Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | June 5, 2012

A Nice Day for a Criterium Race (if you’re into that kind of thing)

Skydiving. Rock climbing. Criterium racing. What do all these things have in common? I’d never do them, even if you paid me.

And it’s not because they’re too difficult – for skydiving, all you have to do is jump out of a plane – but I just don’t see the appeal. People say skydiving is a rush, but to me it just seems like a rush to possible death. Rock climbing sounds challenging, but lacking in scenery, since you have to face the rock the whole time, looking for places to put your fingers and toes. (The fact that I have Flintstone feet would probably make it hard to squeeze my bulky toes into those little crevices). And criterium racing? I’d always be one turn away from a trip to the ER.

In case you don’t know what criterium racing is (or “crit” racing, to use the proper lingo), it’s when cyclists race a loop course on city streets. Usually the course is short, just less than a mile, and the riders go around. And around. And around. And around. Unlike velodrome racing, which is on a bike track, these cyclists are on regular roads, complete with potholes, sewer grates, and tight corners. And that’s the scary part: being in a pack of cyclists, taking a turn. All you need is one person to make a mistake and next thing you know, there’s a cast involved.

Not to mention, it’s hard to take in the scenery when you’re in a pack of 20 riders navigating a tight course at high-speed. What’s the point of going for a bike ride if you can’t gawk at the real estate? Fortunately, criterium races are great for spectators, which is exactly what I was at the Glencoe Grand Prix this past weekend.

The GGP is part of the National Criterium Calendar and it attracts professional racers from all over the world. This year, athletes came from as far away as Argentina, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. Fortunately, there were also plenty of races for local non-pro riders, including my friend Nan Doyal, who came in 3rd in the Women’s Category 4 group. Because this race was the Illinois State Championship race, that earned her the bronze medal. And this was only her second crit race. Clearly, she’s talented. And possibly crazy for even wanting to do crit races, but I mean crazy in a good way.

It was a clear, sunny, warm day, perfect for riding. But it was even better for standing on the sidelines, cheering and taking pictures while nursing a cold beverage. And that’s the best way to partake in one of these crazy sports.

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