Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pittsburg Twilight Criterium

Yesterday afternoon Matt and I headed out to Pittsburg to check out the pro races at the inaugural Pitt Crit. I'd heard about it through an Active Schwaggle for a discount on the related run, but I had never heard of a crit. Since my sister has become a big fan of cycling since living in Europe (or maybe before that; I can't recall), I asked her about them. I guess she'd never been to one, but she had heard they are fun because the racers go round and round the same course so you can see them frequently. Apparently they are also often staged.

Anyway, the event was free and offered a free shuttle from BART, so we figured we could check it out. We arrived at the Pittsburg BART station around 5:50pm and saw no sign of a shuttle or even a sign telling where the shuttle would be. Eventually a school bus pulled up, but it didn't pull into a loading slot until 6:15 or so. At that point we finally noticed two haphazardly taped Pitt Crit posters on the back of the bus. There had been no markings anywhere else - on the sides or front. We asked the driver if she was headed to the Pitt Crit and turns out she was. At 6:20 we took off, Matt and I being the only two passengers. We made a drive-by of the municipal parking lot and found no other passengers to pick up, so proceeded on to the event. We were dropped off at an unmarked, nondescript residential corner, although within hearing of the race; the pro women had just started at 6:35.

(The women in the daylight)

Well the number of passengers on the shuttle turned out to be indicative of the number of spectators at the event: not very many. The course was in no way lined with spectators - there were spectators in the tens around the start/finish line, so we popped right up to the fence and checked it out. I should mention that we had no idea how long these races lasted; I assumed that because some of the earlier races were only 30 minutes apart, they must not be that long. After standing at the fence watching for 20 minutes, we learned there were still 50 minutes left, so we decided to walk around the course and check out Old Town Pittsburg.

(Notice the utter lack of spectators)

I should also mention that these ladies were going fast! They appeared to be practically sprinting and would be doing so for 1:15 total. One racer had broken away from the pack and was leading by around 15 seconds for a long time, while the rest of the racers were in a pretty good pack. However, apparently the officials remove laggards at their discretion, so the main pack generally gets smaller but without leaving stragglers. We saw a lot of drop-outs in the women's race.

I am baffled by the sport in general. Apparently the race is totally based on time until the last 8 laps, so in theory it doesn't matter how fast the race is; the race is all based on strategy. The people at the front of the pack are always talking to each other about how or when they should go after anyone who has broken away from the pack. And of course it is polite to take turns leading and drafting.

At any rate, we started walking around Old Town Pittsburg, which was a sorry sight. We eventually found an over-price Italian restaurant with a patio overlooking the race course, so we stopped there for dinner. There were so few people around that when a crew member figured out that the speaker in front of us had not been plugged in, he turned around to ask us if we wanted it on or not. Yes - it was apparently our own private speaker.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the race. The break-away lady was eventually swallowed up by the pack, but at the very end of the last lap, she and her teammate busted toward the finish-line for a 1-2 finish (the break-away lady finishing 2nd to her favored teammate). Definitely could have been staged, but still fun.

Well the women's race was only a taste of what was to come. The men's race was crazy! There were so many more in the field, and it was going so fast that the pack was often strung out single-file, reaching at least 1/4 way around the 1k track. (Well maybe not, but pretty far.) Two of the favorites eventually pulled way out front. They were caught for awhile but eventually re-emerged, finishing about 1/2 a lap in front of everyone else. There was a pretty crazy race for 3rd-5th place though. The announcer (the new voice of the Amgen Tour of California) noted that they were probably averaging 30mph and at some points were doing 40 mph. Such a difference from the women's race. They were going so fast you could feel the wind run off of them, and when they came close to the fence, I became worried for my safety. Crazy athleticism.

(The men flying by)

At the end of one of the races, the announcer noted that you could not have scripted a better race. Well maybe that's because it was scripted so well to start with, but I definitely had fun.

I still can't get over the sheer sadness of the attendance though. It had been set up for "thousands" of spectators, and I think we may have been the only ones who did not know anyone in the race. After the men's race ended, we headed back to the nondescript corner and waited in the dark at 9:30 pm for the shuttle to show back up, hoping it would. Again, we were the only passengers on the trip back to the BART station. I'm not sure what happened in the marketing department, but I'm not sure there will be a 2nd Annual Pitt Crit.