White Park will be pretty busy this weekend – well, all the streets surrounding it will be, anyway – when the Concord Criterium pedals into town for a 39th year.
One of New England’s longest-running cycling races returns for another year on Saturday, with elite and casual cyclists from all over the region converging on the capital city for the New England Criterium Championship, the official regional championship race for USA Cycling.
The event has long been a staple of the Concord summer calendar, with families lining the streets and the park itself for a fun day of exciting bicycling action. The race route is a big loop on the streets surrounding the historic park, and many residents of the area take in the festivities from the comfort of their porches or yards.
The criterium draws hundreds of cyclists, many of whom are professional or otherwise elite in their field. Others just really like to bike, and this event presents a big field of serious racers to compete against.
USA Cycling is the national governing body for bicycle racing in the United States. USA Cycling assigns categories to riders based on experience, and these categories determine which field or group cyclists will compete in. All riders who participate in the Concord Criterium must be registered with USA Cycling to compete – beginner one-day licenses for Category 5 Men and Women may be purchased at registration for $10 and are valid for a single race. The categories start at 5 for beginners and go up to 1 for the elite riders.
All of this is important because this isn’t just one race, but many races divided by category. It will be important to know which category you’re in so you don’t compete in the wrong race. Most riders, though, likely know which category they are in – and all newcomers should know they’re in Category 5.
This event serves as the New England Criterium Championship, except for juniors, who have their own championship race. This means that many of the hardcore cyclists out there will be riding for a championship, and a prize. Championship prizes include $500 cash, a Smart Trainer training device valued at about $300, medals and custom trophies made from recycled bike parts made by a member of Sunapee Racing Team, which promotes the event.
The championship bouts will be for the Masters 55, Masters 40-plus and 1/2/3 divisions. That means you first-timers won’t be eligible for any of the championship prizes, but logging the race will help build your experience.
You don’t have to be a pro or even overly serious about cycling to enjoy or participate in this event, though, and it truly is (practically) an all-ages affair.
“There’s no high end – we have people in their 70s that do the race,” said Danielle Ruane, one of the directors of Sunapee Racing Team, a 501(c)3 organization that promotes the event. On the other end, cyclists as young as 9 can compete in the junior division, which goes up to age 14.
New this year, participants can also enter a second or even third race if they wish for an additional $10. Competing in multiple races in one day isn’t as crazy as it might sound.
“There’s been a lot of people who have signed up for two races,” Ruane said. “Probably a handful of people who have signed up for three – those people are going to have some tired legs by the end of the day.”
The races will last 40 to 50 minutes each. The length of each race will vary depending on the pace of the pack. Times of the first several laps will be recorded, and the total length of the race will be determined by how fast the group completed those first few laps. Once that determination has been made, cards will be held up so racers know how long their race will be.
Also new this year is a snazzy pace car that’s sure to turn some heads. Leading the pack will be an orange Porsche 911 Carrera S – it’s only fitting that a race would be led by a car that has the Spanish word for “race” in its name (even though it’s a German car).
Registration fees range from $15 to $35 depending on category, and, likewise, race start times will be staggered all through the day, with the first race starting at 8:20 a.m. and the last race starting at 2:45 p.m. Online registration (at bikereg .com/42933) ends Thursday at 10 p.m. but day-of registration will be available for an additional $10. See the website for much more information.