Competitors gearing up for downtown bike races

The criterium offers a unique course and several skill levels.
Sunday, June 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:58 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

Spectators will line the course as the pack roars around the corner, and for a few hours it will be all about pure speed.

It won’t be NASCAR or the Kentucky Derby, though. It will be cycling.

The Columbia Cup Criterium is today with events beginning at 8:30 a.m. and going until after 3 p.m.

The Cup, a series of eight races, winds through downtown and part of the University of Missouri campus in a figure-8 pattern, challenging cyclists with such surfaces as hills and cobblestones. The start/finish line is at Peace Park.

Josh Johnson, a Columbia racer and part of Big Shark Racing out of St. Louis, said races that have a figure-8 course are typically more intense than other races because the laps are shorter.

“They tend to be a little faster and there are less slow periods because there are more corners,” Johnson said. “It is more exciting.”

Johnson said there are similarities between NASCAR and cycling.

“They are on a closed circuit,” Johnson said. “It is a big group and they use similar tactics like drafting, some leading the laps and some not leading the laps, and they can have wild crashes. It is an exciting event.”

The track runs slightly less than a mile and each race has a different amount of time on the course. The times increase as the rider’s skill levels increase.

The Cup, previously called the Lakota Cup, should have about 50 riders for the more professional races and 20 to 40 riders for the others.

Racers will compete for prizes up to $250. Johnson said it is a great event for the family to watch.

“It is very mellow,” Johnson said. “It is like a cross country meet. There aren’t any stands or paid seats. It is exciting like NASCAR because there is the potential for crashes, but it can also be slow and boring. It is a neat family day.”

Race director Andy Schutte agrees.

“It is cool to watch,” Schutte said. “Really, watch how the pack progresses, how the stronger people break away and how teammates block for others; it’s strategy.”

Cycling, like any other sport, comes with injuries.

“Crashes are usually caused by riders themselves,” Schutte said. “In the heat of competition it is hard to pay attention to everything around you when you’re giving out such an effort.”

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