Monday, August 10, 2009

Grand Rapids Criterium

Last weekend I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a bicycle race. I was there to watch the mighty Jake do his thing. And he did. (click the photos for larger versions)

The race was held downtown on closed roads. The loop was just over 6/10s of a mile and the pack of around eighty professional races would circle the track for 90 minutes, plus 5 laps. Jake's Spinergy team was represented by only 5 riders. Some teams had more, some had less. Although they work together, only one rider can win.
From Grand Rapids Crit

Early on, one Spinergy-rider was forced wide in a corner and barely avoided crashing. Unfortunately, the incident cost him momentum and he lost contact with the field. At racing speed, the riders were hitting 30 mph on the straights and cornering at around 20. Once you drop off the back of the group, it is virtually impossible to catch up on your own. That left four on the Spinergy team. Their goal was to stay in contact with the ever-changing leaders of the race.
From Grand Rapids Crit

From Grand Rapids Crit

From Grand Rapids Crit

The laps were taking less than 2 minutes and every other lap or so, some ambitious rider would sprint out in front of the group, trying to get a lead. This was usually futile. Wind funneled between the buildings meant at some point on the course, there was a headwind. A rider alone or in a small group has to do a lot more work to maintain speed than a rider in a large group, so the break-aways (as they are called) kept getting caught by the main group. Until around halfway through the race, that is.

That was when a rider named Zirbel accelerated off the front of the group. Zirbel is a very highly ranked nationally and considered a threat by all the other riders hoping to win. Only one rider was able to respond... The Mighty Jake.
From Grand Rapids Crit

The two of them joined forces and showed the rest of the field the meaning of speed. Taking turns drafting, they created a gap between themselves and the rest of the group that was almost a half a lap at one point. A half a lap in front of a field of about fifty professional racers trying to catch them (by now a lot had dropped off).
From Grand Rapids Crit

They took turns drafting each other but it was not that simple. MJ (Mighty Jake) is 5' 10" while Zirbel is 6' 04" tall. The photos really show the difference. They managed to stay away, though the gap would shrink and grow. With one lap to go, Zirbel dug deep into his reserves of power and rode away from Jake. The distance from the final corner to the finish line was about 140 yards. On the podium Zirbel said he wasn't sure he could beat Jake in a sprint over that distance. His extra height and weight would make it tough to accelerate as fast as Jake. His best chance was to use his size and muscle mass to get away and he did. They rounded the final corner with about 20 yards between them, too much for Jake to make up in the short final straight. He took second place with the rest of the field fighting for third, but was also given an award for being the Most Aggressive Rider.
From Grand Rapids Crit

If you get a chance to watch a bicycle criterium in person, please go. Pick a strong looking team and watch the dynamics of the race. Cheer them on, with no motors, the riders can hear what you yell as they pass. And if you are like me, it will inspire you to get on your bike and ride.

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