Killington: A Remembrance

Phinney.Knickman

Davis Phinney with teammate Roy Knickman to his right, followed by race leader Greg Oravetz in the pink helmet.

Growing up, I spent several summers in Vermont. For all its difference to west Tennessee, it might as well have been a different country. The local foods were different, the smells were different, the speech patterns and colloquialisms different but most of all, the landscape and climate were utterly foreign.

Family roots kept us returning to central Vermont, placing us in the shadow of the Green Mountains and the Vermont spur of the Appalachian Trail. We hiked sections of the trail and drove to lookouts. However, my favorite outings were our visits to Killington Ski Area, where we would take the Gondola to the top of Killington and view other peaks, the valleys below, distant lakes and forests of other states as they shrank to hazy horizon.

I was just beginning to ride “10-speeds” and saw in the twisting mountain roads fun waiting to be had. On drives I would press my forehead to the passenger window watching each bend and asphalt wrinkle like a kid nose to glass with a toy store’s Christmas toy display.

When I returned to the area in my 20s, Killington had become home to a stage race held over Labor Day Weekend. While the month of August is the seventh inning stretch to the PROs, for American-based amateurs, it is a cooling ember. In many areas of the country the race calendar is dead.  But New Englanders know a good thing when they’ve got it. You race through the August heat because the winter is harder than any sprint.

Alexi Grewal riding for Coors Light, followed by brother Rishi riding for the Crest Team.

Alexi Grewal riding for Coors Light, followed by brother Rishi riding for the Crest Team.

A stage race over the Labor Day Weekend struck me as the proper send-off to the racing season. There were always a few more crits afterward, but Killington was the last big hurrah. And it wasn’t your typical road race/TT/crit stage rage, either. There was an uphill TT prologue followed by two road races, a downtown crit and a final road race. The five days of racing left everyone spent, no matter what category you raced.

The pictures here are from the first time I saw the race, in 1990. Some of my UMASS teammates were racing with their club teams and I loaded up my touring bike and rode the 120-odd miles up from my apartment to stay with them at a ski house near the race. It was the heyday of the 7-Eleven/Coors Light battle and the only real question on anyone’s mind was whether 7-Eleven could dislodge Greg Oravetz from the lead. (No.)

The first time I did the race I packed on the miles in August, inspired by that year’s Tour de France. Racing the closed roads, climbing through spectators cheering us into debt, flying down the serpentine mountain roads, it was better than I had imagined. Much better. It was also significantly harder.

It’s easy to be nostalgic about your childhood or your college days. What I find myself missing are those big climbing days in 90 degree heat, day upon day of abject suffering as I would train for the biggest race of the season. Labor Day is last call at the bar. Each year as I drove home from the race, I could see the first color in the trees and the cool in the air we felt when we stopped for dinner was a shivering portent of things to come.

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12 comments

  1. Greg Stenger

    Man, I used to love going to Killington (aka The Beast of the East). That was such a beautiful race. I could be wrong, but I vaguely remember watching Oravetz that year climbing Bear Mtn on the back side of Killington Mtn in his big ring out in front on stage 3. That was a tough climb and to see him killing it in his big ring while the rest of us mortals were spinning the granny ring the best we could was unbelievable. 1991 was my last year racing as a junior and I made it a point to make it back to that race every year I could. Thanks for bringing back fond memories of a great race.

  2. Vlaanderen2010

    I did Killington twice, and loved it. The first rides i ever did when i got into road riding were with my father back in 1990 on the roads used for the old subaru road race. We used to go up and train and do the LAMB route in August. I also remember meeting Nicole Reinhart there. thanks for the flashback.

  3. Nick

    Now if the heat here in Northern New England will hold out. Everyone will be climbing in 90 degree temps again. Great state, great race.

  4. Cosmo

    “What I find myself missing are those big climbing days in 90 degree heat, day upon day of abject suffering as I would train for the biggest race of the season. Labor Day is last call at the bar.”

    GMSR is a pretty fair stand-in. No Grewals, though.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      GMSR is an excellent event and I enjoyed doing the Mad River Road Race back before the stage race started. Incredible road race; one of my all-time faves.

  5. grolby

    Padraig, I’m delighted to hear that you are an alumni of the UMASS cycling team! I graduated after the 2008 season.

    Thanks for the thoughts on racing in Vermont. I’m now in TN myself, but New England racing is the best. I hope to make it back up to the GMSR some day.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Grolby: Very cool. Congrats on graduating. Team members of UMASS’ cycling team have infiltrated every corner of the bike biz. Adam Myerson is still racing as a pro. Alan Cote is an editor for Bicycling (and helped me get a foot in the door at Bicycle Guide). Todd Seplavy has worked in product management for a few companies and is now at Evil Bikes. Steve Roszko started Bikereg.com after a stint at Spinergy. Adam Howes worked in product management in the ’90s for Performance. Christian Jones had a bike company called Rhygin that did high-end road and mountain frames. I know I’m leaving some folks out, but they are out there. You’re in good company.

  6. Pingback: The Return of the Monster Stage Race (Sorta) : Red Kite Prayer

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