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What It’s Like To Be On A Bike In The Twilight
"The Athens Twilight Criterium is, by consensus, the fastest one-
hour of bicycle racing on this planet. The speed is insane. The
maniacal speed is a direct result of the course - it's a one-kilometer
rectangle that riders can whip around without braking, even through
the corners. If a rider even feathers the brakes, he's (she's) losing
The Twilight is an opportunity for a rider to slap his chain onto the
big ring, open the throttle and flat-out haul arse. The insane speed
is also a direct result of the racers.
These are the adrenaline junkies, the ones with the need for speed,
the fastest guys and gals in the world over short distances. These
lunatics can lean their bikes, and their bodies, around this one-
kilometer rectangle at precarious angles and ludicrous speeds that
defy Sir Isaac's general principles, and maybe one or two of Moses'
ten tenets. Going this fast must be a sin. But if you think this race is
all fun and games, think again."
-Author: David Crowe (article from Athens Magazine regarding the "old" 60K, 1 hour Athens Twilight - passed on to us by our friend James Sweeney)
As a four-year spectator of the Athens Twilight crit, it's hard for words to describe this race.....
So, I'll let a video give you a visual from the action on Saturday evening:
After our 6 hour drive on Friday, we checked in to our nice hotel (Comfort Inn) and quickly unpacked everything from the car. Campy and I got situated in the room while Karel warmed up on the trainer for the compu trainer grid qualifier. Although there's no easy way to ride 6 loops of the Athens Twilight course on a computrainer (exactly simulates the Athens course includes climbs and descends), Karel purposely did not waste his energy in his computrainer heat. Still finishing with a flush of lactic acid in his legs, he gave a nice effort - just enough to wake up the legs for the real lactic-acid burn on Saturday evening.
After Karel got cleaned up at the hotel, we headed back 1 mile down the road to downtown Athens for dinner - at our favorite Italian restaurant (with outdoor seating for Campy) at De Palma's. Pizza for me and pasta for Karel.
Around 8:45pm, we watched the final heat of 8 riders on the Computrainer - already the madness was beginning.
After a good night of rest, I woke up around 6:15am and headed to breakfast downstairs to grab a coffee and pre-training snack. Legs are finally walking normally after Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon and I couldn't wait to let my bike take me for a ride on a beautiful country roads of Athens Georgia. But just one problem for this Florida girl (who does love to ride hills).....
Where are my flat roads to warm-up??
Well, around 10 miles into my 100K ride, I was reminded of the roads at IMWI that I fell in love with and I was totally in my element. A fun ride for distance and not my typical "ride for time" as I was riding the Gambler Athens bike ride course that was planning to start later that morning. The roads were well-marked and loved every single mile and riding by sites like this (Bridge built in 1885 - I rode through it).
A few hours later, my legs were happily satisfied and I found Karel warming up with his friends Sean and Rad down by the Amateur course, just a few blocks away from downtown. Have I mentioned that I LOVE ATHENS!!! I also enjoyed trying out my new Radar Edge Oakley Women sunglasses which are MUCH lighter than my last pair of Radar's and fit nicely with my helmet.
The rest of Saturday was spent in the hotel room (for the most part) except for a few trips downtown to see our friends (Stefanie, Kenny and on Friday, Katie A.) and for Karel to pick up his bib number.
Karel and Campy did their share of napping while I worked ahead for my athletes on Training Peaks and answered emails.
Around 5:30pm, we got the live stream of Athens up and running on our computers and enjoyed watching the action from our hotel room just a mile down the road.
Over the next hour, the nerves were building for Karel as well as for myself. It is amazing the adrenaline and nervousness that one can feel....when you aren't racing!! I could barely stomach anything and was keeping my best poker face on to keep Karel calm, excited and confident.
Earlier that day, Karel found out that he was going to get his first ever call - up. Imagine being seated for a race in the top 100 and then being called to the very front of the crowd, standing right next to the professionals. Athens Twilight is the superbowl of cycling races or for better understanding for my multisport readers, the "Kona" of triathlons. You know you are "that good" just to be one of 150 riders to start the invitation-only Pro race but to be called up to the line.....well, thanks to Karel's teammates for all doing the computrainer finals, Karel was able to get a call-up for having 3 teammates in the race.
A call-up will certainly help one out for starting near the front but then again, you first have to overcome nerves to stand amongst the "real deal" professionals. Only 35 riders received an invitation to the VIP tent and for the first time, Karel, from Jacksonville Florida, riding for Gearlink, was going to be given that honor of starting in the front. In cycling - this is a HUGE deal not only for ego's but for good positioning throughout the beginning laps of a criterium.
Around 6:45pm, the hours were ticking away and only 120 minutes left before the start of the main event. Karel was ready to warm-up on the trainer when I heard exactly what you never want to hear before or during a race....
