Inside the Grand Prix
Starting Friday, the Georgia Cycling Gran Prix comes to town with four bicycle races in three days around Newton County. The fastest action and best viewing will be Saturday from 2 p.m. 8 p.m. at the Downtown Covington Criterium on the north side of the square. To help you enjoy the action, here are terms and concepts you might find useful.
THE EVENT: A criterium (or “crit”) is a circuit race on a short, closed course of usually less than one mile. Racers circle in laps for a set period of time until race officials ring a bell to signal the final lap. The winner is the rider who crosses the finish line first on the “bell lap.” Races vary in duration (20 to 90 minutes), depending on classification level.
IT’S FAST: In the highest classification (Men’s Pro 1/2) racers easily hit speeds of 30-35 mph in straight sections of the course.
THEY CRASH: Going so fast with sharp turns, how do they keep from crashing? Sometimes they don’t. Corners make for interesting viewing.
GROUPINGS: The crit features eight different races, with riders competing based on age, gender, and ability level. Juniors compete with boys and girls together, by age group (10-14 and 15-18.) Men and women compete separately, classified by ability
level. Pro is the highest classification, followed by levels 1 through 5. Men also have a Masters division for ages 40 and older.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Don’t be fooled into thinking the rider leading the most laps is going to win. The cyclist up front is doing all of the work for the other racers behind. Drafting shields those riders from the wind, meaning they put forth about 30 percent less effort to reach the same speed as the leader. Winners usually come from within the pack during the final laps.
A TEAM SPORT:
So, why do all the work for someone else to win? Though prizes go to individual riders, bike racing is actually a team sport. A team will often put riders up front to increase the pace and make the race hard for the other teams, before launching their best rider to victory in the final lap. Occasionally, though, a solo rider will “attack” from the pack and try to steal victory by surprise. As they say: “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”