by Mark Zalewski
I’m sure that you, like me, have explained to your non-cycling friends what a criterium is and the difference between that and the Tour de France — as well hold back your laughter when they ask you if you “think you’ll ever ride the Tour de France someday?” (Seriously, I get that question A LOT.)
But even cycling friends gave me looks when I said that the Tour of Lawrence started with street sprints. “What is that?”
You don’t see these too much at races anymore but they used to be a staple back-in-the-day at races like Quad Cities over Memorial Day.
To give you a visual, think of the critically acclaimed film featuring a feel-good performance by Vin Diesel The Fast and the Furious. It’s a drag race, plain and simple. (Not that kind of a drag race… though this one also features shaved legs.)
200 meters. Three or four riders per heat. An official blows the whistle and you turn yourself inside-out to go as fast as you can. First one or two over the line advance to the next round; the others go and cry in their free locally brewed craft beer. Rinse, wash and repeat.
Oh, but here’s the ‘FUN’ part. It’s not like other races where it’s broken into groups like “Master’s/Women/Category 3/55+…” Oh no my friend, it’s only separated by men and women — otherwise it is OPEN. That’s right kids, you see the rider next to you wearing that Jelly Belly Pro Cycling kit? No, he’s not a ‘fred’ pretending to be a pro; that is Brad Huff, former U.S. National Criterium Champion. So grab your man onions and see how you measure up.
Seriously though, the amount of times Trent has brought up being manhandled by Steve Tilford in 2010 and is sooooo excited to tell everyone about it illustrates just how much fun it is to race against the best. You won’t have this opportunity anywhere else except on Strava.
The Spidermonkeys featured Kelly Clarke and Michelle Moore in the women’s bracket; Brandon Diffenderfer and Hayes Sanborn flew the flag on the men’s side. Oh and someone talked me into doing it at the very last minute, WTF?
The key to a street sprint is the start. You cannot necessarily win it here but you certainly can lose it. It’s also a ‘standing start’ meaning that there is a someone standing behind you to hold your bike, allowing you to clip in — just like a time trial in Le Tour. But unlike a time trial you do not get a surly fat French guy giving you a countdown.
You wait… and wait. And try not to tip over while standing on your pedals waiting for the jackass in lane 2 who cannot clip into the second pedal.
Requisite Teachable Moment:Standing is a better option than staying seated as you will have more power. Hands in the drops is also better as you’ll be pulling damn hard and this allows you to stay over your front wheel more, keeping it on the ground.Gear selection is key as too large a gear and you’ll take longer to get up to speed — too small and you’ll have to shift more frequently which disrupts cadence and increases potential for mis-shifts.Big ring in front, for sure. Brandon gave the small ring a try and had a great start because of it but said he ran out of gears approaching the line.‘Back in the day’ friends of mine would alter their rear cassettes. Instead of having a smooth progression down the cluster (i.e. 23-21-19-17-15-13-12-11) they would put the 21 next to the 15 and 11 so they would only have to shift three times. Though this was before the integrated shifting we have now where it’s all up front, but you see the point — 200 meters is a short distance to do much of anything put pedal your tookas off.
The ladies went first. Both Kelly and Michelle were new to standing starts but learned quickly. (Look at Michelle’s textbook start in the Tour of Lawrence video!) The first round both took a close fourth in their heats. In the second round both again took fourth but not by much. Time for beer.
The gents were up next. We were three-up in our heats and like the ladies the first round was gratis with the results used to seed the second round. Brandon could not wait to go and was in one of the first heats. I looked at my row and saw this: A 20 year-old elite amateur from the Horizon Organic team with a crazy power-to-weight ratio AND Eric Bennett, a professional on the Wonderful Pistachios UCI pro team and former BMX national champion (where getting the ‘hole shot’ is rather vital.) Awesome.
Ok, I did not have the best start and got third in that round but was ONLY a half-wheel from Bennett at the line, so I’m taking that as a win.
Next round I am behind Brandon in the ‘bronze medal’ lane and chatting with Brad Huff, last year’s winner. At that point Brandon does the math and sees that Mr. Huff is in his heat and somewhat jokingly asks if anyone wants to swap spots. (Smart move!) And someone actually does. (Not a smart move.)
In the end we each rode admirably, had fun and broke a sweat doing so, showing that we gave it our all. Or maybe it was the 101F on the bank thermometer?