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Criterium postcards

April 15, 2013
Julian Kyer (Bissell) leads the Pro 1 2 field in the Louisville Criterium

Julian Kyer (Bissell) leads the Pro 1 2 field at the 2013 Louisville Criterium in Colorado

The first thing you notice about a criterium is the riders’ speed, how they hold velocity through corners. Cars can’t negotiate the same turns at the racers’ twenty-seven mile-per-hour average speed.

My first criterium as a spectator was the Tour of Somerville on Memorial Day in 1999. Such an amazing introduction to criterium racing should have hooked me.

With a 70-plus year-old history, the central New Jersey race is rightly legendary. Past winners include Steve Bauer (1980), Davis Phinney (1984), Julian Dean (1996), and last year’s victor, Luke Keough of UnitedHealthcare.  Eric Wohlberg, currently Performance Director for the Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies team, won in 1999. My friends and I had a photo taken with him.

Even as the speed of the pack amazed me, I left Somerville thinking “Eh. Kind of boring, around and around and around.”

Twelve years later I interviewed a Team Type 1 Development rider, Stradford Helms. He described criterium racing as very intense, with a focus on not wasting energy – sticking to the fast wheels ahead of you to maintain speed through turns.

“There’s mayhem, people going all over,” he said. “Staying near the front is super hard.”

Maybe, I thought, I’ve misjudged criteriums.

A couple of weeks ago I arrived at a local criterium near Boulder in Louisville, Colorado just in time for the start of the cat 3 race. It woke me up to the beauty of criterium racing.

The gust of wind that blows back your hair accompanied by a steely freewheeling buzz each time the pack passes.

The ever-changing slinky shape of the riders. Now compact. Now strung out. Leaders changing almost every two minute 0.7 mile lap.

Verbal and eyeballs-only conversations from groups of two or three in a break-away or within the pack. Plotting. Checking in. Lying about what’s left in the tank.

The look back of riders off the front. What’s the gap. Anyone trying to chase? Calculating chances to stay away and win.

The Louisville cat 3 race had it all, with the added bonus of second and third place finishers about one-half as old as the winner.

Here’s a pictorial replay.

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From → Essays, Road Racing

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