Kyle Kirby checks in after his first time at Speedweek and details the Athens Twilight Crit. Enjoy!
What do you get when you combine a college party and a bike race? Athens Twilight. Regarded as one of the biggest criteriums in the United States, Athens Twilight was home to the second stop of the USA Crits Series and the USA Speedweek, and brings the top crit racers in America to the college town of Athens, Georgia every year. In it’s 40th annual event, this years Twilight was no different, and brought out the crowds and energy that Athens has become famous for. Marc Pro Cycling headed out to the opening weekend of the USA Speedweek series with five riders in total: Nate Freed, Blake Anton, Willie Myers, John Borstelmann, and myself, Kyle Kirby. Before we could toe the line at Athens on Saturday night we had to get through a notoriously dangerous Spartanburg Twilight Crit, this year being no exception. With nerves high amongst other racers a few big pile-ups occurred in the final, taking out a couple of our riders and making the field pretty uneasy. With Friday night’s scary moments and neutralizations leaving most racers frustrated, we knew that Saturday night’s Athens Twilight would probably be a lot harder, with the top teams wanting to keep it strung out and safe all night.
In typical ‘crit life’ fashion, Saturday started out with a late breakfast and a short spin to a local bakery and coffee shop where it seems half of the pro peloton ends up at some point. With Athens being a pretty small town, it was pretty standard to run into other teams on a similar schedule and creates a unique community between fellow racers. After too many pastries and americanos we rolled over to downtown Athens to preview the course and say hi to our friends at Jakroo! Then it was back to the house for some lunch, naps, and some final preparation before the big show that night. Rolling back over to the course before the race, it seemed like everyone in Athens had turned out to watch the races, with thousands of spectators lining the downtown streets as the sun set and pro racing began. Half of the battle in racing these big crits is getting a good staging position, and the fight starts way before getting to the start line. In a field of over 160 racers, it would be incredibly difficult to make it to the front if you were relaxed in staging. As the adrenaline pumped in the final seconds before the start and the first few minutes of the race, it was hard to not get overwhelmed by the noise and intense energy of the fans. With some extra motivation I put in an early move to try and bridge to Daniel Holloway’s solo break. In hindsight this was a terrible idea, as its nearly impossible to ride off the front of a field going 35 miles an hour, alone, while half of the US Olympic track team (the legends of Texas Roadhouse) chases you down, but when 20,000 people are cheering for you and telling you to attack, all logic goes out the window. After a couple laps solo I was inevitably brought back, and then did my best to recover while flying at well over 30mph. After a massive pileup on the last corner about midway through the race, a long neutralization, and a fast restart a few of us Marc Pro guys were left a bit out of position heading into the last 20 laps. Working well together Blake, John, and I were able to ride up into the top 20 wheels or so until the pure speed and hard racing started to catch up to me in the final 10 laps. John and Blake were able to hang tough in the last few laps where the race started to split up, and ended up with Blake in 17th and John in 22nd, in one of the hardest crits in America. While the race was finished, the college town continued to party on, praising racers and creating an incredible atmosphere to race a bike in.
I’m grateful to Marc Pro Cycling for giving me these opportunities to travel and race these epic events, for helping to teach me how to race at this higher level and for investing in my development, and look forward to getting back together with the guys at the Winston Salem Cycling Classic next week! A huge thank you goes out to the sponsors and supporters of Marc Pro that make this possible for us, and a special thank you to Bronson and Celia Eicheldinger for hosting us all week!