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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 17
Circular motionThe 805 Criterium race weekend returns to Central Coast
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
Big things were happening in small-town Lompoc and Buellton as closed-off city streets filled with racing cyclists marking the return of the 805 Criterium Race weekend. The race is now pegged as the largest criterium racing weekend in California and one of the biggest in the United States.
Part of a two-day event, the races kicked off in Buellton on a hot June 29 with the Avenue of the Flags Criterium, with commentating by 1984 cycling gold medalist Steve Hegg. The day featured racing cyclists of all skill levels and ages.
But the real excitement began with the late-afternoon professional race that helped highlight the thrill of criterium racing. Such races, held on blocked-off streets, are less than a mile long and last no more than an hour. Despite being shorter than traditional bike races, criterium races are known for their intensity: Riders have to maintain speed throughout the entire race.
Local One-Way Board shop owner and bicycle enthusiast Dave Pankratz came out to race June 29. The One Way team helped push Pankratz to a second-place finish in the Cat 3 race that took place before the pro run. This was Pankratz’s second time racing the Avenue of the Flags.
“We trained by riding a couple days a week, riding for an hour and a half or more,” he said.
Pankratz, who admittedly has a love for action sports, said the appeal of criterium racing comes from the element of danger and the high speeds.
“You can have 30 to 50 guys all trying to take a corner at 25 mph,” Pankratz said. “There is a chance of crashing.”
Race length and time can be determined by a number of laps or total time, monitored as the race progresses. Criterium races are won by the first person to cross the finish line without being “lapped.”
While there is athleticism involved in these kinds of bike races, Pankratz said a lot also depends on strategy.
“It’s all tactics,” Pankratz said. “Your team has to know how to work together.”
Riders also need to have an array of technical riding skills that allow them to take corners smoothly, the ability to attack other riders, and the ability to maintain high speeds while riding with a large group.
“It’s a lot of team work and staying hydrated,” Pankratz said. “You’re suffering, and during the event you wonder why you’re doing it—but when you finish well it makes it all worth it.”
As Pankratz left to celebrate his victory, the cyclists, clad in brightly colored spandex, came around again. They whizzed past the bright orange gates that marked the course. Calling out instructions and encouragement, these endurance demons ride bikes more expensive than some cars.
As a spectator, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to criterium racing. With fast riders, tight corners, and racers going by every minute, the sport offers sudden thrills.
Race director and event coordinator Mike Hecker has dreamed of bringing criterium racing to the Central Coast since he was 14. A native of Santa Ynez Valley and former professional cyclist, he’s been riding bikes since he was 13.
“I’ve ridden all over and in numerous criterium races,” Hecker said. “These events attract thousands of spectators.”
A race promoter for more than 15 years, Hecker said the small town venue on the Central Coast is great for these kinds of races. He introduced the Solvang Criterium in 2005; last year was the inaugural Avenue of the Flags Criterium.
“You want the race in downtown corridors,” Hecker said, explaining why he chose these two cities. “Both of these communities are filled with citizens taking on an active lifestyle.”
This time around, Hecker wanted to expand the race and promote the area even more. With that in mind, the event included a race on Sunday, June 30, in Lompoc for the Valley of Flowers Criterium. At the approach of the event, Hecker said they expected 500 to 600 licensed cyclists and thousands of spectators.
Hecker also joined up with co-proprietor for Firestone Walker brewing, David Walker.
Walker pointed out how unique this event is because it incorporates both Lompoc and Buellton. The proprietor said that when Buellton asked Firestone to sponsor the event, they knew they wanted to be involved.
“The event became more relevant this year,” Walker said. “Our role was to ensure the event was great for spectators.”
Walker and the Firestone crew sponsored the Central Coast’s new “signature cycling event” with the Central Coast signature beer, Firestone “805.” There were also food vendors, bike expos, and a kids’ race area at both events.
“These races are designed to be community friendly,” Hecker said. “It’s a fun time for the entire family.”
Despite it being a cool community event, the appeal comes from watching quality racing in your hometown’s backyard.
“The level of racers that came today—they’re serious about cycling and there was great racer turn-out,” Pankratz said. “The venue is awesome, and it’s amazing that we can have it in Lompoc and Buellton.”
For Hecker, the 805 Criterium Weekend is just the start for this dedicated cycling promoter. In addition to these races being relatively “easy” to put together, Hecker said they also yield positive economic impact with racers and spectators traveling and spending money in the community.
“Buellton and Lompoc are just the start—I eventually want to have a weeklong criterium race,” Hecker said. “It has to be the right time; you have to target smaller communities. Hopefully people will take notice and see that it can be done.”
Staff Writer Kristina Sewell is hell on wheels. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.