The annual dowtown Bloomington criterium has an amazing cult following yet no one quite knows exactly why this is so. For the central Indiana locals, Bloomington natives, and current and former Little 500 athletes this race has a street cred that transcends a prize list — the single largest factor in determining racer turnout in the Pro-Am category. Yet this year the designation of the Indiana State Criterium Championship made Bloomington even more irresistible.
Those uncomfortable with tight corners at high speeds or those who remain un-enthralled by this modern racing legend (am I being overdramatic? Somehow I think not) cannot comprehend the mystique. My friend and Bloomington resident Ryan Knapp told me of a conversation with his teammates where they could not understand why he would not race at any of the other races this weekend with several-thousand dollar prize lists to do this race with less than $1000 in total prizes. His teammates, mostly Purdue alums and students or Buckeyes from Ohio, were incapable of understanding. The course is exactly what a criterium should be, six corners in less than a mile, so unlike those boring state park races. The crowds are knowledgeable, raised on watching Little 500. And the spectators are enthusiastic, as they move between Nick's, Kilroy's, and the other bars on the strip.
The NUVO Cultural Trail team feels a sense of ownership of this race. We won it twice in the last five years. We have several Little 500 winners from the Cutters on the team. We have IU alums. In our pre-race meeting I asserted that we were going to win this race or fail colossally trying — no second places. We started the race with a solid squad: Andrzej Banaszkiewicz, David Caughlin, Declan Doyle, Erik Hamilton, Mike Lantz, Weston Luzadder, Ben Weaver, and me.
Our team plan was simple: Win the goddamn race. There were ample cards to play that would allow us to win in almost any situation but the small field of 30 had incredible depth. Local pro Jake Rytlewski, Jason Smith and Jason Fowler from Zipp, former pro Todd Cornelius, and Bloomington-based badasses John Myers, Ryan Knapp, Isaac Neff, and Brett Stewart — any one of these guys could have proved to be a handful.
Personally the first 45 minutes of the race were a blur. Constant attacks and aggression kept the field perpetually strung out at speeds between 28 and 35 miles per hour. The team rode impeccably by instigating many moves and following the few we did not start. Our desire to win drove us, as did the knowledge that as the largest team in the race we had a responsibility to be the prime aggressors.
With 30 minutes remaining it was obvious to me that the field would not allow a breakaway to escape and at that point I slid back to the middle of the pack to rest for the inevitable mass sprint finish. Twenty minutes later I hit my hardest moment of the race — hardest emotionally, that is. My friend Brett Stewart attacked and as I happened to be sitting on his wheel it was my responsibility to follow him. I did so and we quickly gained a gap of five to 10 seconds. I traded a few pulls with Brett but as I looked over my shoulder I saw a hard charging field closing in on us. At that point I stopped working in order to stay fresh for the sprint. Unfortunately this meant I needed to screw a friend. Brett was willing to lay it all out to stay away — I was not. I knew a sprint was a far surer outcome but Brett could not say the same. I apologized profusely as Brett asked "why?" and shook his head in frustration. Of course we were caught and I immediately looked for prime positioning near the front.
My teammates Dave, Ben, Weston, and Mike then kept the speed high in the final several laps. In the final three laps Declan and Erik took over pace-making duties with Erik making the final lap blisteringly fast. Declan and Erik moved aside as we entered the final turn and they made it nearly impossible for me to lose. Their fast speed prevented anyone from moving up to contest the sprint in the final lap. In the end NUVO Cultural Trail placed first, third, fifth, and sixth, with Fowler and Knapp finishing second and fourth.
Indiana State Criterium Championships — Final Results
1 Aaron Hubbell NUVO/Cultural Trail
2 Jason Fowler Zipp Factory
3 Erik Hamilton NUVO/Cultural Trail
4 Ryan Knapp Panther/RGF
5 Ben Weaver NUVO/Cultural Trail
6 Declan Doyle NUVO/Cultural Trail
7 Jacob Rytlewski Kenda P/B Spinergy
8 John Meyers ABD Cycling
9 David Jordan Triangle Velo
10 Karim Abdelkader Mob Squad