Tuesday February 16, 2010

HANCOCK -- A bicycle racing tradition that had drawn hundreds of racers, supporters and spectators to the Berkshires for 28 years has been indefinitely canceled due to the dangers posed by state-installed rumble strips on Route 7 in Williamstown, New Ashford and Lanesborough.

The Shaun Thornton Memorial Jiminy Peak Road Race has been known to draw participants from around the U.S. and Canada. For regional racers, it served as the opening event of the season.

But the USA Cycling Association declined to sanction the May race after the state installed rumble strips on the shoulder and grooves with reflectors in the middle of the Route 7 highway. The highway, which was repaved and introduced the driver-safety measures last summer, was a major part of the race route.

"USA Cycling officials came and looked at it and they said it's unsafe and there's no way we could get a permit to have this race," said Kathleen Harrington, an organizer and promoter of the race. "There's no way you could have a race with over 120 cyclists now. It would be dangerous."

The problem, she noted, is that cyclists would tend to avoid the rumble strip and the grooves. In swerving out of the way, they could end up in the path of oncoming cars. Also, a bike tire could also get caught in a groove or strip and cause a mishap, he said.

"We haven't had anyone sustain serious injuries, and we'd certainly hate for that to happen," Harrington said.


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According to Adam Hurtubise, spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation, the rumble strips are a proven safety measure to prevent inattentive drivers from going off the road. The Federal Highway Administration says "shoulder rumble strips have proven to be very effective for warning drivers that they are about to drive off the road. Many studies also show very high benefit-to-cost ratios for shoulder rumble strips, making them among the most cost effective safety features available."

The course of the bicycle race began on Brodie Mountain Road in Hancock, headed to Williamstown on Route 43, and south on Route 7 through New Ashford and into Lanesborough, before finishing back on Brodie Mountain Road. The course is 30 kilometers, or a little over 18 miles.

There were eight different classes of competition for various age groups and skill levels, including a professional/amateur race for men and women.

The best of the riders raced through the course five times, a distance of 150 kilometers, in roughly 3 1/2 hours.

In recent years, the event drew 700 racers and at least that many supporters and spectators.

Mike Ward, a Pittsfield city councilor in Ward 4 and former participant and organizer of the race, said it didn't have a huge economic impact on the area, but it did have some.

"A lot of people made a weekend in the Berkshires out of it," he said. "And for the others on the way out of town after the race, they would always stop and eat."

The loss of the race, he added, "has left a huge void in the racing community. It was a very-well-thought-of event. So the racers are bummed."

Last year, Ward was involved in discussions with state highway officials about the rumble strips and how they affect cycling.

"Basically, they think it's an inconvenience for bicyclers and we think it's a safety hazard," he said.

The race was dedicated to the late Shaun Thornton when the Berkshire Cycling Association member was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1993. Originally sponsored by Brodie Mountain, it was sponsored by Jiminy Peak in recent years.

"We loved the recognition it brought us and the hundreds of people it brought here," said Betsy Strickler, marketing director at Jiminy Peak. "Not many of them stayed with us, but most of them visited the property or ate here, and it raised awareness of our summer offerings."

She added that the race did provide an economic boost to gas stations, restaurants and hotels.

Jay Kulpinski, treasurer of the Berkshire Cycling Association, said there is no way to reroute the race, which is a shame because "that was really a perfect loop with good hills, few intersections and good pavement. It would be really hard to duplicate what we had there."

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6241.