Give Criteriums a Chance
Saturday, April 13, 2013--A criterium race is like a road race on steroids. Fun, fun, and some more fun on the side…even if you couldn’t care less about cycling. Food trucks were set up everywhere with classic staples: piping hot funnel cakes, brats, hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and pickles. A lot of college students were out and about at Tattnall Square, wearing their indie clothes, dancing to the live music or sitting on their large blankets spread out on the lawn. Everyone lounging at Tattnall Square looked at peace, liberated and free-spirited. It was the place to be on a beautiful Saturday. Whaling voices, thundering bass, and electric guitar solos invaded the airwaves and almost drowned out the rushing noise of the bicycles zooming past at 20+ mph speeds. The racers definitely broke the 30 mph speed limit posted at Tattnall Square, but no one seemed to mind. Music, food, dancing, and bicycles...criterium racing may be my new favorite thing ever! For a spectator, a criterium race offers so much more than a road race. At a road race, the racers take off and the spectator may see the riders once in a while or not see them again until they reach the finish line. A criterium, on the other hand, goes in a loop, usually no more than a mile, offering many chances to view the action while also leaving a lot of time for socializing with friends and enjoying one’s self.
When I first arrived at the Macon Cycling Classic Criterium, I immediately saw Team Mission-Source and went over to say hello. The team was smiling and in good spirits, and Steve Riley told me the exciting news: "Peter Smith just won the Category 4 race!" The race officials had to look at the picture taken at the finish line to even be able to tell who won. It was very close. Justin Meschler (Big Ring Racing, Inc.) came across the finish line 2nd, barely missing 1st place. Coming in 2nd place is wonderful, but what heartache to miss it by a couple of inches. (I feel like listening to Def Lepard’s “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” just because I know that had to hurt.) What led to this amazing finish? A breakaway formed with only 9 laps left to go. The breakaway was 5 strong, and Team Mission-Source had two members in the breakaway: Peter Smith and Steve Riley. For the very last lap, Steve Riley pulled the breakaway until the very last corner before the finish line, giving his teammate, Peter, a much needed break. Just as planned, at the last corner, Peter sprinted towards the finish line. Everyone else in the breakaway had the same idea and sprinted at the corner as well, but Peter still managed to reach the finish line first! What an incredible demonstration of teamwork from Team Mission-Source. It just shows the importance of teamwork and strategy in competitive cycling…and how every inch counts!
The next race, Masters 45+, was a completely different scenario, and honestly, still leaves me slightly puzzled. The race definitely demonstrated a lot of strategy with slightly less emphasis on teamwork, as the winner, Kirk Corsello (Century Road Club Association/Lupus Racing Team), actually had no other teammates at all racing with him. I feel like that should be repeated or in big red bold letters. How did he do it? Well, it helps that he is crazy strong, but his strategy involved attempting a breakaway on only lap 2. When I asked Kirk why he tried to breakaway, he explained that if someone went with him on a breakaway, he would reap the benefits of his competitor’s team. The competitor’s teammates would most likely try to slow down the pace, what racers call soft pedaling, and block people from trying to jump onto the breakaway. If the breakaway formed, Kirk would have had less of a disadvantage from not having a team with him, especially since Kirk is a sprinter. That is important because it means Kirk would have only one guy to compete with at the finish line instead of the entire peloton. However, the breakaway did not form. No one joined Kirk, so he rejoined the peloton. I asked the 2nd place winner, Steve Carrel p/b Peachtree Bikes later why he did not join him on a breakaway, as Steve was at the very front of the peloton when Kirk attempted the breakaway, and Steve replied, “I wanted there to be a field sprint at the end of the race, and I knew Kirk didn’t have any teammates to help him out the entire race.” Although Peachtree Bikes Racing Team had the advantage, they did not underestimate Kirk even though he was a lone ranger in the field. Steve clearly stated his team’s strategy: “We knew Kirk was the strongest sprinter out there, our strategy was to attack every chance we could. Beat him [Kirk] to death. Attack every chance we could.” Despite Peachtree Bikes Racing Team’s strategy, Kirk positioned himself at the front of the peloton when it came time for the field sprint. With the peloton right behind, the scene seemed to play out in slow motion although the speeds were surely 20 mph+. Kirk and Steve went head to head sprinting with everything their legs had left, and even though it was a good effort put out from both parties and super close, Kirk sprinted slightly faster to cross the finish line first and staked his claim on the coveted state championship jersey!
It appeared to me that one way that Kirk coped with racing alone was his corning technique. I noticed that he rode the white line of the right side of the road on every corner, so I asked him why. He explained, “Since I am by myself, I can only watch one side, so the way I get around this is by taking the corner close to the curb so that I can watch if anyone is trying to pass me on my left side. No one can pass on my right so I all I have to worry about is my left side.” It is also notable that Kirk’s corning was very fast, appearing to use very little brake and positioning himself to take the corner before other riders. Although Kirk’s corning looked very dangerous because of the speed at which he took the sharp turns, his strategy paid off, but beginners beware: Most wrecks happen at the corners! With all corners made with racers intact in this race, it was truly spectacular to watch.
The Women 1-2-3 also had a surprising outcome. I will try to not give away the ending. First of all, this was the very first time that I ever saw women racing on their road bikes…much less a team of women racers. I had went to the Perry Roubaix Road Race, but there was only one female racer, so I was beside myself happy to see a lot of women racing in Macon. I probably sounded as excited as a five year old on Santa’s lap when I went to Louis Garneau Factory Racing Team’s tent. They were all on their trainers getting their legs warmed up, and I smiled and told them I was rooting for them and how happy it made me to see strong women representing the sport. I asked if they had a strategy and Lee Fargbaugh looked at me, smiled and replied, “We do, but if I tell you, I will have to kill you.” I chuckled, shook my head and agreed to wait till after the race to learn the strategy. Cheerfully, I waved good-bye and wished them good luck, and I walked away to get a good spot to watch their race that was just about to start. I watched them go off to race and the whole race seemed pretty straight forward--no true breakaways. I saw that the LG Factory Racing Team was taking turns attacking and they were the largest team in the race and very noticeable with their awesome black and pink kits. I knew they were going to win…just knew it…until something unexpected, yet remarkable, happened that changed the whole race. Martha Hall (Coweta Cycling p/b Beckjanitorial.com), no teammates in the race at all, hidden the whole race within the peloton, took off at the second corner, attacked up the hill and sprinted all the way to the finish line in first place! I couldn’t believe it. Martha Hall, a cat 3 racer just won the race!!! My heart broke for the LG Factory Racing Team, but for Martha, I was overjoyed by her victory. I talked to Martha later and she was ecstatic about her win—her fifth road cycling race in her life! She is a triathlete and says that swimming helps with her biking, but I am also certain that cycling with her strong male teammates helps a lot. They usually ride around 45 miles and average 24+ mph, and her teammates vouch that she has no problem keeping up with them. Martha’s teammates were right there cheering her along at the finish line and surrounded her after her 1st place victory. Her recovery ride for the next day, Three Gap—a fifty mile bike ride in the North Georgia Mountains; you have to be strong for Three Gap to be your recovery ride. If the LG Factory Racing Team had to get beaten, I am glad it was by someone as strong as Martha! We’ll see what happens next time. LG Factory Racing Team admits that their strategy didn’t work this time, but promises that next time things will be very different!
I had a superb time at the Macon Cycling Classic Criterium, enjoying the entire atmosphere and the exciting races. You should definitely go to this event next year! I wish this event happened once a month because it was so much fun! Thank you to everyone who took the time to talk to me, and I wish all the racers well!