Spandex clad and mounted on shining metal steeds, cyclists from across the Midwest invaded Mount Pleasant this weekend.
The sixth annual Le Tour de Mont Pleasant cycling race kicked off Friday on the campus of Central Michigan University, starting a weekend full of events and attractions in Mount Pleasant. Saturday saw the real meat of the event, with criterium races taking place downtown all day.
“You’ve got some really important local talent here,” said Lucinda Clark, paymaster and a Mount Pleasant native. “That’s what it takes, intelligent dedicated volunteers. This year I’ve got this down to a routine; the first year I was like ‘What is a bicycle race?’ I had no clue and now I’ve got it.”
Teams and individuals came from across the midwest to participate in one of the last road races in Michigan and enjoy a high level of competition.
Road Director Lisa Hadden said each year the volunteers gain more experience and this translates into a well-oiled machine the day of the event. Over 500 volunteers contributed to the overall effort, from road marshals and organizers, to record keepers and volunteers feeding the athletes.
Zak Konett and Bryan Waldman are two cyclists on a Lansing-based bike team that travels across Michigan. Waldman said the Le Tour is one of the best organized races with one of the best courses in the state.
They represented one of several teams participating in the event. In all, 732 cyclists registered.
Konett said they brought a large team, but there were a few other groups of the same size, which requires specific strategy to be successful.
“We have to work together to manage the race,” Konett said. “We have one guy that we work for who is our fastest srinter, so we have someone else who manages everything. Thas where a big part of the competition comes from, you have to be pretty strong but you have to be strong and smart at the same time.”
Konett said the criterium race is focused sprinting the majority of the race, little under a mile in length. He said that in the criterium, the racers’ give about 90 percent of their effort throughout the duration of the sprint, while the road race on Sunday is focused on endurance on a larger stretch of road.
This leads to tighter groups of cyclists in the criterium.
“It’s fairly common that someone will crash, especially the last two laps because they are really fast and everyone is super tired,” Konett said. “It can be nerve-racking. Sometimes you get in a zone and that’s the nice thing about these masters races, everyone has been racing a really long time so nobody is nervous about it compared to some of the beginner categories.”
There were four major crashes throughout the day, which Hadden said was fairly typical of what they usually see each year.
DeWitt native Brian Devreaus said this was his first time participating in the time trial races on Friday, however he and his wife Brooke had been coming two years prior to spectate the event. Brooke, sporting a cast on her left arm, said the time trials were more enjoyable because of the lowered potential of crashes.
She sustained her injury from an accident in a previous race, a common facet of the sport.
Medical tent volunteer Bob Briggs said a majority of the injuries come from the criterion race, when the cyclists are much closer together. The time trials had participants racing against the clock, spread out in 30-second intervals.
“For the most part what we see is overheating, dehydration and the abrasions,” Briggs said. ““There are going to be a lot of falls, a lot of abrasions, where people wipeout and catch each others’ tires.”
Hadden said that they run one of the safest races in the state, in no small part due to the efforts of city law enforcement and fire departments, which keeps roads closed and spectators out of harm’s way.
Two of the crashes resulted in broken collarbones, but the response was fast from medical staff on-site.
More concerning is the damage to the bikes, which can range from $3,000-$10,000, depending on the composition of their materials.
Bill Schouman, director of sales for Specialized Bicycles, said the more expensive bikes are comprised from carbon fibers, which make the bikes more aerodynamic. He said this makes the bikes more efficient in windy conditions, which is the main force of resistance that cyclists face.
With the right set of wheels, riders can shave over a minute off their times over the course of a 40 kilometer race.
The criterium races featured a purse of $18,900 in prizes, which Hadden said was the largest purse in Michigan. This money comes from sponsors and registration money and goes directly back into funding the event.
Mike Arnold was more excited for Saturday’s races. The Alma native has been to Le Tour two consecutive years and said he enjoys the internal competition of the time trial, pitting himself against the clock. He was the first cyclist to start off the men’s category five races, the most skilled. Before the race, he and several others were seen warming up on stationary bikes.
Patty Simon, a Mt. Pleasant volunteer, said many of the racers know each other and travel to events across Michigan together. Across the parking lots behind Kelly/Shorts Stadium they could be seen conversing and mingling as they prepared their bikes.
“I just love the competition,” Arnold said. “Whether you win or lose, it’s a good time to get out there.”
Hadden said they expect to break even, but any net gains go to the Mid-Michigan Cycling Club.
“Everybody really enjoys the race,” Hadden said. “Because its downtown, people come and go. Sometimes it might be light, sometimes it can be heavy with spectators. It kind of ebbs and flows all day and we’ve really encouraged people to go into stores and restaurants and a lot of them have.”