That annual rite of spring for racing cyclists in the southeast occurred last Saturday night. For years top level professional and amateur cyclists from around the country decend upon Athens, GA for one of the top criteriums in the country. With over 40,000 spectators lining the .6 kilometer course, a good result at the Twilight Criterium can make a riders career. Twilight, as it is affectionately known, also hosts a pro/am women’s event as well as an amateur final race and a unique mountain bike criterium. The amatuers race qualifying races in the morning in order to earn their spot in front of the enormous crowd that is waiting for them in the evening. The Twilight Criterium also marks the beginning of Speedweek, a 8 event in 9 day series of races on the national calendar, held at various locations throughout Georgia and South Carolina.
Bike racing in the rain - Mike Buechel making it happen during speed week
While my Twilight didn’t go as well as I had hoped, I got 37th in the 1,2 qualifier on Saturday morning (the event qualified 35), the following race in Roswell on Sunday did turn out a bit better, if not considerably wetter. The sky had been threatening rain all day on Sunday and as luck would have it, the rain started heavily as the gun went off for the masters event. After slipping badly on the first corner, I decided to bide my time near the back, hoping not to take anyone or myself out by crashing on the wet pavement. Slowly, lap after lap, one rider after another would either join me at the back, but soon fall off the pace. I, however, was managing this position quite well and as I watched the field size dwindle, it felt that I was getting a better handle on the handling of the bike in the wet. With two laps remaining I pushed the envelope ever so slightly in the corners and on the last lap blew past riders on the back stretch as they died on the 3% ramp. I found myself 6th out of the last corner and that’s where I stayed to the line. Not bad considering the weather and the temps in the low 50’s.
Tuesday I decided that racing is still a lot of fun and decided to head to Tybee Island, GA for its inaugural event in Speedweek. Suprisingly or not I actually felt pretty good after the 4 hour drive. That was until I saw former Olympian Jamie Carney warming up for the Masters race. Since I actually know Jamie, but haven’t seen him for a few years, I was a bit surprised at his appearance; long blond curly hair circa 1985. “Jaime?” I pried. Yes it was him. Damn, I thought a Tuesday race wasn’t going to be that bad. Not to worry though, the course was flat, although quite narrow and rough and there was a strong wind blowing off the ocean right in your face coming out of turn 3 and into turn 4. Two riders I know from Atlanta were also in the event, one of which happens to be my attorney. We would watch out for each other during the race. Within 3 laps there was one rider off, and Jamie bridged shortly after that and they were gone, leaving the rest of the field to duke it out for 3rd. A couple attempts at breaks were reeled back, but the efforts shattered the field on the narrow course and we were constantly passing lapped riders. Riding into the last lap, I decided to take over and lead out for the field sprint for my friends from Atlanta. I ended up holding on for 5th while they got 3rd and 4th. Not so bad.
One more race this weekend in Sandy Springs for me. Will update you after that, looks like rain again. Should be fun.
Ride report by: Mike Buechel