Putnam may be the second smallest county in the state, but it has landed a big honor by being named the only U.S. community to be part of a prestigious international bicycling tour. “It’s not the Tour de France,” says Libby Pataki, Putnam County’s director of tourism (and wife of former New York governor George Pataki). “But it is very exciting. The other community being considered was Lenox, Massachusetts, so the fact that they chose us really puts Putnam County on the map.”
The Putnam Cycling Classic has been around, in various forms, for more than a dozen years. But this year for the first time, the May 5 race serves as a qualifying event for the UCI World Cycling Tour, which has its championships in Trento, Italy in September. So while the 68-mile race attracts top-notch Masters racers from around the globe, it is also open to weekend warriors who simply want to enjoy a challenging ride in a beautiful setting. “It’s a Gran Fondo-style event,” says Pataki, noting that these mass cycling races open to professionals and amateurs alike have long been popular in Europe and are similar in scope to running marathons. “It’s a high-level event, and the course has been professionally designed,” Pataki says.
Beginning and ending in Cold Spring, the route climbs 1,800 feet as it weaves through all six towns in the county. There is also a 37-mile ride with 900 feet of elevation gain. Both rides are fully serviced with technical support and feed zones. “Putnam is still extremely rural,” says Pataki. “We have gently rolling hills and quite a network of reservoirs; a tremendous proportion of the route is along these waterways. It’s quite scenic.”
Finishing strong: Participants in last year’s Putnam Cycling Class cross the finish line in Cold Spring
For the second year in a row, Metro-North offers a “Putnam Classic Express.” This train leaves Grand Central Terminal at 7:50 a.m., and
after a one-hour trip, drops riders at the starting line. “Last year we had 228 riders, and most of them came up from the city,” says Pataki. “[The train] will really appeal to international visitors, as many of them will be staying in New York City.”
Of course, many riders will opt to stay in local hotels and B&Bs, too. “We’ll also be looking for host families for some of the international riders and organizers,” says Pataki, commenting that she and the former governor plan to open their Garrison home for this purpose. In conjunction with the race, the Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce sponsors a weekend street festival in Cold Spring on May 4-5. “It’s the weekend before Mother’s Day,” says Pataki. “Who wouldn’t want to be outside, buying flowers, enjoying the scenery?”
For the kids, an old local tradition is being revived. “Scoop the Loop” is a half-mile children’s bicycle race held near Cold Springs’s riverside gazebo. “They race around three or four little streets, and they can also paint their bicycles if they want. It’s really fun,” says Pataki. And of course, having a good time is what this two-day bike bash is all about. While there will be some famous cyclists in attendance (including three-time world champion Erwin Verbecken, and two-time world champ Anne Marie Miller), the weekend is really about celebrating the growth of bike riding at all levels. “Cycling as a recreational sport is growing exponentially,” says Pataki, noting that there is a new bicycle shop in Patterson. “It’s just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”