Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bicycle Races - The Good and the Bad

Europeans have long been enamored of bicyle races, chief among them the Tour de France, but bicycle racing is only in its infancy here in the states. Yesterday, I attended a series of races called the Rochester Criterium, which were held on a one-mile irregular circuit around downtown Rochester.

About 30,000 people showed up to view the spectacle which included four different races and lasted 6.5 hours. The afternoon races were for licensed amateurs, and the evening races were for women and men professionals. Around and around they went, flashing down the straights at up to 45 miles per hour, then slowing to a crazy fast pace to weave around the corners. Just as in the Tour de France, there was a pack and there were breakaways from time to time. The athletes, especially the professionals, were lean as greyhounds and pumped their pedals like brightly colored machines riding on top of machines. Interesting.

I attended the Criterium because my oldest son, now in his mid-forties, has become a bicycle nut. He trains and he races at the lowest level, but he's become engrossed in the fine points of bicycles, training, and racing strategy. Like any sport, cycling has complexities that boggle (or bore)the average person, and now I'm familiar with a few of them. But Kevin was in heaven as the various levels of racers went by us, so fast that they were a blur in my vision. Fortunately there was only one crash, and the fellow walked away with only abrasions, bruises, loose teeth, and $1,500 in damage to his bike. (One piece of trivia is that these carbon fiber bikes can cost up to $20,000.)

So, to sum up. Bicycle racing on a closed course resembles a rock concert with loud music and constant announcing - bring earplugs. The athletes are as conditioned as any I've ever seen, and the skill and strategy is apparent even to the uninitiated. The only downside is that most riding is done in tight packs, since "drafting" reduces effort by about 30% - anyone who takes off on his own is nuts. Hence, the race is won or lost in the last, final sprint as riders break from the pack and race pell-mell to the finish. It's all decided in a few long heartbeats, even though the race may have lasted two hours. Somehow this leaves me unfulfilled; it is much different than watching the drama of a two-hour marathon where individuals struggle and triumph or fade on their own in plain sight. But cycling is a different sport.

No, I didn't take my bike off the rack and take a little spin today. I'm saving my energy for the golf course, where I walk and incidentally, won my first round match play match on Thursday morning. Hooray! Old competitors never die.

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