By sunrise on July 4 the streets of Downtown Davis were filling with cars, bikes and people in spandex. Within two hours, bicyclists were speeding through the streets at speeds over 30 mph – so fast that spectators had just enough time to read the race numbers pinned to speeding torsos.
The event was the 32nd annual Fourth of July Criterium, hosted by the Davis Bike Club in downtown. This year it drew 625 cyclists who raced a course blocked off by haystacks.
The course was a 0.7-mile loop through the streets of downtown, starting and finishing on F Street between Second and Third streets.
Throughout the day, men, women and children sped through 11 separate races. Bicyclists zipped around the course in as many laps as they could squeeze into the time limit, which varied from race to race starting at 35 minutes for the beginning level, and maxing out at 75 minutes for the advanced, pro elite level.
Demetrius Houpis, a senior anthropology student, raced sporting a UC Davis jersey with the number 362 pinned on his side. He crossed the finish line of his race in 14th place out of 61 participants. Houpis said he enjoys Criterium races due to their unique nature.
“They’re good for pack riding,” said Houpis, who has been racing for seven years.
A racer interested in competing in Criterium races would start out as a level five, which is equivalent to a beginner, Houpis said. By placing in races within his level the racer accumulates points, allowing him to move out of the beginning level and into the intermediates, such as level three, where Houpis races. From there a racer can continue to advance to the top levels two and one.
“It’s a big jump from three to one and two,” said Houpis. “Some guys around the age of 30 stick with the class three because they don’t want to make the jump.“
The differences in difficulty and length are matched by the differences in award money. The prize value of the “Elite 3” male race, in which Houpis competed, was $500. The longer and more advanced men’s “Elite Pro 1-2“ race had a prize value of $1,950.
Once a racer reaches levels one and two he or she may find himself cycling with professional racers from all over the world. The winner of the men’s “Elite Pro 1-2“ race Friday was Viktor Rapinski from Belarus.
Though most of the racers at the Davis Criterium were from California, many other states were represented. People came from Nevada, Tennessee, Alabama, Utah, Illinois and Texas to participate in the event.
Local cyclists Zach Wick and Chris Stastny participated together in the Elite 3 male race.
Wick, who will be a junior at Davis High School in the fall, took third place and won $65. Stastny, who recently graduated from Vacaville High School, did not place, but Wick credits his success to his teammate.
“He helped me get third,” Wick said.
“I took him to a corner,” Stastny explains.
In Criterium racing, when the leaders of the pack head around corners, they typically do not slow down. Bikes dip drastically, making the corners prime spots for crashes.
“I ran into a parking meter last week,” Stastny said with a simple smile. He was participating in a race in Burlingame and lost control of his bike, landing him in the parking meter.
“I thought I had broken all my ribs and punctured a lung, but really I just had some bruising,“ he said.
Wick said he races for one simple reason: It’s fun.
As the two teammates chatted about their experience, the whir of approaching racers is heard and they turned their heads to the pack, their eyes taking notes and making judgments. This is the last race of the day, with two categories combined – men 45 and up and men 55 and up.
Looking out at the riders Stastny added to his friend’s reasoning for racing: “I like kicking old guys‘ asses.“
ALI EDNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.