Utahns who follow cycling at all are undoubtedly familiar with the annual Tour of Utah event. But they perhaps may be unfamiliar with the inaugural Salt Lake Criterium.
For the uninitiated, there is a big difference.
"A criterium race — people call it NASCAR on bikes,” said race director Eric Gardiner.
The Salt Lake Criterium will feature riders going around a 1.1-mile loop near The Gateway shopping center and surrounding neighborhoods on Saturday. While the races are technically timed (the professional women’s riders will go for 60 minutes; the professional men for 75), that format is used to ascertain lap times, and once those are established, race officials will commence a lap countdown, with the first rider to then complete those and cross the finish line being declared the winner.
This event is part of the national, 12-race USA CRITS Series, which features some of the fastest riders and most competitive teams from throughout the country. This will be the first time USA CRITS has come to Utah.
Gardiner said that because criterium races are fast, action-packed, and take place on a small, closed-loop course, they are fun to watch.
“Unlike traditional racing, like the Tour de France, where it just goes by once and you see them once, in this, you see them over and over and over again, because they’re just speeding by you,” he said. “And they’re going fast — the pro men, they’ll be be doing speeds of 30 miles per hour for 75 minutes. … This type of cycling is the most fan-friendly, in my opinion.”
Fans are encouraged to pick out vantage points — like, say, the pedestrian bridges at The Gateway — to observe the action.
The overall event is about eight hours long and features multiple races — as well as a beer garden and a children’s race. The first of five amateur competitions gets underway at 1:40 p.m. But, as Gardiner noted, “the real action” will begin at about 6:40, which is when the professionals (or D1 riders, as they’re called) will get started.
Between the men’s and women’s pros, there have been some 20 teams of D1 competitors invited to compete. Both races will feature multiple previous national champions.
The one to watch on the men’s side is reigning national champ Justin Williams, who prevailed in last weekend’s race in Boise. On the women’s side, former champ Tina Pic is “always in contention and able to win these races,” according to Gardiner.
The primary local to keep an eye on is 17-year-old Katie Clouse from Park City. A member of the Utah-based DNA Pro Cycling Team, Clouse already has racked 26 championships in road biking, mountain biking, and cyclocross. Her best finish to date on the USA CRITS circuit was a third-place finish at the Athens (Georgia) Twilight Criterium.
“She’s a contender to watch,” Gardiner said. “She’ll be doing well this race, I’m sure, because it’s in her hometown.”
SALT LAKE CRITERIUM
Where • The Gateway.
When • Racing begins on Saturday at 1:40 p.m. Professional men’s and women’s races start at 6:40 p.m.