As we prepared to stage for the Berkshire Cycling Classic by sitting outside a coffee shop in downtown Lenox, we wondered how to tackle this ride. Do we race it? Do we ride it? We decided to line up at the back of the large horde of cyclists with wildly different levels of experience that had amassed to ride either 100 or 130 kilometers of the rolling roads of Western Massachusetts and see how things shook out. What kind of party was this? Well, it was a cyclosportif, and at that it was the only North American stop of the UCI World Cycling Tour. I’m sure if you asked each of the 300 or so participants what that was, you’d get 300 wildly different answers. Is it a recreational ride? Is it a race? Yes. Both Erik Zabel and a bearded fellow wearing jeans had UCI numbers pinned to a jersey and to a khaki jacket, respectively, so make of it what you will.

To add to the confusion, the ridiculously obvious statement, “This is not the Tour de France” kept being repeated over the PA. And while not the Tour de France, it seems worth noting this event was more like a Pro Tour race than anything else that I’ve ever done. UCI logos everywhere, Full on Mavic Support vehicles including motos, Erik Zabel, full road use for a portion of the event and even some round-about road furniture (I only wish they had dudes wearing orange jumpsuits and helmets waving flags side to side – not for safety, just for vibe). Seriously, this was amazingly well produced by Sparta Cycling.

The beginning was amazingly pleasant with improving weather and leisurely riding on fully closed roads. “Hey, this is a recreational ride, I can’t wait until we get to the omelet station at the first feed zone!” Though as things began to settle in, speeds picked up and the field was rolling on what felt like race pace. “Hey, this is a race, time to buckle down and slot into a better position!” And that’s the way it stayed, a sporting pace that would’ve sated even the most voracious racer-head – I mean, Erik Zabel was there to put you in your place if you got feisty. Josh Gunn who said he spent the better part of the day trying to decide if he was racing or riding his bike, summed up the dichotomy with, “That “dramatic tension,” if you will, was most apparent when Zabel attacked and I was at the back, just sort of dawdling and spacing out.” It ended up being a perfect mix of hard riding and fun cruising, sometimes simultaneously, and in the end you know it was a race because John Funk came in 2nd overall and Josh Gunn and David Wilcox both coming in 2nd in their respective age groups – all qualifying for the World Championship event in South Africa later this year.

Having been mainstays over in Europe, these types of events seem to be gaining traction here in the US with Gran Fondos and Gentlemen’s races popping up all over the country. In the words of Wilcox, “I’m glad we made the trip to Lenox and experienced the first of what will hopefully be a new type of organized ride that brings a diverse group of riders out to explore some beautiful roads and countryside.”

Photos: Gage & Dephoto