Hundreds of cyclists, including some of the Midwest's top bike racers, will invade Downtown on Saturday for the Mass Ave Criterium.
Joining them will be more than 5,000 fans and curious onlookers who will line the streets surrounding the free race, sponsored for the sixth year by, well, us! A massive beer garden courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Co. will help keep the good times flowing.
See full schedule for MAC here.
"The party atmosphere coming down the homestretch is second to none," said Speedway Wheelmen rider Erik Albers, who will compete in the Cat 3/4 race.
The race doubles as the Indiana State Criterium Championship. State champions will be crowned in multiple categories, including a special police/fire/EMS division. Hundreds of racers will compete for a share of $10,000 in cash and prizes.
The .67-mile course is basically a triangle, connecting Massachusetts Avenue, Vermont and East streets. Good positioning in the corners will be essential for riders contending for a state title. With speeds exceeding a 25 mph average in some races, it will be difficult for racers dropped in the turns to work their way back to the pack.
"The hardest part of the course is that first 90-degree turn," Whitney Burdzilauskas said of the corner at Massachusetts and Vermont. "You've got that manhole cover there as well, and if it's slippery, there could be a lot of wrecks."
The tight final turn at East and Massachusetts means riders will slow to 10 mph or so, then explode out of the corner at 30 mph or more.
"It's going to be a tough interval every lap," said Declan Doyle, Bissell-ABG-Giant director. "There's almost always a headwind they'll have to deal with as well."
There's a long straightaway down Massachusetts before the finish, so sprinters must have their timing down perfectly. If they go too soon, they might run out of gas before the finish line.
To add additional excitement for fans and racers, this will be the first year the entire men's elite race will be contested at night under 48,000 watts of light. But the real power will be on the road, with the area's two powerhouse teams, Texas Roadhouse and Bissell-ABG-Giant, battling it out for the win during the Pro/1/2 race.
Bissell's Aaron Hubbell won the elite race last year, besting Texas Roadhouse riders John Grant and Chad Burdzilauskas at the line. But Texas Roadhouse has since reloaded with two elite-level talents - Adam Leibovitz and Colton Barrett - making a repeat victory for Bissell that much more difficult. Doyle said the rivalry between the two teams is good for local cycling.
"Texas Roadhouse has always been the dominant team in the Midwest," Doyle said. "But last year, we overtook them and that woke them up. They really stepped it up a notch this year by signing Adam, and that's a good thing.
"Their team is pretty old, except for Adam (and Barrett), while our team is relatively young. We're the next generation, learning every race. The talent's there, it's just a matter of learning to use it."
Hubbell is no longer with the team and won't be racing Saturday, but Doyle said Bissell will bring eight or nine of those younger riders to contest the race, including Jon Jacob and Graham Dewart.
"(Jacob) is coming around," Doyle said. "He's starting to get his confidence back after breaking his wrist last year. He's probably the strongest rider in the race, but he'll need a little luck to win. ... With a guy like him, you can watch him all you want, but if he goes (off in a breakaway), the only thing you can do is go with him.
"Graham is also riding really well right now," Doyle said. "He won the pack sprint in the Indy Crit a few weeks ago."
Doyle said the team would mark Texas Roadhouse's top two riders, Burdzilauskas and Leibovitz, who he said were "head and shoulders above the rest of the team."
"We're going to keep Adam within arm's length and hopefully frustrate them if it comes down to a sprint. Adam's one of the 10 best criterium riders in the country right now, and while Colton's good, I don't think he'll be in there toward the end of a long race. Ninety minutes is long for a crit, and if this cold front snaps and we get some warmer weather, the heat will definitely be a factor. It's going to be survival of the fittest out there."
Of course, while on paper, it looks like a two-team race, there could be a few surprises out on the road, particularly if a rider like Panther Racing's Ryan Knapp gets a lucky break or two.
In the women's elite race, Racing for Riley's Melissa Moeller tabbed Marian University's Allie Dragoo, Indie Bike's Sierra Siebenlist, Midwest Devo's Chloe Dygert and her teammate Bri Clark as the frontrunners for victory.
"Allie made a solo break at the Indy Crit and snuck away for the win," Moeller said. "She's been on form all year, and helped Marian earn their newest national cycling title. Bri is the toughest and most aggressive cyclist in the field. She is never content to just sprint at the end, though she has the power for that. Instead she means to make everything a race, and she'll be sure to throw in attacks - or have teammates to launch attacks.
"Sierra is capable in just about every genre of cycling and has been racing a lot this summer. She won at Mass Ave just two years ago. She can stay with the best of them, so she'll be in the top of the standings. Chloe has only been road racing for a couple months, but she has the power to sprint at the end or break away. If there is a break up the road, she probably even has the legs to bring it back herself."
Moeller suggested a potential dark-horse for victory might be another teammate, Sydney Hatten, who has been in California all summer doing an internship with Specialized Bicycles. No one knows what condition she'll be in when Saturday arrives.
Racing begins at noon with the Cat 5/Citizens race and lasts until 11 p.m.
Ryan Shean: The Up-and-Comer
Every year, there seems to be at least one local racer who race results MORE
It was Ryan Shean's chance to shine this season. The Team Upland racer won on Day 3 of the prestigious Joe Martin stage race in Arkansas, eventually coming in fifth overall against a stacked field. He followed up that triumph with a podium spot during the Tulsa Tough stage race in Oklahoma, and has numerous podium and top-five finishes locally.
Where are the results coming from? Shean credits his teammates, new coach Curtis Tolson and a new work schedule.
