Saturday 25 June 2011

Augusta National Crits Championship

"This is going to be monster!" exclaimed the race commentator at the start line of the 1.2km city centre course in Augusta yesterday, and he was right: with more than 800 cyclists battling it out for the USA Cycling National Criterium Championships the event looked more like an outsized alleycat race than an official, organised date.

Tight turns and high speeds guaranteed excitement and a multiple pile-up early on - while no fun at all for competitors, no doubt enlivened the day from spectator's points of view. There were certainly plenty to see it: cycling in the USA may not yet enjoy the popularity that it does in Europe but the likes of Levi Leipheimer, Tejay van Garderen and above all Lance Armstrong have boosted it to a higher level of exposure than ever before and thousands turned out to watch the fun.

Video provided by Augusta Chronicle

David Wenger took the Elite Men's title in a race that included 125 starters, pacing himself with a surgeon's precision and just clawing his way to an advantage in a sprint finish after 80km. "I wasn't going to take a risk," he said after the race, "I just gave it 100% from the last half-lap to the finish line, everything I had." Had the course have been just 6m longer Rahsaan Bahti would have taken the title - having fought his way long and hard from the back of the pack, he was on Wenger's back wheel as the crossed over, eventually passing him a few metres later. Only 61 riders finished the race, proving what a difficult course it was.

Meanwhile, residents and business owners expressed their joy. Cafes and shops were doing a roaring trade and locals, many of them with children, thanked race organisers for bringing an exciting event to their doorstep. These sorts of short-course urban races seem to be gaining ever more popularity and are ideal for televising, so with a bit of luck and support we can all expect to see more taking place around the world.

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