Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, June 25 newspaper on Page A3.
Bicycling might seem straightforward from the untrained eye, but there are many insider terms, tricks and strategies used by riders in professional races that add to the excitement.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how the Athens Brick Criterium was set up, as well as some brief information about biking.
A “criterium” is a circuit race with the length of the race based upon a time limit. Race officials gain an idea of what an average lap is after measuring the first few, and use that to extrapolate how many laps left there are.
The fastest laps were around 80 to 90 seconds during Saturday’s 0.6-mile course around uptown Athens.
Criteriums usually involve a high degree of technical skills, such as the steep turn from Congress Street onto Union Street (which announcers called “the hot corner”), and the added difficulty of bricks. Many riders lowered the pressure of their tires to help with grip on the hills and bricks.
There were nine total races held Saturday, with several categories associated with the races. There are five main categories, 1 through 5 — the lower the number, the more proficient the rider. Participants begin their racing careers in Category 5, and must complete a set amount of races to move into a Category 4, and so on.
With more-experienced categories come greater race lengths and tougher competition. Points are awarded over time that help determine what category a rider is placed within.
There is also a Masters category, which is reserved for cyclists with years of experience. Saturday’s Masters race featured three categories: 35 and older, 45 and older, and 55 and older.
Criteriums are also unique because of the short course length. This can lead to slower riders getting “lapped” by the front of the field. On Saturday, those who were lapped several times were called off the course and their races ended prematurely. This is because of the presence of a pace car which drives ahead of the top riders — passing “lapped” riders on the narrow course can be dangerous. A separate official on a motorcycle handled calling lapped riders off the course throughout the race.
The same people drove the pace car and official motorcycle during the entire day to prevent any change between races and allowing for an even playing field to all riders. These drivers went upwards of 25 to 30 miles per hour on the closed-circuit course, an entertaining sight for those spectating on the sharp corners.
Winning cyclists received prizes for their participation after paying the registration fee. The highest registration fee was for the women’s and men’s Pro races, at $50 per rider. Those races awarded nearly $2,000 to the winners. Earlier races in lower categories received Athens merchandise swag, and some race winners received Athens bricks.