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."