again and then it was obvious. He yelled back to me, “We have a flat tire!” I quickly jumped off the bike and helped him maneuver it back off the road. We had finally made it around the Peloton and were now back where we started. My driver radioed our situation in and I end up getting a ride with one of the motorcycle marshals. I was once again stuck behind the race with only about 20 miles of the big loop left. As we got closer to Reading the roads started to open up a bit and we were able to get to the front of the race. I told him to just stay in front and we can drop back to take a shot whenever possible.

Finally back in front of the race to get a view from below as the race crests a hill with me at the bottom

Crops, Umbrellas, and road spray as the rain starts to kick it up a notch

These Pennsylvania back roads sure do go up and down and twist and turn a lot

We soon come to a spot in the road that has no Marshal to control traffic. Of course safety is our first duty and we pull over to perform traffic control. I watch sullenly as the race once again leaves me behind. With the race having passed we’re on the move again and we start to see an unpleasant theme emerging. The slick roads and tired racers leads to carnage as bikes and riders are going down around every turn.

A Safeway / Airgas rider grimaces at the side of the road

Optum rider Tom Zirbel picks himself up off the road

More carnage as riders untangle their bikes and check their wounds

It’s starting to feel like a war zone out there as we get closer to town. The roads really start to open up and so do the skies. We get around the group and the rain is coming down in buckets. I had planned to put my second camera in the saddle bag of the motorcycle when the heavy rains came. That plan went out the window with most other plans I had for this crazy day.

A dwindling Peloton hits the open roads as they head back into Reading under angry skies

After another marshal stop we follow the race through town until the caravan comes to a complete stop. This can’t be good news. Once things start moving again we come to a horrific scene of paramedics tending to a downed volunteer and bikes and riders scattered across all parts of the intersection. One of the riders is Chris Horner. He’s yelling about an ambulance pulling into the intersection just as their group was entering it. His DS quickly brings him a new bike, but it’s too late to catch back onto the race. His Reading 120 is done.

Chris Horner recovers from a crash during the deluge just before getting back into Reading

We get back to the Start/Finish and my second moto driver notices his tire is going soft. It looks like I won’t be shooting the final circuits from a motorcycle. I have him drop me off near my car in the parking garage. I’ve got about 15 minutes before the race comes back from the circuit. I go to my car, change into dry clothes and dry off my cameras as best I can. My car is parked on the 4th floor of the garage which just happens to be on the race course…

My overhead view of what’s left of the peloton after the first of 5 circuits

I stay in the dry comfort of the parking garage and continue a useless attempt to dry my cameras off. My flash is now randomly going off all by itself. The focus point toggle switch on one of my bodies has stopped working. It has left the focus point stuck on the bottom right side of the frame rendering that body practically useless. I throw on my rain poncho to cover my working camera and head back into the rain. I hear the lead vehicles come through the Start/Finish so I head over to the first turn and seek refuge under a tree.

Toms Skujins takes a cautious line through the turn as he heads back out of town for his third circuit

I head back to the solace of the parking garage and once again begin my useless drying routine. I decide to take another overhead shot on this lap as the feeling is finally starting to come back to my numb and frozen digits. Now with just two laps to go it’s time to venture into the storm and head for the Start/Finish line. A few riders are still rolling through, just trying to survive the race.

The look in this riders eyes says it all as he struggles on the slight uphill grade. With over one hundred miles of racing in his legs, he’s determined to finish, even under these adverse conditions

The race has come down to a battle of two men on the penultimate lap. UHC rider Danny Summerhill against Hincapie racing’s Toms Skujins. They are both riding in torn racing kits as they have both succumbed to the treacherous conditions at some point in the race. I watch the fight on the Jumbo-tron, along with about 30 other photographers and journalists stuffed under a tent, as the announcer barks out the play by play. They’re heading back into town for the final circuit. Time for me to get wet again. This time I head in the opposite direction and take up position at the 50 meters to go sign.

Danny and Toms heading into the final circuit: battered, bruised, and soaking wet

I watch again from the tent as they battle one more time on the ascent, marking each other all the way to the KOM, then Summerhill attacks on the decent. A risky move in these conditions, but the all or nothing approach seems to be working. He holds a slight gap to the finish and takes his first UCI victory!

Danny Summerhill crosses the finish line first in the pouring rain

Disappointed with second place, Toms shows his good sportsmanship as he interacts with the fans coming into the finish

With signs of his crash evident, Danny heads back toward the finish as teammate Chris Jones crosses the line for third place

Danny and Chris celebrate the team victory

Danny’s lucky blue shoe, white shoe combination did the trick

180 riders started the Reading 120 and only 47 were able to finish. This race is a tough one and the weather conditions surely added to the attrition. I can’t wait to see how the Reading 120 plays out next year!

Mens Podium. Danny Summerhill, Toms Skujins, Chris Jones

Please check out www.DarrellParks.COM for more cool cycling images.

• See more info at Reading120.com


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