tour de susquehanna 2008 lead pack

Even though this was only the third running of the Tour de Susquehanna, this was by far the most anticipated one yet. Each year has seen a number of competitors, yet only one champion – Brett Baronak, a native of the area who travels back (from Florida) to get in on the action.

Last year, Jeff Miller (reigning King of the Mountain champ) came to test his luck, but could only pull off second place.

Then for 2008, despite the addition of prize money, the big names stayed home! The best placed rider to return was my riding buddy Mike Yankevich, who placed third in the 2006 and 2007 editions. Even Spokes N Skis, a fairly local team who usually sends five or six guys, had just one rider in the peloton this year.

We had been planning our race strategy for this exact situation!

But Mike and I (Marathon Equipment) didn’t have it easy. Todd Mann (Spokes N Skis) was looking good, Chad Swanger (Allied Milk Producers) was ready to go, and Kevin McElhinny (Countryside Cycling) looked like a powerful rider to be reckoned with. To top things off, a few 15-16 year old kids lined up in front of us – you have to watch these young guns, you never know when they’ll blow up the entire field!

Here’s how the race went down…

start line

The start was like any other – despite instructions to take it slow for a rolling start, the pace car zoomed off and overzealous riders sprinted by, hoping to win the 22 mile race in the first few yards. I avoided the commotion and slowly made my way to the front section of the pack, keeping my eyes on the previously mentioned riders.

Things were pretty calm on the first hill. A few new riders set a decent pace at the front, but they could only hold it so long, and eventually faded back… leaving maybe 10 strong riders setting the pace. All the pre-race favorites were right up there together.

On the final section of the climb, as I rotated to the back of our little paceline, I noticed that our little group had started to open a gap, without any actual attacking! I was so excited I surged back to the front to make sure the pace stayed high and our gap widened.

And that it did. At the crest of the first fill, we had a seven-man paceline with a big enough gap that only a strong team effort would have any chance of catching us. I was thinking, “great, now we can ease off a bit and have a steady ride until we hit the next hill.”

lead pack paceline

But as luck would have it, the group consensus was more along the lines of a super fast paceline. At least we had a good group this year and everyone did their part. In past years, there were a few notorious wheelsuckers that sat in the back and got pulled to the finish, fairly effortlessly. (This year even the skinny young climber Chad Swanger was putting some serious power down on the flats!)

I hung on, but the big gears were taking their toll – I was pretty beat by the halfway point. So much for any kind of attack on the second hill!

I think we were down to six at this point, and Todd knew we were hurting, so he put the hammer down on one of the many twisty little hills on these back roads. That dropped the rider from Advanced Office Systems, and myself, although I dug deep and caught back on.

But that didn’t last long. A mile or so later, we hit the base of the second hill, and Todd, Mike, and Chad picked up the pace. I couldn’t counter another attack, so I had to let them go and focus my attention on Kevin. I stuck with him and we traded spots once or twice, but towards the top of the climb I could see he was really hurting…

So I thought, “why not go after the top three?” Somehow the climb gave me some extra energy, and I exploded over the top. Good news – the top three were still in sight!

I gave it all I had, railing the turns, big-ringing the short but steep inclines, but couldn’t catch on. All the while, Kevin was looming behind me…

Once I hit the final six miles of flat road back to the finish, the leaders were totally out of sight, and Kevin was gaining on me. I slowed slightly for a few seconds before he caught me, making sure I’d be ready in case he tried an attack right there to secure fourth place…

levi finish line

I think we were both too tired for anything that exciting, because we kind of worked together and moderately pacelined back into town. (I say “kind of” because I was running on empty, just hoping not to be left alone again.)

About half-mile from the line, Kevin accelerated slightly, opening about a five second gap. With the finish around the next bend, I stood and sprinted, but I didn’t pick up any speed! I was just too exhausted. I just kind of rolled into the finish (with that five second gap,) and rounded out the Top 5.

Mike, Todd, and Chad were already waiting for us at the line, having had a chance to cool down, grab some cold drinks, get massages, and do some photos and interviews for the local paper. (OK, they were only a minute ahead of us, but that’s a pretty good lead to have built up in the last six miles.)

About the three leaders…

finish line

Last time I had a good view of the leaders was about 1/4 way up the final climb. I guess they stuck together on most of the hill, but Mike launched a decisive attack right at the top, giving him a little gap. Todd and Chad caught him, though, before that crazy S-bend turn on the downhill.

On the flats again, they pacelined for a few miles, but things got tricky coming into town – a good jump on the sprint would be key to victory, so they all jockeyed for position. Mike was able to make a good move, and although it was a long sprint to the line, he got the win!

Chad and Todd came in a few seconds apart for second and third, respectively, to round out the podium. Props to those guys for holding a fast pace the whole way through!

So we have a new champion…

Although I played virtually no role in Mike’s victory, I was still pumped to see a local rider (and my teammate of the day) take home the Tour de Susquehanna victory! And the rather large, exquisite trophy that goes with it!

I’m sure Brett will be back next year with hopes of taking back the title!


post race breakfast

It was a superb race, probably the most fun yet! Thanks go out to Mike Butler for organizing the event, the American Legion for serving breakfast, the other racers for attending despite super high gas prices, and definitely to all the volunteers and local authorities who ensured a safe, smooth race for everyone!

Full race results provided by Runner’s High at

Photo credits: Randy Hurley

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