"In December, we all got together to talk about our goals for this season and what we expected from one another," Shean said. "Everyone progressed this year. It's been fun being a part of that."
Shean and teammate Kyle Perry had a mini-training camp in North Carolina in April, putting in dozens of hours of training in the mountains. He was able to do that and fit in 40 races so far this year by finishing grad school and parlaying the degree into a pharmacy job with a flexible schedule and supportive co-workers. (You can keep those Lance Armstrong/PED jokes to yourself, thank you.)
His next target is a top finish at the Mass Ave Crit before he ends his season at the Gateway Cup in St. Louis later this month.
"This will be my fourth time racing Mass Ave," Shean said. "In years past, I've raced it after upgrading (race categories) and I'm just trying to hang on for dear life. ... I want to do well at this race, not just do it. This is the race everyone wants to do well at. Everyone's fit. Everyone comes to race."
"You never know who's going to be the big surprise of the day," Shean said, recounting last year's race when Bissel-NUVO's Hubbell and Texas Roadhouse's Grant and Chad Burdzilauskas were marked by the pack early in the race, yet still managed to break away and nab the three podium spots.
Shean acknowledged he's gotten attention from other teams after his success this year, but reiterated his happiness on Team Upland, adding, "It's a little early to be talking about next year. I'm staying focused on this year." He has no aspirations of going professional, but wants to continue climbing the amateur ranks.
Chad and Whitney Burdzilauskas: The fastest couple in Indy
It seems like every cyclist in Indy has a story about Chad and Whitney Burdzilauskas.
In the bar after a ride, you might hear a rider brag he was able to hang at the back of the back of the pack while Chad pulled the group for miles at a breakneck speed. Nearby, another cyclist may boast about significantly increasing his power numbers after a month or two of being coached by Whitney, who's a lightning-fast triathlete and cyclocross racer in her own right.
The two met, appropriately enough, on the famous Butler training ride.
"He teased me about being a triathlete," said Whitney, who runs The Fitness Lab in Broad Ripple. "He had a lot of personality, but I never thought when we first met that we'd get married."
Whitney's the first to laugh about their differences - she's more of a health nut, while Chad is pretty popular with the local bartenders.
"He's the only one I know who can drink his weight in beer one night, then go out and win a bike race the next day," Whitney said. "He tries to get me to be more indulgent, and I try to get him to be more structured and eat healthy. Beyond that, we don't try to change each other. We accept each other for who we are."
Neither of the two is going into the Mass Ave Crit looking for a win. Rather, both are content playing a domestique role, helping their respective teammates reach the top step of the podium.
"Chad's goal is to help his younger teammates like Adam Lebovitz and Colton Barrett win races so they can get pro contracts," Whitney said. "They're coming into their prime, and Chad knows he isn't getting any younger. His new role on the team is really on the development side. He doesn't want to be that shining star anymore."
For Whitney, her main focus is actually 4,300 miles away, in Kona, Hawaii, for the Ironman world championships. Although she's looking at Mass Ave as more training, she said she's going to go all out to help her Nebo Ridge teammates.
"When I show up for a race, I put everything into it," Whitney said.
After the Ironman, the two plan to stay in Hawaii for a bit, their first non-race vacation since they were married four years ago. They could use the rest.
John and Corbin Schmitz: Father and Son Dynamic Duo
When it comes to crowd favorites, few local riders can match the fanfare surrounding John Schmitz, better known to his Team Indiebike teammates and the local cycling community as "Suitcase." So when his son, Corbin, 16, started racing, it was only natural for the cheers to follow him, as well.
John, who medaled at the Masters Track Nationals last week at the Major Taylor Velodrome, is looking to continue his strong season with a good result Saturday in the Pro/1/2 race. Corbin will toe the start line in the Juniors 15-18 race earlier in the day.
So where did John's nickname come from?
"When I first started riding, I had this big bag on the back of my bike," Schmitz said. "I didn't know what I was doing, so every time someone would attack, I would chase him down. I went after everyone, so it became a big joke. Someone would take off, and they'd yell, 'Go get him, Suitcase!' And the nickname stuck."
As Corbin started racing, it was only natural that the smaller Schmitz got saddled with a luggage-themed nickname. During cyclocross season, the cheers for "Satchel" are among the loudest of the day. Corbin is fairly nonchalant about the attention.
"All the people who know my dad cheer for me, too," Corbin said. "It's cool."
It helps that Corbin also happens to be a terrific kid in his own right. Although they both share a talent on the bike, the two are dissimilar in most other ways - while his dad is boisterous and outgoing, Corbin is more laidback and quiet.
Corbin has only been riding for a few years, but the Midwest Devo rider has established himself as a strong rider in his own right, podiuming at the recent Hyde Park Blast crit and dominating the Cat 4 and Juniors divisions in cyclocross last season.
"He's very coachable, but you do have to push him a little," John said. "At the same time, I want to make sure he's enjoying it."
Corbin hopes to attend Marian University when he graduates high school and join its elite cycling team. But he also has another goal in mind - beating his old man.
"He's been getting faster, and I haven't been training enough this year because of work (and school)," Corbin said. "Last year, our cross times were pretty close, probably within 10 seconds of each other (in a few races). But he's going to get older, and I'm just going to keep getting faster."
Although the two don't get to ride together as much as they'd like - between different schedules and ability levels, it can be tough - they agree cycling has brought them closer together as father and son.
"I probably wouldn't talk to him much at all if it wasn't for cycling," Corbin said with a laugh.