July 7, 2013 in City

Lilac City Twilight Criterium bike races return to downtown

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Cyclists chase shadows as they make the turn onto Howard Street during a men’s race in the 2013 Lilac City Twilight Criterium on Saturday evening in downtown Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

Don’t try to talk to Spokane Rocket Velo President Alan Jacob on the day of the Lilac City Twilight Criterium. He’s got dozens of racing cyclists, nearly a mile of blocked-off downtown Spokane roads and the occasional rogue biker to contend with.

“We need you to get off the course, dude,” the emcee calls at a man riding through the fenced-off track Saturday afternoon. The man shoots him a thumbs-up before veering off as a group of men on road bikes barrel toward him.

The criterium, or crit, as Jacob says the “cool people” call it, is a high-speed, 0.8-mile bicycle race through downtown Spokane. Groups of riders sped around the race’s six turns in front of Riverfront Park on Saturday, competing for about $2,500 in prizes.

It’s a stressful last few minutes before the race starts, Jacob said. He darts from volunteer to volunteer, asking if everyone has a number, telling the emcee to make announcements and filling out final paperwork.

“This is just another part of two-wheel madness,” Jacob said.

A young boy scampers after Jacob, reaching for a bright orange cowbell from a box the organizer is carrying. Curious onlookers lean over the railing surrounding the cyclists, cheering and snapping photos as they turn each sharp corner.

Coeur d’Alene couple Mike and Jenni Gaertner drove to Spokane for Saturday’s race. The Gaertners, who own a bike shop in Coeur d’Alene, have pedaled through their relationship since day one.

Jenni Gaertner recalls when she met her husband 20 years ago this month at a mountain bike race.

“It makes me feel old,” she said with a laugh.

The pair raced together in the same group as the sun began to set.

“It’s awesome,” Gaertner said of racing with her husband. “I’m pretty lucky all the way around.”

The Inland Northwest has a strong, tight-knit cycling community, Mike Gaertner said, and races such as the crit help expose people to a different facet of the sport.

“We have a lot of cyclists that just don’t know what bike racing is,” he said.

Jacob estimated that about 150 racers participated.

Working with police and city officials is often difficult, since large portions of the street have to be shut down. Most popular crits take place in smaller, more rural areas where security isn’t such an issue.

“Doing a downtown crit is insane,” Jacob said.

But this is the second year in a row Jacob has organized the race, and the stress is worth it.

“It was fantastic,” Jacob said of last year’s inaugural race. “If this thing was not awesome, we wouldn’t be out here sweating and getting sunburned.”

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