Indy Crit racing is a blast

Jennifer Cvar

One of the largest and most competitive bicycle races in the Midwest returns this weekend. Both racers and spectators will notice a few big changes at this year's Indy Crit.

Perhaps the largest change will be that most of the action and activities will happen on the Circle for the first time in the event's six-year history.

"We had to rethink everything," said Race Director Jennifer Cvar. "It's almost like we're recreating the event from scratch. But being there on Monument Circle, it's going to bring even more excitement and energy to both the crowd and the racers."

The Start/Finish line has moved to Meridian Street on the Circle as well, setting up a longer, straighter finish that favors sprinters with good timing and even better fast-twitch muscle fibers. The rest of the one-mile, figure-eight course that passes University Park and the demolished husk of the Indianapolis Star building will remain the same, but competitors will be racing clockwise, not counter-clockwise, this year.

Taking a cue from the city's most famous eponymous racing event, winners of each race will be drinking milk — Traders Point Creamery organic chocolate milk, to be exact.

Mayor Greg Ballard will be riding in his final Rolls-Royce Race with the Mayor's contest, and he may be joined by the two candidates looking to take over his office, Democrat Joe Hoggset and Republican Chuck Brewer. A mix of local CEOs and media personalities round out the starting field. (I'll be racing with the mayor as well; look for a goofy-looking guy with an even goofier-looking handlebar moustache.)

With more than 500 expected amateur and professional participants, other promoters will be trying to capitalize on Indy Crit's success. At the Major Taylor Velodrome, a team pursuit race will be held, and on Sunday, a Dan Daly-promoted criterium will take place at Eagle Creek Park. Although neither is officially connected to her race, Cvar hoped that the combined three days of racing might attract even more competitors from out of town.

"We've always had multiple-category races so people can compete in more than one event," Cvar said. It seems like a lot of other big races have been following our example. Now with (the addition of the two new races), there's even more incentives to come."

Once again all proceeds will go to Freewheelin' Community Bikes, a local non-profit that teaches local adolescents and teens bike-mechanic skills and helps them earn their own free bicycle. This will be the first Indy Crit since Freewheelin' Founder Nancy Stimson passed away last fall. Cvar has since taken over Stimson's role as Freewheelin' Executive Director. Money earned from Indy Crit will be earmarked for programming and employee salaries.

More than 80 kids take Freewheelin' classes each summer, taught by a mix of volunteers and employees. Groups of kids are bused in from Eastern Star church and local community centers about once a week for six weeks to take the initial course. Most have barely handled a wrench before, let alone learned how to take off wheels or change a flat tire. Upon completion of the program, each of the kids will graduate to the next level — from a yellow apron to a green one — and receive their own bike.

"Our biggest challenge is the quality of bikes we receive," Cvar said. "Many of the donated bikes were bought from department stores and are pretty low quality. We need good bikes that will last for a while."

Terry Brown, 9, is already trying to convince his mom to bring him back after his beginner class is finished so he can learn more about working on bikes. All the kids have the opportunity to continue their bike education afterward, moving from a yellow apron all the way to a black version, similar to the karate belt system. About 15 kids have earned the coveted black apron by completely rebuilding a disassembled bike; one of those black aprons has gone on to score a job at Loke Bicycles in Fishers.