Part of the Bay Area News Group

They pedal really, really fast

By lmclaughlin
Monday, July 9th, 2007 at 3:51 pm in Lafayette.

WHEN: 7:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 15
WHERE: The loop course runs along Mt. Diablo Boulevard, First Street and Golden Gate Way
REGISTERING: Register before the event at Registration is available the day of the event on a space-available basis. Children can register for the Kids Race in front of 3483 Mt. Diablo Blvd. before 10:15 a.m. the day of the event.
GENERAL PUBLIC: Spectators are welcome to watch for free

Stake out your spot to watch Sunday’s Lafayette Criterium bicycle race when some 450 bike enthusiasts will converge on this suburb, pedaling at speeds of up to 40 mph in a colorful blur on local streets and around tight turns.

“It’s a short distance but the intensity is just phenomenal,” said Mark VandenBerghe, a 44-year-old Lafayette resident who has been bike racing for more than 20 years.

The 0.6-mile loop runs along Mt. Diablo Boulevard, First Street and Golden Gate Way. Cyclists will circle the course for up to 70 minutes at top speeds as spectators cheer from the sidelines.

The day also includes a children’s bicycle ride on the same course, though the youngsters will be rolling at a much slower speed.

The children’s ride is a donation fundraiser for the Lafayette Arts and Science Foundation, which supports local public schools.

“Riders are racing close to maximum heart rate and speed,” said Ryan Nickelson, 33, who began racing three years ago. “It’s close racing too. You tend to have the pack stay together and a massive sprint at the end. It’s very exciting.”

Racers are not casual bicyclists; they are competitive cyclists armed with racing licenses who train vigorously. They range from teenagers to those in their 70s, Nickelson said.

Criteriums were once prolific in the Bay Area. Local bike enthusiasts such as VandenBerghe could participate in 15 to 20 criteriums a year, all within an hour’s drive. But the hefty cost, such as for liability and insurance, took its toll, VandenBerghe said. Fewer and fewer criteriums were held in urban areas.

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