"I have a flat tire!"
Sure, change it if it is a clincher but Karel (and myself) ride with tubulars which are tires that are glued on to the wheel. Karel, being the professional "mechanic" that he is, got out his blue work gloves and glued on another tire, hoping it would be good for the race. You see, changing a tubular is quick and easy and I LOVE having tubulars on my wheelsm. However, changing a flat tubular and putting on another one with a little glue remaining on the rim is just fine to get you through a race. But in a criterium where you are making 90 degree turns with the inside bike pedal nearly touching the ground with every turn, that's a whole other story for wanting well-glued-on tires before a criterium.
Without panicking (again - poker face, I'm sure my heart rate was nearing Z4 just standing there!) I suggested to call our friend Sean who had raced the amateur race earlier that morning. His hotel was on the opposite side of the Twilight course and I knew traffic would be horrible but luckily, I feel like a local and I took a few side streets and 15 minutes later I arrived at his hotel.
Time clicking away, it was close to 7:45pm when I returned to the room. Karel was on the trainer with a spare clinicher wheel (why didn't he use that? Riding a different wheel - not your race wheel - in a race is a completely different feeling for Karel. It's like riding a bike for the first time and being expected to race on it right away) and immediately he got off to swap cassettes and try out Sean's wheel.
At this moment, I was going crazy inside. However, Karel always seems to find a way. I left Campy in the room (earlier decision to not bring Campy to the madness downtown as the 2012 Athens Twilight event was expecting record-breaking crowds...last year 10,000+ people was too much for Campy to handle) and made my 15 minute walk downtown.
I made a few phone calls to remove my mind from this prior situation, hoping that I would just see Karel at the starting line and all would be ok and I could relax...well, relax until the official start of the race.
I squeezed my way through drunk college kids, obsessed cycling fans and wide-eyed kids who envy every athlete on a bike. Karel wanted me to get to the startling line (or as close as possible) to see his call-up and never seeing the start (or finish) of Athens, I managed to get to the very front of the barricades.
After watching the finish of the Pro Women race, my heart started pounding, hoping and praying that there were no more mishaps and I would hear Karel's name - and see him on his bike...with two, safe and glued-on racing wheels.....
More from David Crowe's article (reporting on the old 60K event - still on the same 1K downtown course):
"You see them before the race - glabrous and glistening, heavily
oiled, gliding philosophically on their bikes through the parking lot.
They're wearing a tan fit for a bejeweled and bedaubed country
club wife with a heavily insured husband.
They look cool; they look calm - like an unprepared, but veteran
trial attorney. But look closely: inside they're falling to pieces;
they're coming undone. If you took their shirts off, you'd see: their
brittle torsos are as white as cotton. The tan's a façade. They may
even be smiling now, but as Conway and Loretta would say, "It's
only make believe."
The Twilight averages over 30 miles-per-hour for one solid hour.
This is no joking matter. Does a condemned man rejoice in the
moments before placing his back to the wall and his chest towards
the muzzles of a dozen pointing rifles? It's absurd to think so.
These aren't nihilists. These are disco sprinters (vainglorious fools)
who think getting dropped in this race, in front of everyone, is a fate
worse than death.
These moments of dread and despair before the race feel like a
hundred little rats chewing on the inside of your stomach. In these
worrisome moments, many riders realize that they, like Henry
Fleming, might fling the rifle and head for the hills in a moment of
impending catastrophe - their red badge of courage a poop stain in
When a racer is standing at the starting line, he does his best
impression of a relaxed rider. But relaxing when thousands are
staring laser-guided missiles through you ain't easy. And, it's too
noisy to concentrate - this Rabelaisian crowd is cackling like a
henhouse full of lusty roosters. The pretend-unperturbed rider's
heart is actually beating against his chest like a sledgehammer
pounding on a thin tin roof.
A couple hundred corralled cyclists are bobbing and bouncing like
a field full of insaniatics, waiting for the gate to fall so they can
escape from the asylum. The riders on the front row don't dare look
back; they don't want the riders behind to see the terror raging in
their eyes. Their common consideration? They might be trampled
to death in the very near future.
When the gun finally fires to start the race, a rider sprints to the first
corner as if his life depends on it. It might. It's the maddest dash of
the entire race - the dash to the first turn. If a rider makes it to the
turn first, or near the front, he can hit the throttle and floor it out of
the corner and accelerate down the road with no obstructions.
Clear sailing. If he gets to that first corner too late, its like a bucket
of sand poured into a small funnel; it just takes a little time to get all
of it through. The point: in the Twilight, if a racer comes out of the
first turn too far back, his race is over and it's only 10 seconds old.
Finis. Finito. The End. Good Night, Irene!"