How's your sprint? Do you even know? How many chances do you get to try different finishes when win or lose you're done until next weekend? Imagine instead sprinting every few minutes for 5 or 6 laps in a race, then resting a few minutes and going at it again. Welcome to Night at the Oval.
Long a staple of the Hawkeye Bicycle Association in Cedar Rapids, the last few years Night at the Oval has been organized by CRANDIC Racing Club. "We need more beginner-friendly race opportunities, and this is a very safe and easy venue to set up," said Chief Official Larry Howe.
Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids, with paved short track ½ mile and ¼ racing venues for cars and motorcycles, is also home to Eastern Iowa's most unique bike racing series. The Oval offers cyclists a chance to race several times a night in a variety of short races that mimic track racing and emphasize the skills at the core of road racing.
Racing in a pack is all about tactics. The technique is mostly straightforward. Your fitness is there or it isn't. But success in road racing usually comes from measuring and timing your effort, from forcing others to work, and from leveraging your team's strength in numbers. Most often it's not the strongest who wins, it's the smartest.
At the Oval you can learn from mistakes in one race and apply those lessons right away to the next. Start your sprint too early? Rest five minutes and race again, sprint a bit later and see where that gets you. Don't think you can sprint at all? You can try something different to find a sprint that works for you, help a teammate with a screaming fast lead out for their sprint, or practice dropping the sprinters before approaching the line.
Night at the Oval is essentially an omnium: each race is scored separately – 1st place is 1 point, 2nd place is 2 points, etc – the rider with the fewest points at the end of the night wins their category. "Most of the races are track based," explained Howe. But don't worry, each race is explained along the way.
"Devil Takes the Hindmost, Snowball, Points Race. We also do Scratch Races and use different track configurations such as the Big C to put some corners in like a criterium. With enough riders we can even run two groups at the same time. We break the riders out in self-selected groups, A,B,C, etc. We can do a junior's group or a women's group if we have enough of either. We try to mix things up so riders never quite know what to expect."
CRANDIC TT & Night at the Oval
CRANDIC Racing Club is thrilled to present two bike racing series over the summer of 2019, the CRANDIC Time Trial Series at Big Grove Solon and Night at the Oval at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. Two very different races that we love dearly.
At first glance these races couldn't seem more different: the time trial is "the race of truth," just you against the clock, while Night at the Oval is track-inspired pack racing at its finest; the TT in Solon is along Sutliff Road, one of the most beautiful and bike-friendly spots in the Corridor, while NatO is in industrial Cedar Rapids at Hawkeye Downs, a race track typically reserved for cars, go-cart, semi trailers, and the like. Despite their differences, a closer look at these two races reveals both their similarities and the reasons that we love them so.
A great place to start
In their own ways both races are perfect for beginners. Hawkeye Downs is a big, wide track without so much as a corner, so NatO riders have all the space they could want as they practice pack riding and racing techniques. On the other hand, in a TT riders start at set intervals, nearing each other only to pass, so beginners can go all out without worrying about bumping elbows or touching wheels.
Just as important, both series are mid-week, informal events that are welcoming to beginners but hard enough to challenged even seasoned racers.
Simple, but never easy
Every wanna-be racer has ridden a time trial. The minute we feel competitive on a bike we test our strength on a set course by timing ourselves. A time trial, simple as that. What makes it hard is concentrating, pacing, and wanting to go faster next time.
While at Night at the Oval each race is different, they mostly come down to a sprint. But the nuances of drafting other riders, finding the right position, and timing the jump to perfection make every sprint different, and every sprint a challenge.
Hit the road
It may not be the sexiest thing out there these days, but road cycling is the basis of all bike racing. Navigating a cyclocross start is all but impossible without pack riding skills. In the right conditions drafting features even in gravel or mtb racing. Pacing well is essential to any race. And all bike racing disciplines reward fitness won on the road.
Bike racing came from the road. Its most essential skills are still right at home there.
Two series, too fun
CRANDIC is committed to making these races fun for everyone. For the crusty old roadie that's not hard at all: Yell "go" and they're happy, and they'll find plenty of competition at either of these races. For beginners – whether they're new to the road, or to bike racing in general – we say welcome, ride hard and have fun, and let us know if we can help.
We're CRANDIC Racing Club. We love to race.
Ready or not, bike racing season is upon us. It seems late this year, especially after a cold, long winter and with the absence of a few early season favorites like Kent Park and the Hills Spring Classic. Of course, we never stopped racing – with fat bike craziness, gravel races and trail runs, even an early mtb race at Sylvan Island – but now we're getting into the heart of bike racing season, also known as the slow build-up to cyclocross.
