Grant’s Tomb Crit 2017 – A Marshal’s Perspective

Cold day to marshal a bike race

OK, OK… Jared goaded me into this.

How Did I Get Myself Into This?

“Hey, are you racing Grant’s Tomb Crit?”, Jared asked.
“No. Crit’s aren’t really my thing. Can’t do the punchy sprint thing”
“Oh, yeah. You should marshal it. It’s pretty long, but there’s lots of racing to watch”
“I should. Might do a double session – get two-thirds of my marshaling duty done in one go. And it’ll be in March, so hopefully we’ll have a bit of spring weather”

Yeah. I’ll regret this conversation for a while.

On paper, it sounds like a great idea: marshal a race that I’m not going to do, get to watch some great racing, limited chances to get bored as the racers do laps every 2-3 minutes, get to watch the racers up-close and personal.

The Weather Factor

In reality… well, reality is a whole different thing. Thursday was a phenomenal weather day… 65 degrees, sunny, almost shorts weather. Friday was a little chillier, as the temperature dropped to 38 degrees, with some light snow flurries. But the snow cleared, the roads were dry, and there was the promise of sun. And now we get to Saturday. At 6AM, the mercury was at a balmy 18.1 degrees, with winds at 5-10mph and gusting to 20mph. The forecast high was 28 degrees. And the forecast low – well, let’s not talk about that.

Did you know that you can calculate wind-chill equivalent temperatures using the following formula:
T(wc) = 35.74 + 0.6215T(a) – 35.75V^0.16 + 0.4275T(a)V^0.16
– T(wc) = Wind Chill temperature, F
– T(a) = Actual temperature, F
– V = Wind speed, mph
– Note that this formula is only applicable for temperatures below 50 degrees F and wind speeds above 3mph.

That equates to a wind-chill temperature of 8 degrees, down to, oh, a balmy 1 degree F.

In a bid to keep warm, we bought some hot chocolates, courtesy of Wafels and Dinges. By the time we’d made our way back from the truck to our marshaling point, a whole block and a half away, well, our hot chocolates had become chocolate ice creams.. Mmm… just what we needed to keep warm.

At least it was going to be sunny, and the wind would be from the North West. And with the station assignments, I would be positioned at the SE side of Riverside Church, so I’d have a big, big building to shield me from the wind. Stan was scheduled to marshal at the top of the finish line straight, on the exit from the hairpin, whilst I’d be at the other end of the course, manning the gates into the car park under the church. Stan was moved at marshal check-in to join me on car park duty, manning the east side of 120th & Claremont, with me on the west side. So Stan got our wish to get our double-duty shifts out of the way in some relative calm.

Nope. Got that wrong too… the wind was coming straight from the west, blasting down 120th St, and gusting to 40mph as it funneled between the buildings. Oh, and that sunshine that was promised? Hmm… well, we had a couple of minutes every hour. For two or three hours. In total. In Marshall Captain Alex’s words, “Yeah, this is the windiest spot on the course. Probably the coldest too”.


By the way, gusting to 40mph = a real-feel of -5 degrees F.

Over on the east side of the junction there was no protection whatsoever from the wind. The west side had the not inconsiderable benefit of being protected from the wind, provided you hid behind the church, which didn’t afford much of a view of anyone either exiting the car park, or coming up 120th. Still, protection is protection, and that 30 degree difference out of the wind would prove crucial on the day. That, and our extremely wise decision to park the car on the south side behind the barriers, as a handy “keep warm” spot.

Today’s marshaling report is bought to you buy the following generous sponsors:
– Rapha, official apparel provider to all MAMILs
– Assos: because if you need it to be expensive, then you need it to be Assos
– Audi: makers of gigantic cars with seat warmers and phenomenally good heating systems.
– The Castelli head-thingy. Because when you need a warm head, get the head-thingy. It’s thingy-good.

Of course, knowing we’d have to deal with some cold weather, we dressed appropriately. As I was doing the morning race clinic then a double-marshaling session, I had to dress for the day. I had two winter base layers, a winter jacket, a winter vest, a ski jacket with hood, a head warmer, a wooly hat to go on top of the head warmer, winter tights, and tracksuit bottoms to go over the winter tights. And hand warmth was provided by a pair of liner gloves plus a pair of ultra-warm lobster claws. Suffice to say that moving lightly and with grace was a little more difficult than normal.

Let The Races Begin!

So, all well and good. Your marshals for the day were relatively warm and toasty, unless they were positioned on the east side of the street; cars weren’t expected to be a big issue, and the racing would be good. The early racing had the excitement of Team GFNY Racing riders going for it (go go go Thomas, Mike, Juan, Jared and Justin!), the later racers had some real racing action to look forward to.

Did you know: a standard crowd control barrier is 8ft long, 43 inches high, constructed of 16-gauge steel tubing, and weighs approx. 54lbs? No? Well, now you do.

Now, manning the only car crossing point on the course does have benefits on a cold day. For starters, you get some action other than letting people through a 2ft gap in the barriers and stopping crazy delivery guys trying to squeeze through mid-race. You get to deal with itinerant car drivers and their desire to ram the barriers. Stan and I were tasked with this very duty, taking the east and west sides of Claremont & 120th, manning the entrance to and from the Riverside Church car park. It’s the only designated car crossing point, comes at the end of the slight downhill on 120th after the drag up Riverside Drive, and has the advantage of being one of the more fun 90 degree turns taken at real speed. Oh, and you get a constant crowd of people going to and from the church.

