Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix is back

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix is set to return for its 7th annual weekend, May 3-5. The Grand Prix, the only all-women cycling weekend in the country, is officially sanctioned by the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour, meaning it is open to many of the world’s best competitive licensed women cyclists. Past participants include a Bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics as well as silver medalists from the UCI Road World Championships.

The event was first held in 2013. Organizer and former professional cyclist Martin Ernst Bruhn was initially aiming to provide a platform for the many professional women cyclists whose reputations may have been tarred by proxy by the massive doping scandal which swept high-profile cycling. “Women are underrepresented and never given marquee events,” he says. “I wanted an event to highlight women who are incredible athletes, one solely focused on them.”

Since its initial 34-mile race, without sidewalks, onlookers, or much direction — several cyclists got lost — 3 Days of Ulster Cycling has expanded to a full weekend. Bruhn stresses that the event includes something for all skill levels, “from a beginner to someone on the Canadian Olympic team.” 

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The events kick-off at an RSVP-only dinner on Friday, May 3, followed by time trials at 9 a.m. the following morning, Saturday, May 4 — a 6.6 mile course along the Esopus from the Phoenicia Parish Hall of St. Frances de Sales to Zen Mountain Monastery and back again. The event’s newest addition, several different circuit races at the Kiwanis Ice Arena in Saugerties, will be held at 2 p.m. that afternoon. Participants will take laps around a 2.2 mile track — “NASCAR on two wheels,” as Bruhn describes it.

The weekend’s premiere races will be held at 11:30 a.m. the following morning, Sunday, May 5. Both the 34- and 62-mile road races begin and end on Woodstock’s Rock City Road, riding out towards Saugerties, returning to town, and climbing up toward Overlook Mountain before descending via Striebel Road. The Pro-rated race continues on to Phoenicia before returning via Ohayo Mountain’s notorious ‘Seven Sister’ switchbacks. “It’s a daunting task,” says Bruhn, at times achieving a 15 percent grade over the course of several miles, “but once you’ve gotten to the finish line, you’ve done something truly exceptional.”

The shorter race is geared, says Bruhn, “towards riders who are new to the sport,” but its longer twin is meant to be a real task — Olympic-length, with significant elevation gains and demanding descents.

In helping to design this year’s courses, Bruhn aimed for mix of challenge and variety. He chose the area’s best cycling roads, largely avoiding highways and state routes in favor of scenic back roads that would provide a gorgeous view in addition to a real challenge. “There’s so much to be seen here from a bicycle,” he says. Recalling his professional cycling days in Europe, he wanted mountainous switchbacks, short climbs, and declines, “everything that required a rider to be on their best game all of the time,” he says. “You never want it to be boring for the athlete.”

According to Bruhn, the weekend’s themes are “women, athletes, wellness, and ultimately safety.” The group is advocating for a proposed three-foot passing law for road cycling, and will donate all proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of Ulster County and the Woodstock Fire District. He wants to give kids the resources to get outside and cycle, as well as safer, shared roads to ride on. “In the long-run, community support is what it’s all about.”

Riders of any skill level who wish to participate can sign up at www.womenscyclingwoodstock.com, with fees starting at $35 for the circuit races and $50 for the road race, as well as a blanket $100 weekend pass. Cyclists compete for a $6000 purse, provided by sponsors like Fiat. One-day pro licenses are also available the morning-of.

“I remember going to world-class races in Europe,” explains Bruhn, “and I have never forgotten that. I try so very hard to mirror that experience and memory here.”

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