Riders darting in and out of the dark, sounds of gear changing, wheels flashing in the spotlights, yells, a blur of color and movement. All these and more at evening criteriums to the delight of the very often raucous crowds.
Crits are already fast and furious affairs to start with with fields tackling city streets replete with potholes, grates, dirt amping up the speed lap after lap. But do twilight crits bring more challenges to riders?
“I don’t know if there’s a secret.” Ken Hanson (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) said about racing and winning at night. The 29-year old won the Brady Village Crit, the second race of the St Francis Tulsa Tough back in June and claimed the last two San Rafael Twilight Crits.
Hanson admits that mistakes can be more costly at night. “If you’re not really smooth or tentative to spots and corners on the course where you’re having to really watch and keep a steady line and put even pressure and set your weight up, setting for the corner properly, I think it amplifies the mistakes that people make.”
“And there’s time, all of us, we find ourselves where we’re not thinking about setting up for every corner properly, when it’s wet and slick, and if you have a lapse in that and set up bad, you’re not able to get the maximum traction on your tires, you can just slip off and crash, it happens to everybody. I think you have to be tentative and conscious of it and have to focus a little bit more.”
Overall winner at Tulsa Tough, Christina Gokey-Smith (NOW and Novartis for MS) agrees that riders need to be more attentive at the shadows get longer and night falls during racing.
“As the peloton changes, moves one direction to another, if you’re not paying attention, it’s a little hard to see. Just be attentive and definitely relaxing, you absorb a lot more shock when you’re more relaxed but if you’re stiff that’s when bad things happen.”
No different than any other crits, pre-riding the course is also key for twilight races.
Jennifer Reither (Vanderkitten p/b Focus) explained, “If you pre-ride the course, you’ve seen what you need to look for and then if you take the turn properly, through the apex of the corner, it’s really about feel.”
“It’s important to know the sections on the course for sure.” Hanson agreed, “Getting a pretty good feel for the movement of the other guys in the race, stuff like that is also important. All those things are always key, knowing who you’re racing against and knowing the spots on the course you really have to know which areas are bad and everything.”
And of course, position, position, position.
“If you don’t see something on the road and position is that much more critical. It’s important to stay in the front and hopefully don’t get stuck behind a crash or get a flat tire in the last couple of laps.” Hanson concluded.
So it’s about the right eyewear, positioning and focus – no secret there.
“You approach a twilight crit, you have to have to proper gearing and proper mental attitude.” said Reither, who added that proper gearing is essential for all crits.
“A lot of people are scared, how can you race in twilight and shadows? There’s a lot of uncertainty. So you have to choose the right eyewear and it’s all about the attitude, going out there and be aggressive and kind of needing to know sometimes, if you know the course, you can feel the course. Be the course.” Reither ended with a laugh.