The early action for us marshals wasn’t the racing… it was the wind. Because crowd control barriers tied together with Rapha barricade tape have a tendency to get blown over in the wind. And trying to pick up a barrier that weighs 54lbs in a wind that’s battering you at 30-40mph isn’t the easiest challenge in the world. Fortunately, we worked out pretty quick that (a) cutting the tape removes a big source of wind on the barriers, and (b) the barriers were going down at the west end of the street, aka “not our problem”.

Now, unlike people, cars can’t squeeze through a 2ft gap. You actually need to move the entire barrier to let them through. All 54lbs of it. The west side car park entrance was guarded by a single barrier placed at 45 degrees to the road, allowing the racers a great line into the turn. On the east side, Stan (followed by Jared) had one or two barriers to move around to let the cars through, and they had to make a full 90 degree turn. Of course, no real complaints here, as that extra movement did serve to keep us warm. For a bit. And moving 54lbs of steel barrier out of the way is a great way to get an upper body workout, something us cyclists don’t do enough of.

FDNY Joins The Race

That was all fine until we hear the call over the radio in the middle of the Mens 2/3 race: “Fire engine on the course. Exiting on 120th. Neutralize the race”

And then we see the gates on the west end of 120th swing out of the way, followed by the appearance of the first of a number of fire department vehicles. Race neutralized, we leapt into action, moving barriers out of the way to let the 10ft wide trucks out. Except these barriers are hooked together, and not so easy to unhook unless you know the precise angle of unhooking required to get them to part ways. And dragging 108 lbs of barrier out of the way whilst having the maneuverability of the Michelin man and grip strength dulled by hours of arctic temperatures had become a little trickier. Let alone operating the radio to proudly announce a “course clear” – well, that took some work. Fortunately, we were able to announce course clear about 20 seconds after the neutralization, which was great for the racing (and our heart rates)

After the fifth NYC Fire Department came through, we stopped him to ask how many more. “Oh, there’s at least another nine or ten vehicles up there”.

So, this was no mere cat in a tree incident. Nope, an apartment fire at the building next to the course. 15 vehicles despatched. Fifteen. And we had another 10 exit moments to deal with. That’s 1,080 lbs of barriers still to move. Great.

The Elite Races

By this point in the day, the sun had started to go down. The wind picked up again, and we were now down to the last couple of races of the day – the Women’s P/1/2 and the Men’s P/1 race. The good thing about these races is the quality of the racing, and the packs that stay together. Unlike the early races, with riders spread across the course, the top two categories showed what a real peloton could do. Except for the poor guy or gal off the back, who you’d see 2 seconds back one lap, then 10 on the next, then 20, then before they knew it they were a target to be lapped. We got to see the suicidal early moves, the sacrificial lambs sent out to soften up the field, and the racers nailing that 90 degree turn at speed. We had some fun with Jared’s camera, trying different angles. And we persuaded one of the race photographers to practically lie on the course corner to get the perfect photo. Oh the fun life of a marshal.

Today’s lesson in useless information is bought to you by Google, purveyors of all of the useless information you will ever need to write a blog posting.

Packing It In

Racing over for the day, and with little idea of who won what race, we came to the final event. Marshal captain Alex came by to casually ask “Can you guys stack the barriers on the sidewalk? Oh, yeah, you guys probably have the longest stretch – can you cover from the car park entrance up to the corner of 122nd”.

According to google, that’s a distance of approx. 650 ft. With barriers placed every 8ft on both sides of the road, that’s 163 barriers to move. Or 8,900lbs of barriers to move. And there are three of us to move that whole lot.

That’s 1.5 tons of barriers to move. Each. In as short a time as possible, because by now it was getting a little dark, and the marshals were getting a little punchy.

In stacks of 4, the average barrier would have to move 12ft and be lifted up an 8 inch curb. Imagine doing 54 reps of a quad press and upper arm curl-and-hold for 8-10 seconds on a 54lb weight. Yup. That’s a lot of curls. Suffice to say that by the end of that exercise, we were done with the whole lifting thing. So much so that the author has decided to take today as a rest day, and has soreness in his quads, biceps, lower back, shoulders and pretty much everywhere else. Must have been a good work out then.

Oh, and did I mention that it was cold?

Marshaling stats:

  • Food consumed: insufficient – granola and kefir for breakfast, one clif bar, one wafels & dinges bacon & maple waffle, and two hot chocolates
  • Average temperature: 22 degrees
  • Average temperature (real feel): 5 degrees
  • Layers worn: at least 5.
  • Whistle blows: about 20 seconds per minute of racing. That’s 2 hours and 40 minutes of whistle-blowing for those keeping track.
  • Barriers moved per person – about 100 cars, 15 fire trucks and post-race tidy-up, or 220 barrier movements per person. That’s 11,800lbs worth of barriers each. Or 5.94 tons of barriers. Each.

Note to self: next year I’m marshaling park races. And I’ll come to cheer the team along at any crit!

— Gavin Chow, GFNY Racing Team, Cat 5




2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kevin says:

    Wow, that should count for team duty AND double marshalling duty!

    Liked by 1 person

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