(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
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A criterium is a short road race on a circuit — usually city streets — closed to traffic. A mass start, high-speed cornering and sprinting make the criterium exciting for participants and spectators alike, say advocates of the sport.
The whir and buzz of bicyclists hitting speeds of nearly 30 mph echoed in downtown Sunday as nearly 150 competitors challenged the 10-block Vancouver Courthouse Criterium.
Experienced racer Heather VanValkenburg, 37, of Vancouver said the crit was not her best effort but noted, "My teammate, Amy Campbell (of Portland), won the race."
VanValkenburg, a sixth-grade teacher at Daybreak Middle School in Battle Ground, described the course with its eight turns.
"It's start, turn, you're going, turn," she said. "It's a good course because it has character in it. … Having eight corners makes it
a really technical course." She competed in the Senior Women's category on her Parlee Z5 bike, worth $5,000.
There were nine racing categories and all racers flew by the courthouse at 12th and Franklin streets. City streets were closed and spectators watched from sidewalks, behind yellow police tape.
A portion of the proceeds went to the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver and students started the event with a tandem ride.
"It's an adrenaline rush," racer Zach Bowden, 20, said. He finished sixth of 29 racers in the men's Category 3. "Turning like that and having my body at such an angle. Everything goes by so quickly."
The Union High grad is a sophomore at Washington State University in Pullman. He is a civil engineering major but he'd like to be a professional bicycle racer.
What's it like in the pack?
"Bumping elbows, jockeying for your spot, fighting to stay up in the front," he explained."
"I've had some bad crashes," Bowden said. He represented Washington State in May at the Collegiate National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah. "I took 56th" of 130 racers, he said.
"You just hope they don't have an accident," said Mary Holland of northwest Vancouver, who was sitting on 12th Street watching the races. She was waiting for her son, Steve Holland, 52, to race in the masters division.
"I'm hoping to win," said Holland, who grew up in Vancouver and recently moved to Portland.
"He has quite a history," his mother noted.
Holland won the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association's Best All-Around Rider championship in 2004.
He won Sunday, too, averaging 25 mph for the 45-minute test on his 20-speed Felt bike.
Does he worry about crashes?
"That's everybody's biggest fear," Holland said. "The saying is, keep the rubber-side down."
Kelli Schauer of east Vancouver wasn't racing but she had all the details. She was the assistant judge, recording speeds, laps and positions of riders. She said she's been to many races because her husband, Tim, and son, Trevor, are avid racers.
Colby Wait-Molyneux, 18, a Skyview High graduate and top racer, said he was not able to do his best at the crit, as he also raced Saturday.
"We go just under 30 mph," he said of the Figure 8 course. "One guy on a corner blew his tire out. It's loud when it goes."
"It's cool to have a crit close to my house," Wait-Molyneux added.
Some racers were "pulled" after being lapped. Christopher McKinnon, 17, of Union High was one of them.
"This is my first full year of racing," McKinnon said.
At lap 14, he was asked to drop out.
"A lot of it is they (other riders) had better technique. I couldn't corner as well," he said.
But he will keep racing because "it's exhilarating."
"It's a good course. This is the seventh year," said Charlie Warner of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association. The race director and promoter said the crit will be back next year and he hopes to fit into downtown Vancouver's tourism plans and make the event bigger with food vendors and a kids area.
If you want to watch racing most any summer night, Chip Sloan, 37, of the Hough neighborhood said to check out races at the Velodrome at Portland's Alpenrose Dairy.
"It's fun. It's a little nerve-racking sometimes," Sloan said of speeding around the track.