It’s 9 PM on a Sunday evening just north of the Metro area. Brandon and I pull into the National Sports Center parking lot and head into the large gymnasium just about a block away from the local velodrome. It’s not track season yet, but a growing number of local cyclists are making Sunday nights in the late winter their night for racing. No, we’re not talking pugsley track or trainer sprints, we’re talking about the Grass Criterium Series.
Minnesota can be harsh to local roadies who often spend long sessions spinning with the same four walls around them and a well worn tape of the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. Fortunately, last year, local race promoter Chris Smith came up with the idea to use the National Sports Center’s grass-like indoor soccer field as a course for an all-weather, any time race. With a decent following and enough interest to keep it going – James Tainter, Tim Mulrooney and Mario Macaruso took up the banner this year promoting a series of criterium style courses on Sunday evenings. No longer would MN roadies have to look on Twitter only to find those from warmer climes taunting us – now we had our own early season race.
Brandon’s been itching to get in the race, but due to our late arrival he had resigned himself to chatting up the crowd. It’s my first time at the course, and I’m intrigued by the ‘turf’ which the race presides on. I put my hand down and feel the black pebbles which are kicked up by the tires and lend the interesting feel that the racers tell me about – among them Tim Sproul (Cat 3 Road, Cat 2 Track) who talked of the traction characteristics. Sproul had chosen to rock a Pugsley during the B Race and despite the larger tires, was doing quite well. The Pugs ‘floated’ over the pebble debris allowing Sproul better handling and the ability to keep his momentum through corners. In his words, “it cornered awesome and there wasn’t a lot of scrubbing speed during coasting (as with the road bike)”.
Watching Sproul dominate in a 20 meter sprint while a man in a much lighter Giant TCX tried in vain to catch him was just good bike racing.
With the B races thoroughly dominated by Bryan Gerding of Freewheel Bike fame and the A races handily wrapped up it’s time for the main event – Worlds. Brandon has managed to sweet talk himself into the race and finds himself in the A group which starts at a disadvantage for the sake of the B’s. Right off from the gun, two racers take off looking to grab their moments of glory. Bryan Gerding and another man fight to the front in hopes of holding off the main group. The other takes the first lap – one dollar for his prize along with a perfectly excecuted victory salute – he’s won his race. Bryan keeps up the pace but looks back only to see the eventual winner, Jon Toftoy, drilling it. Toftoy makes quick work and with his burst of speed succeeds in lapping the field (the first of more than a few times). His mark made on first, the race is now for second.
Michael Moriarity, the current category 3 criterium champion, finds himself in a duel for that position. Back and forth he goes with his opponent – Keith Bianchi, trying to keep the pace through the leg sapping 25 laps. Other racers are quickly removed to make room for the last eight, and the field is disintegrated. With the final sprint, Moriarity goes hard from the final corner and takes second place with Bianchi close behind for third. An amazing effort by the criterium champion and one can only think of where his form might be come the State Crit this next season.
The season finished, the riders go to feast on free goodies provided by Freewheel in the concession stand. The spirits are high as the prizes are passed around and the raffle is sounded off for Twin Six and other sponsor gear. With the 2011 championship taken by Jon Toftoy – will the series continue next winter to see the stripes taken off his back?
Brandon and I pack up before the festivities are over. The linoleum and cinder block hallways are lined with bikes of different makes and models. Sproul’s Pugs, a couple All City Nature Boys (one with fenders, classy fella…), and a few bikes that are worth more than I’d care to think about. The air is crisp and cool outside, but much warmer than in weeks past. This season is finished, but the change in the weather tells us that the fun is just about to begin.