The first week of the Tour de France has finished with two more weeks to go. Even with the attention Lance Armstrong brought to the cycling race, I never paid much attention to it until last summer. I was sitting in one of my favorite cafés, where I usually went to watch European soccer matches, but the season had ended, so they had the Tour de France on instead.
No offense to the race, but I will confess that I’ve been known to be mesmerized by a front-loading washer with a window, watching the entire cycle.
In the café I just stared at the TV for a while, caught up in the rhythm of the racers.
Then the camera panned out and I came out of my trance. They were cycling up a mountain. A mountain.
I prefer to think I am not the type of person who needs to experience something first hand to appreciate it, but it turns out in some instances I am (an attempt at painting has led to a new appreciation for modern art – and a house full of really bad originals).
Not far from my house there’s a hill – not even a mountain and perhaps nothing more than an slight incline – that is my nemesis. To climb the hill I can choose between three streets, each with a climb progressively steeper. A week ago I finally made it up the easiest of the three streets (actually riding my bike, not walking up the hill, just to be clear). And here the racers in the Tour de France were riding up a mountain.
I wish at this point I could claim I set a goal to ride up the hill and am working toward that goal. It’s really just that there’s ice cream at the top of the hill. To each his own incentive I suppose.
And now that I have my own bike, Stella!, and live in a Portland, a city with a great bike culture, it was perhaps inevitable that my appreciation for cycling would grow. On the Fourth of July I made a day of riding 45 miles. In the Tour de France the average pace reaches nearly 25 mph (and that’s going 2,000 miles) with some stages much faster than that.
After watching the Tour de France at a French bakery last Saturday morning, I was in the mood for more cycling so I found myself a crit.
A criterium, or crit for short, is a bike race.
A criterium is usually held on city streets with a closed-loop course of one kilometer (or often a mile in the U.S.) or so. Most crits are are based on the most number of laps completed within a set time but some crits are based on distance – lapping the course for up to 60 miles.
Saturday’s St. Honoré Criterium was sponsored by the St. Honoré Boulangerie (more on that on Thursday) and the Sorella Forte Cycling Club.
Sorella Forte (Italian for “strong sister”) is a women’s cycling club in Portland that also offers mentoring programs for racers and recreational riders. For more information or to join, Sorella Forte’s website is listed below. (Plus, on the website is a great quote from a Minnesota woman in 1895 about the difference between a husband and a bike.)
If you missed the St. Honoré Criterium, there are more crits coming up this summer (and if you live elsewhere in the U.S., check out the calendar from USA Cycling). The Giro di Portland is held in the Pearl District and the Portland Twilight Criterium is held on the North Park blocks, both will be in August.
The Twilight Criterium is currently the largest of the three events with competitors from across the U.S. and more than 15,000 spectators lining the eight blocks of the course.
I’ve never watched the Tour de France in person (it’s now on a very long and ever growing bucket list) and if you can’t get to it either, I suggest finding a crit in your town.
The speed of the racers, particularly as they take the corners, is spectacular. Add thousands of spectators, food carts and a beer garden and you have a mighty fine summer night.