According to shopkeepers, the Mass Ave Criterium is different than most events that happen on that trendy avenue. Mass Ave's hip reputation is impossible for event planners of all kinds to resist, and they swoop down onto the Ave like culture vultures, seizing anything that looks like a choice bit of fresh indie flavor.
"There are a lot of events on Mass Ave," says Kay Feeney-Caito of Mass Ave Toys. "But this one is done with us in mind."
Shop owners describe the Criterium as "great," "really fun," "exciting," "dynamic, "colorful." For years, support from shop owners has been crucial in managing the various organizational headaches such an event entails.
This year, NUVO and our partners focused on creating an experience as environmentally sustainable as it is enjoyable. Thanks to Onesource Water, on-site water stations with their own filtration systems will be installed, with Mass Ave Criterium refillable water bottles being sold for $2, significantly reducing waste generated during the race.
Continuing the theme of energy awareness, Bicycle Garage Indy will offer a stationary bicycling station with electronic trackers that calculate how much energy riders generate. Nine13sports, a health organization focused on combating youth obesity through cycling and a new partner this year, will set up a similar station with racing simulators for spectator participation.
For those who prefer bicycles that actually move, Pedal & Park will be stationed in the shade at Barton Towers, offering free bike repairs for those spectators who cruise by, looking for relief from the hot weather.
An all ages event
Teenagers can participate in a junior race that's shorter than the adult races, but just as competitive. For younger kids, there will be a rodeo, lessons about bike riding basics and safety tips from Flanner & Buchanan, complete with obstacle courses and goodie bags. There will be a chance to design your own pannier put on by INDYCOG, a cornhole tournament, popsicles from Nicey Treat, lemonade, pretzels and New Belgium beer.
If a day of bike races isn't enough, the cycling will continue into the night at another of the year's new a events: a post-race screening of Breaking Away in the New Belgium Beer Garden in Davlan Park, open to all ages.
Bigger and better
"We support it," David Andrichik, owner of the Chatterbox Jazz Club and longtime cycling fan says of the shifting nature of the Criterium. "The bigger and better the race, the better the racing."
Andrichik opens the Chatterbox to customers whenever the race begins, which, last year, meant they started lining up at 7:30 am. With good reason, says Elizabeth Garber, founder of Best Chocolate in Town: "David has the best view on the street."
Unlike Andrichik, Garber doesn't know much about the technicalities of the sport: the exact angle of the turns, the balance needed to corner smoothly. For her, the fun is off the course. "Last year, I played!" she remembers. "I drank mimosas, cheered, and handed out trophies."
Other spectators, who, like Garber, turn up to watch a blur of colorful jerseys speed by and drink good beer are what excites shop owners the most about the Criterium.
"It draws a great crowd," says Kristen Kohn, owner of Silver in the City, a feeling Garber echoes: "It's not your usual group of people."
Feeney-Caito agrees, gushing about both organizers and spectators. "They're real salt-of-the-earth type people," she says. "NUVO readers are the best because they're involved people who are interested in being a part of anything that supports their own town." (Editors note: While initially we considered removing the above Feeney-Caito remark, we decided to keep it, but only after thoroughly vetting it for its objective truth.)
A grassroots feel
The Criterium involves street closings and other infrastructural adjustments that — at first —alarmed shop owners. Garber, who admits to some initial worry about interference with the avenue's comerce, says that she soon discovered that, in the long run, "for every day your sales are down, there's another day when they're up."
"It depends on perspective," she adds. "It's about experience and actually being in a space, figuring out what are the true concerns versus perceived concerns."
Sage Boutique's new location on the 400 block of Mass Ave means owner Jessica Hamm will have a new experience of the race this year, though she hasn't exactly been separated from past races.
"One year my boyfriend and I almost ruined a race," she recalls, laughing. "We were carrying boxes and all of a sudden the bikers were riding by, blowing whistles and yelling. Luckily, we got out of the way just in time."
Cassie Stockamp, president of the Athenaeum Foundation, has been involved since the race's first year. She's had only pleasant partnerships with organizers in years past, though her fondest memory might be meeting a "dear, dear friend" at the inaugural Criterium in 2008. They remain close to this day and plan to ride bikes down to this year's race together.
These stories are testaments to the race's grassroots feel. As Garber explains, "When you're in an urban environment, you have to embrace what happens in that environment."
It's — pardon the pun — a two-way street. Without community events, there would be no community. Without a community, there would be no community events. And then there would be no accidental friendships, no close calls with race-ruining, no stories of the uninvolved stumbling into the center of the action, of the skeptical finding themselves caught up in a rush of cycles, riders, and spokes. That's the thing about this event: it sweeps people away.
The ultimate prize of the race is more than some chocolate or even a cash reward. It's joining in, whether by riding or watching, and since it happens right on the avenue where so much eating and drinking and sweating and living happens, it's impossible to ignore.