Iowa City Cycling Club's Chris Lillig Memorial Cup is just a week away, featuring the Iowa City Road Race and the Old Capital Criterium. It will be interesting to see if this year the traditional "I'm not in shape yet" finally gives way to legions of Zwift zombies soft-pedalling into the sunlight. But even for those of us who hibernate through winter instead, there's no good reason not to toe the line in an effort to race into shape.
The Iowa City Road Race is actually south of town in Kalona, the heart of Amish country. The race stages at the Fairview Mennonite Church, then rolls through one to four hilly 13-mile laps of beautiful farmland. Manure can be a road hazard, especially in wet weather. And races are neutralized for passing horses and buggies, as even the steadiest workhorse can be spooked by large packs of riders. Two waves of races, from 9 and 11:30am, allow for fields of every category and age group, from juniors to masters (including masters women 40+/50+/60+!). This road race is a favorite for a reason, and as long as the weather is good it should not be missed – Just ask those who have raced it in 40˚ rain!
The Old Capital Criterium is a .8-mile six-corner loop around downtown Iowa City's Pentacrest. Each lap – whether 8 or 10 for beginners or 40 for the open race – the 50-foot climb feels steeper, and the subsequent descent faster, until someone gets away or the whole pack sprints to the finish. The day includes a full slate of juniors development races, as well as free kids' races at midday for those 9 and under. Now in it's 42nd year, the Old Capital Crit is still a great rush for racers and spectators alike.
Sign up to race, or sign up to help out. But definitely make it downtown for this classic Iowa City day of bike racing.
Special thanks to Justin Torner Photography for all the retro race photos.
It's finally starting to feel like cyclocross season: days are shorter, I'm nearly recovered from RAGBRAI, and we're counting down with just weeks to go. But before you mothball your road bikes, remember that this coming weekend are Iowa's state championships for both road racing and time trialing. Both of these races are worth the trip just south of Iowa City.
Iowa State Road Race Championship
Saturday is the State Road Race Championship starting and finishing in Riverside. Racers compete over one, two, or three 32 mile laps -- up to 96 miles -- of an exposed and sometimes hilly course.
Each lap offers 600 feet of climbing, with much of that in three 100+foot hills lumped from miles 3 to 13. A few shorter pitches of 3 or 4% pop up in the last few miles before a mile-long descent toward Riverside sets up a flat, then a rise to the sprint finish.
It's easy to imagine an attack breaking away on those early hills, but it'll take a very strong climber to hold off the pack and avoid a sprint finish in Riverside.
The route seems flat, with just two noticeable pitches of about 15 feet -- a rise at about 3 miles in and a drop down to the river just before the turnaround. This could fool you, though, as the entire course is gradually downhill, dropping about 45 feet by the turnaround as the route nears the confluence of the Iowa and Cedar rivers. Mess up that negative split and you'll feel that 45 feet of climbing getting home.
Hope for light winds and pace yourself. Can you go under an hour?
As always, thanks to the Iowa City Cycling Club for these two great events!
Skills for a fast time trial take practice, but will serve you well in most bike races: any time you're riding alone, of course, and in ways even riding in a pack
"My worst time trials were not been my slowest, but the ones where I knew I caved and didn’t push as hard as I could for the entire distance. The pain of discipline is always less than that of regret."
"Seeing your times get faster as your fitness improves is rewarding, but for me learning to stick with a hard effort and not give up has translated to success at every distance."
Sarah Cooper, race director of the Elkhart TT Series near Des Moines, ultra-distance cyclist, and all around badass, has inspired and informed our efforts since we first dreamt up the CRANDIC TT Series. Imagine how pleased we were when she told us she would race the first CRANDIC TT in May . . . maybe.
This weekend, just days before our race, Sarah will return to Trans Iowa. "A time trial after 340 miles of gravel is profoundly stupid, and I hate saying I’m going to be somewhere and then not making it. But most of my season is stupid. The State Time Trial Championship is the week after a 700 mile brevet. I’ve waved good bye to common sense for 2018. Unless I can’t walk, I should be there."
We look forward to it, Sarah. And good luck this weekend!
Riding in a group means drafting, riding close to others to save energy. It takes practice, balancing safety, comfort, and speed. But it really isn't difficult: ride smoothly and predictably, anticipate others, guard your front wheel, and relax.
Fortunately Night at the Oval offers a perfect chance to practice pack riding skills. Racers are staged in appropriate skill levels, and as CRANDIC Racing Club's Rob McKillip explains: "The track is huge. There is a ton of space. Get in the pack if you're comfortable. If not, sit at the back, or even attack and try to time trial away. Either way, it's a safe way to have fun and get a killer workout."