When local riders take their places at the starting line of this year's Mass Ave Criterium for the Men's Category Pro|1|2 race, the contenders include winners from each of the previous year's races and a good number of others hoping to take their place on the podium at the race's end.
Defending MAC champion Eric Young, who rode for NUVO Cycling when he won last year, is a certainly a favorite for a repeat.
Young, who now rides for the Bissell pro team, led the Cutters team to five consecutive Little 500 victories while at Indiana University and was the first Little 500 rider to have a pro contract waiting for him upon graduation earlier this year.
"He's the fastest guy around, that's for sure," says Texas Roadhouse rider Chad Burdzilauskas. "He's got speed, which means he can bridge gaps really well and chase down any one who gets ahead of him."
Burdzilauskas and Young finished second and third at the recent Indy Criterium in July, with Burdzilaus' Roadhouse teammate John Grant taking first place.
As it turns out, these three are also the winners of the previous Mass Ave Criterium races. In addition to Young's win last year, Grant had the fastest time in 2009 and Burdzilauskas won the first MAC in 2008.
"It's great that all three of us will be there for this one," says Burdzilauskas. "It's such a great race - really fun."
Saturday's race will determine the Indiana State Elite Criterium Championships, a title that speaks to a rider's speed as well as technical skill. In a criterium it is as much about how deftly a cyclist handles a bike that determines the winner.
For a rider to complete a criterium circuit, with its technical turns and sharp corners, he or she must not only stay upright and stay up front, but the bike-handling skills necessary to know when to slow down coming into a corner, when to accelerate coming out of it, and how to avoid crashing into the five or six other riders taking the turn at 20-30 mph alongside of you is crucial.
Most importantly, the rider also has to conserve enough energy for what is certain to be a powerful 30-40 mph flat-out sprint to the finish - especially at the MAC.
While there are no shortage of criterium races in Indiana each season, the Mass Ave Crit presents an almost unique challenge for the tight corners created by the street race's triangular course and resulting an almost slinky-like effect of riders who are forced to slow down at each turn.
"The Mass Ave Crit is a good race for a lot of reasons," says Burdzilauskas. "It's those sharp turns though that make it really technical. For me, those turns simulate hills in other races. You really have to know how to come out of the turn, pick up speed and stay out front."
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Staying out front isn't typically a problem for Burdzilauskas who recently took first place at the Superweek criterium. At the MAC in 2009, he and John Grant were part of a breakaway that sped away from the pack during the first ten minutes of the race and never gave the rest of the field a chance to catch up. That day, they finished first and second, with Grant on top - same results as this year's Indy Crit.
In addition to Grant and Burdzilauskas, Texas Roadhouse will also be represented by John Puffer, another rider with a good chance of winning this year.
"Puffer is in great shape and could easily win this year," admits Burdzilauskas. "We've got a bunch of fast guys this year and any one of us could take it on Saturday."
With Grant and Burdzilauskas giving Texas Roadhouse two of three MAC championships, the NUVO Cycling team is more determined than ever to even the score and win again this year.
While Young may not be wearing a NUVO jersey any longer, the team has rider Jon Jacobs to represent in this year's MAC and give the former winners a run for their money.
Jacobs and Burdzilauskas competed just this past weekend in Illinois at the Tour of Elk Grove, where Burdzilauskas barely edged Jacobs out for the win.
"JJ is amazing," says Burdzilauskas. "He's fast and strong enough to be racing professionally. When that guy gets away, there's no bringing him back."
Burdzilauskas isn't just being a generous competitor in his praise of Jacobs. Early this summer, JJ won the USA Cycling National Road Race Time Trials, making him the fastest rider in the country.
"We're fast," Burdzilauskas says of his Texas team, "but we don't have anyone who can ride as fast as JJ in Time Trials. He is amazing."
Additional NUVO Cycling team members competing Saturday include team captains Aaron Hubbell and Declan Doyle, as well as Drew Otte and Brad Schaeffer.
Greg Strock of Texas Roadhouse will also be racing the MAC again this year, and Burdzilauskas thinks Strock shouldn't be counted out as a contender. Strock was a top 10 finisher at the national time trials, and he has raced well at MAC in previous years.
"Strock could win the whole thing," says Burdzilauskas. "He's been riding really well. Depending on how the rest of the team does, and what kind of break we're dealing with, Greg could be the one to win it."