WINTER HAVEN, Fla.—For the fifth straight year Cycling Classics Inc. presented the two-day Chain of Lakes Cycling Classic in Central Florida, attracting the best bicyclists in the Southeast to compete on behalf of the Polk County Humane Society.
The two-day event, March 2–3, featured road racing and time trials Saturday and criterium races (and the ever-popular Kids’ Race) in downtown Winter Haven on Sunday.
Criteriums are races around short courses, usually in the heart of cities. Crits offer fans up-close and personal access to the racing action.
For people who have never seen a bike race in person, a crit is an eye-opening experience. Cyclists blast by two feet away at 40-plus mph, creating a draft which can tug your clothing or snatch a hat of your head. And unlike road racing, on a crit course riders come by every ninety seconds or two minutes, so fans can watch the race develop.
Most criterium courses are simple and dull; the Chain of Lakes course offers S-bends and sharp corners, which the riders like better than boring squares.
The Chain of Lakes course is fan-friendly as well. Corners Two and Six are sharp left-hand bends separated by the width of a city street, and both are within a hundred yards of the start/finish line and a few hundred yards of the high-speed right-hand Turn Seven.
A fan can easily watch the start, watch the race from the three most exciting corners on the course, and stroll to the finish line to see the sprint. As an added bonus, by standing or sitting between Two and Seven, fans can see the riders negotiate the most difficult turns in the course twice each lap simply by turning around.
While watching a crit fans can see the strategic side of cycling. Riders try to escape from the pack; sometimes they are let go to tire themselves out, sometimes they are brought back, sometimes only a small group will try to catch the leader and start a breakaway. Other riders might go to the head of the peloton and then slow down, to let team mates in the breakaway make good their escape.
As the race progresses, other riders will watch the gaps and decide when to make their moves—some try to bridge the gap alone, hoping to join the break, while others save their energy and lead a concerted chase in the closing laps.
As the riders come around for the final few circuits, tension rises as chasers cut into the lead, leaders try to push faster top stay away, and everyone wonders if it will all be decided in a bunch sprint. Sometimes the leaders burn themselves out and get caught at the line; sometimes they succeed and take the win. Since it all happens right in front of the fans, every stage of the race can be appreciated.
The Pro 1–2 race offered all these scenarios. For a while small groups got away only to be ridden down; then finally a breakaway got established. Late in the race Steven Perezluha made a titanic effort to bridge across, but he was then too tired to contest the lead. Then in the closing laps Thomas Gibbons lead a mad charge, almost but not quite catching the break.
The race was resolved by a sprint among the breakaway riders, with David Guttenplan taking the win, following up on his win in the road race the day before.
Samantha Heinrich also repeated her road-race success in the in Women’s Cat 1–2 crit, almost lapping the field in the 45-minute race.
Results for all three events can be found online at FloridaCycling.com.
Another Successful Event
The Chain of Lakes Cycling Classic did everything its founders wanted it to do: offered up great racing for both the competitors and the fans, gave the local businesses a boost, got the children a taste of the excitement of competitive cycling, and most important, earned a fair chunk of change for the Polk County Humane Society.
Despite the chilly weather, the racing was excellent. The event was well-organized as always; the races started on time, the competitors, fans and volunteers were well fed, and the medical staff was immediately on the spot for the few crashes which did occur. Everybody involved is already looking forward to next year’s event.
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(all photos James Fish/The Epoch Times)