What is a Criterium (Crit for short) style bicycle race?
The race course is closed to traffic, typically less than a mile in distance and is characterized by sharp corners and speeds of over 30 mph. The Sunny King Criterium will feature a 1 mile course, which covers a large square downtown: From the intersection of Noble Street and 11th street (the Start/Finish) travel east on 11th to Wilmer. Turn left (north) on Wilmer to 13th street. Turn left (west) on 13th, crossing Noble to Gurnee. Turn left (south) on Gurnee to 11th street. Turn left (east) on 11th and complete the loop at 11th and Noble. Racers will speed around this course for a set number of minutes (some races are 30 minutes. The more advanced races are 60 minutes in duration). The first cyclist to cross the finish line on the last lap when time runs out wins.
How to watch the Sunny King Criterium
Half the fun is seeing the spectacle up close. You can see the sweat forming on the riders’ faces, you can hear the humming of the tires gripping the pavement, and you can feel the gust of wind created as the silent freight train blows by at almost 40 mph. Most of the action will be at the Start/Finish venue at 11th and Noble Street intersection. This is also where A Taste of Noble restaurant festival is taking place. However, we recommend that you take a walk around the race course in the opposite direction of the race and check out the pack of riders as they take corners at 30 mph. While the largest crowd will be at the Start/Finish, you may find another nice place to watch somewhere else on the course.
The racers love to hear from the fans. Pick out a team or rider number and cheer him or her on. This not only shows hometown hospitality, but it also causes the racers to surge at faster speeds!
Why is everybody racing in a tight bunch?
This “bunch” is called the “Peloton.” Bicycle racers go faster and save energy by drafting one another—just like NASCAR! When you see the Peloton stretch out in a long line like a snake, that means the pace has picked up and racers are having a tough time “hanging on.” When the Peloton is bunched up in a crowd (as opposed to a long extended line) as they race, the pace has likely slowed some—and that’s when a breakaway is most likely!
What is a Breakaway?
Racers will use this tact (racing out ahead and away from the pack of riders) to keep the outcome of the race from being determined by a dangerous mass sprint to the Finish. Many breakaways fail because the main pack (Peloton) works together efficiently to chase the breakaway riders down and bring them back into the Peloton. Corners, however, can help a breakaway survive because they generally slow the Peloton down more so than a small group breakaway. Either way, breakaways typically include some riders who are going for the win as well as support riders making sure their team is represented in case the breakaway stays out front.
Regardless of who wins, you can be sure the winner is an exceptionally conditioned athlete. The very nature of the sport requires years of intense training for the top level racers. Cyclists must possess speed, strength, endurance, and be willing to take risks to win a race!
Are there team tactics?
Yes. Most riders are part of a team with one or two designated “leaders,” or riders capable of winning the race. The rest of the team protects the leader from crashes, keeps them near the front of the Peloton, and positions them for the final sprint to the finish.
What’s the bell ringing all about at the Start/Finish area?
During the course of a race, the bell signals to racers and spectators that there will be a sprint contest (or “prime”—pronounced “preem”) for money when racers cross the Start/Finish line on the very next lap. This is sort of a “race within a race.” Sponsors provide the funding for these primes. While primes don’t have an effect on the final outcome of the race, their presence causes the pack of riders to surge must faster as they race around the course to win the prime on the next Start/Finish crossing.
What does Cat 5, Cat 4, Cat 3, Cat 2 and Pro 1 mean?
Racers progress to different levels (or Categories—or Cat for short) of race levels. Racers must be licensed with the United States Cycling Federation in Colorado Springs, CO in order to race. This licensing process records the Category for which a racer can enter a race. Cat 5 racers are all beginners. While they are better conditioned and are well advanced above most recreational cyclists, they are considered as entry level racers. Racers are promoted to Cat 4 when they have raced multiple Cat 5 races and maybe placed in a few races. Cat 4 would be considered “intermediate”-level racing. It is more difficult to make it to the Cat 2 & 3 level and above. Cat 3 would be considered “advanced” and these races are generally average faster speeds. Cat 1 and Professional-class racers are the top level of the sport.
What do I bring with me to the races?
You may want to bring a lawn chair so that you won’t be standing the whole time. There will be French fencing to separate you from the bike racers, but you can see through the fencing while seated. Bring an umbrella and/or rain gear if it looks like showers. Remember, even if it rains, these guys will keep racing! The races take place later in the afternoon, so sun screen should not be needed. Bring your camera and/or video camera. This stuff is exciting—and who knows---you might see someone like Lance Armstrong! Bring some cash. You will want to eat at the A Taste of Noble restaurant festival ($10 for adults and $5 for children) and there will be Wright Dairy ice cream for sell and specialty coffee for sell. Lastly, BRING YOUR FRIENDS! THIS WILL BE A GREAT EVENING TO BE OUTDOORS!