Friday, April 22, 2011

Cycling season starts for us on Tuesday. Rain kept us away last week.

At the Bud Harris track, the cycle begins anew

Thursday, April 21, 2011
Chris Popovic laughed while explaining the first cycling race of the year.
"Watching boys come back to the bike track is like watching girls show up to
the prom," said Popovic, president of the Allegheny Cycling Association --
the area's oldest and largest cycling club. "Everybody wants to see the new
bikes, the new kits, who's been training hard, who's gained a few pounds.
"But it's a good time because everybody gets back to what they love to do."
The boys -- and girls -- officially got back to the Bud Harris Cycling Track
on April 6, which marked the recurrence of one of Pittsburgh's greatest
cycling traditions: the weekly criterium races at the 12-year-old oval off
Washington Boulevard in Highland Park.
Whether young or old, cyclists gather in early April for 22 weeks of racing
at the half-mile oval, named after a key figure who lobbied the city to
convert the former driver testing center into a cycling venue.
The cycling association sponsors the races and uses them to promote bike
Each Tuesday there are races for women and juniors, along with a "C" class
race for both men and women. Wednesdays are the "A" and "B" classes -- more
advanced -- men's races. And, starting the first week of May, races expand
to Saturdays for new rider clinics, skills training and make-up dates.
While Pittsburgh-area cycling is hardly confined to this particular track,
located next to the Zone 5 police barracks, the Bud Harris Cycling Track
serves as a weekly gathering spot for cycling enthusiasts, a neighborhood
bar without the beer and nuts.
"Racing at the Bud Harris track has become the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh
racing community," said Mike Carroll, a local race promoter.
"A lot of people will go as far away as Oklahoma and South Carolina, but
having that weekly competition to work with your friends and get faster
really positions riders to do better at events on a national scale. They
challenge each other every week to train, and that extra bit of motivation
really helps."
*On the right track*
A night of racing costs $10 for adults, $5 for juniors, and all participants
must be licensed through USA Cycling. Rider without a license can buy one on
race night.
On a typical Tuesday after registration, the festivities begin with a short
instructional segment -- touching on safety, nutrition or bike maintenance
-- before riders take to the track for a few warm-up laps.
"Years ago, it was assumed that if you came down to race, you knew what you
were doing," Popovic said. "But it can be a very intimidating experience to
get out on a track, so we try to ensure the riders are educated."
Nathan Clair, a seventh-grader in the North Allegheny School District, has
been a regular at Bud Harris for the past three years and finished first in
the Junior Point Series last season.
The pack-style races have helped Clair improve on some technical aspects of
the sport.
"Whenever I'm at Bud Harris, it helps me because it's not a huge, important
state race," Clair said. "It helps me focus on drafting, keeping a steady
line instead of swerving and getting used to being in a close paceline."
Tyler Mower agrees. An eighth-grader in the Plum School District, Mower has
been racing since he was 12.
Recently, Mower added Wednesday night races -- a testament to his growing
level of talent and bike control -- to his weekly training regimen and will
travel to Augusta, Ga., for Junior Nationals this summer.
"The Bud Harris track got me used to the race environment," Mower said.
The city's most popular youth cycling club is one to which Clair belongs:
Team Citius. Formed last year by Fred Gohh, Citius members -- especially
those who aren't yet mature enough to ride with the adults -- use the weekly
races as a way to get accustomed to competition.
"This year, I have five or six kids who are 10, 11 or 12 years old," said
Gohh, whose group started with about 18 riders and now has 25. "They might
not be strong enough to ride with the adults, but you can see that they're
excited about going out."
A big part of cycling's growth here -- many high schools are incorporating
the sport into physical education classes -- has been the Bud Harris Cycling
According to Suzanne Atkinson, who owns her own cycling coaching company
called Steel City Endurance, it's something that makes Pittsburgh special.
"It's a unique venue for a city to have," said Atkinson, who also runs Club
Velo Femme, a women's cycling club. "In talking to friends around the
country, there are not a lot of places that have a dedicated biking oval
that's also traffic-free. It's really outstanding."
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