Dozens of cyclists from several California college teams turned a block south of the UC campus into a temporary racecourse Sunday, March 13, 2011.
The Berkeley Streets Criterium featured racers from Humboldt State to UC San Diego and a variety of men’s, women’s, and alumni races.
Colorfully clad teams from UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, Stanford, USC, Sacramento State joined the field for the event, which was hosted by the Cal Cycling Team.
The racecourse centered on the block containing Berkeley Art Museum, with traffic diverted from the surrounding streets. Racers went clockwise, accelerating down College Avenue, then Durant, swooping around the corner onto Bowditch, then pumping uphill on Bowditch and Bancroft. Volunteers and UC police aides monitored traffic and kept the course clear.
Races lasted set times—30 to 60 minutes—and each group of cyclists circled the course as many times as possible in the periods allowed.
The men’s races picked up considerable speed on the down stretch. “Watching you guys was crazy, oh my God”, said one woman cyclist to a male teammate. The men tended to clump in two or more packs, while the women stretched out into lines.
“On the wheel! On the wheel!” spectators shouted to their favorites, encouraging them to get behind another cyclist and benefit from the leader cutting air resistance ahead of them.
Shifting groups of spectators scattered along the route, while bemused passersby waited for the chance to cross the streets. A small procession in vestments went by on their way to services at the Saint Joseph of Arimathea chapel as one of the women’s races pedaled past in the other direction. The plaza in front of Kroeber Hall was littered with cycling equipment and vehicles as teams set up temporary support bases.
Although the racing was competitive, the atmosphere was festive and relaxed. Friendly spectators cheered racers who seemed to be struggling. There wasn’t the raucous outward school rivalry one sees at Cal basketball or football games. I stood next to a Cal team member who encouraged a USC cyclist from the sidelines as he came uphill well behind the pack.
Straw barricades edged the course at the sharp turns. Rain threatened, but held off most of the day as the contestants powered through their races. There was wet pavement and some crashes in the final men’s race, however.
The condition of Berkeley’s streets did not excite some of the racers. “It’s a grease pit out there”, said one man as he came off the course following an early race. Others warned of small potholes at the turn from Durant to Bowditch.
“Big thanks to everyone who came out for the Cal Criterium today. Great success!” the Cal team Twittered following the event.