Levallois Criterium

On Sunday October 19, 1997, the town where I live in France and the local racing club, hosted a criterium. Though the club is well established and promotes several road events every year, it was the first criterium in this town in 20 years. The only event was for national and regional level elite riders, and was run under UCI rules. The course was a 1.5 km circuit of closed city streets in the middle of town, and the riders were supposed to do 60 laps.

Being a United States Cycling Federation official and having helped with race promotions, I was interested in observing the race from these points of view.

The race did not start on time. At the advertised hour, 3 p.m., the announcer started talking, but the riders were still warming up on the course. Somewhat later, they formed a group well behind the start line.

In addition to the announcer and celebrities, there were two officials and a member of the organizing club on the announcing platform. They had a computer and a video finish camera, but I don't know how it all tied together. The finish camera seemed to be a celebrity in its own right, and the announcer introduced it several times.

After the introductions, the announcer called the rider's names as they rolled to the line. He told them there would be a prime sprint every other lap. The actual start was about 30 minutes after the advertised hour.

The prime sprints were for prizes and/or money, not points, for whoever was in the lead. Since there was a break of one sort or another the entire race, there was never a pack prime sprint. Because the primes had been announced at the start., they didn't ring a prime bell.

There was a pit and the riders provided their own wheels, but there didn't seem to be a pit official. I asked one of my teammates (from the other local club) what happens if a rider has a flat. He said the rider gets a free lap and goes back into the race in the group where he was at the time of the flat. However, one of the three riders in the first break flatted and never reappeared.

Support vehicles consisted of two or three motorcycles as lead vehicles and two cars as follow vehicles. The corner marshals were municipal police. There were crowd control barriers the length of the straight that included the start/finish area and for much of the length of the two shorter straights, but none on the back straight.

It was a sunny day, and the cafes along the course were open. Many people enjoyed the race while drinking at an outdoor table next to the course. I spent a lot of time at the start/finish area, then walked the course, then joined teammates at an outdoor table a half-block from the finish line, within view of the lap cards.

During the race, a member of the organizing club was responsible for changing the lap cards. He did a poor job and they were not accurate, but no one seemed to notice. The riders did more than the 60 advertised laps.

By the end of the race, four riders had lapped the field, so the final sprint was actually two sprints. First, the four riders sprinted for their places. The field did another lap, then sprinted. Thus everyone did not finish at the same time, though everyone did the same number of laps.

In comparison with the parking lot criterium that we often see in the United States, it was gratifying to see a downtown crit that had the municipality's full support. I hope this crit becomes the annual event that it used to be.

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Barbara Leonard