For a couple of decades, bicycle racing in Cleveland has meant after-hours, “alley cat” races among the messengers downtown, a handful of quiet, out-of-the-way events for club racers, and the occasional whisper of a paragraph in the Plain Dealer about doping allegations associated with the Tour de France.
This year that will change as a group of racers, barkeeps, restauranteurs, and the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce bring USA Cycling-sanctioned bicycle racing to the west end of Lakewood, with the Lakewood Criterium.
One week after the Tour de France ends with a criterium on the Boulevard des Champs Elyees in Paris, racers from around the Midwest will compete for cash and glory in Lakewood.
A “criterium” is a race designed for spectators, with multiple laps around a short course, usually through the city. In Lakewood’s case the race will use Detroit Avenue, Sloane, and West Clifton—streets lined with restaurants, bars, apartments, and other businesses. The restaurants and bars supporting the event will help create a party atmosphere, with food, drink, and music. High rise apartments along the route will have a sensational, bird’s eye view of the action.
The race has been coordinated by Team Spin rider Brian Limkemann, working with a committee of Lakewood business owners coordinated by the local Chamber of Commerce.
All I can say is, it’s about time. As a longtime bicycle commuter, I’ve seen the number of cyclists on the streets multiply exponentially in the past ten years. Maybe it’s the substantial advocacy by organizations like the Ohio City Bike Co-Op, or events like Critical Mass, or maybe it’s just about the price of gas. But it feels like rediscovery: the day-to-day use of bicycles as a transportation tool returns them to that historic time when people were just beginning to appreciate what two wheels with chain-drive could do.
In the early days of bike racing, part of the appeal was to find out whether adventurous wheelmen could actually make their way around the perimeter of France, or from one city to another, and if so, how long it would take. These days, it feels to me like lots of adults are just discovering that their bikes can indeed take them downtown.
The Lakewood Criterium takes the discovery to another level, with high speed competition. Racers will whip around corners at speeds nearing 35 miles per hour, and sprint for prizes faster than that. It’s an afternoon series of races, with opportunities for kids and non-licensed riders, in addition to some of the fastest licensed racers in the Midwest.
The racing begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 30. Start / Finish is on Detroit at Riverside. The fastest riders roll off the starting line for the main event at 6 p.m. For information, go to http://www.lakewoodcriterium.com/