The Brick Criterium used to attract cycling professionals, world champions and Olympians, but on Saturday, its goal is to connect Athens residents.
When he was about 11 years old, Daniel Brown watched, and was able to meet, some of the world’s top cyclists in Lance Armstrong, Greg LeMond and others.
Brown has helped bring back the race that originally lasted from 1986 until 1998.
This year’s race is a 0.6-mile loop that goes from Court Street to West State Street to Union Street and back onto Court Street.
A criterium, or crit for short, is a race on a circuit, but rather than a set number of laps, there are time limits. Race officials will get an idea of what an average lap is after a few laps and then will say how many laps there are left, Brown said. He estimates a fast lap will be somewhere between one minute and 40 seconds and two minutes.
It usually doesn’t last the set amount of time, Brown said. It is usually less.
“It’s similar to road racing, but it’ll be much more aggressive,” said Mike Buckner, cyclist and team president for Headwind Cycling, which is based out of Columbus. “Criterium racing on a course like this is like Nascar.”
There are ten people from Headwind Cycling racing Saturday.
“It’s a first-year race, so we want to support it as much as we can,” Buckner said.
There are 115 people registered to race. Some of those racers are coming from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and North Carolina.
There will be a lot of “preriding” to determine the condition of the course, Buckner said. On a road race, the tire pressure is usually 115 pounds per square inch, but Buckner said it could be down to 90 psi because of the hill and the bricks.
John McCann, a cyclist for the First Internet Bank team out of Cincinnati, said his team is sending Paul Martin, the current Ohio road racing champion and former national champion. Martin raced in the Brick Criterium in the 1990s.
“The whole team is looking forward to taking part in this race that has such a legendary history,“ McCann said in an email.
There are nine races, including the Kid Street Sprints, which are noncompetitive races for kids.
Brown said sharing cycling with children is something that keeps him motivated and a main reason he brought the race back.
When the race started, cyclists would go to local schools to talk with children about cycling, Brown said.
Since school is out, Brown has organized cyclists to go to the Athens Community Center, where there is a camp being held, to talk to the kids.
“It doesn’t have to be the racing aspect; it is just getting the kids interested in bikes,” Brown said. “Then, they get their families interested in riding bikes.”
David Lunberg started the Brick Criterium because his son, Trent, was on the 7-Eleven national team, Jim Fuller, an Athens resident who helped Lunberg start the race, said.
“I knew nothing about bicycle racing, but I knew this man had a passion for it,” Fuller said.
The two went to the Tour of Texas to recruit riders. Lunberg was “tireless about recruiting riders,” Fuller said. There were women’s national champions, Olympians and riders from thirteen countries.
What helped make the race, which was originally in May and then moved to September, so popular was that it was the last race of the year, Fuller said.
The then-mayor of Palm Springs, California, wanted to bring LeMond to his race, but LeMond wanted to go to Athens where everyone else was racing. When LeMond was in Athens, there were 20,000 people watching the race, Fuller said.
“We were making the front pages of all the cycling magazines,” Fuller said. “It was quite the stir in the cycling community.”
Something that helped make it a community-focused event was that almost all the riders lived with an Athens family. Each family had a rider to cheer for in the race, Fuller said.
There would be a maximum of 60 professional racers, and they had to turn people away, Fuller said.
To fund the event, Lundberg had to spend his own money.
“Dave Lundberg put a hell of a lot of his own money into that event,” Fuller said. “Tens of thousands of dollars. He was really the guy that had the vision and the guts and the tenacity to put it all together.”
Of the nine races this year, there are four races that give prizes to those who place well. The Men’s Masters is a $250 prize for the top three finishers, and the Men’s 3/4 is $100 for the top five finishers.
The Women’s and Men’s Pro 15 racers in each split $2,000. First place gets $500, second place gets $250, third place gets $175, and all the way down, fifteenth place gets $50.
On top of placing in the race, there are primes or preems, which are awards for cyclists that win certain laps.
When the riders come through, the announcer will say something like, “there is a $50 prime on this lap,” Brown said.
To organize the race, Brown said his team has spent somewhere between $10,000 to $20,000.
“You’re successful (in bike races) if you make enough money to break even and have some money for next year,” Brown said.
Brown, who went to Athens High School and Ohio University for a master’s degree, said he remembered having conversations about bringing the Brick Criterium back in about 2008, and in 2016, he started to push for it to come back.
“I just want people to come in and have a similar experience that I had when I was younger,” Brown said.
There is also a spectator raffle that includes a Yeti Cooler, Columbus Zoo tickets, Cincinnati Reds tickets, Cedar Point tickets and more. To enter the raffle, people just have to bring a receipt from a local business from June 22.
“It’s really exciting they are putting this race on,“ Buckner said. “There is a lot of heritage and a lot of history to this race.”
Editor’s Note: Although The Post is a sponsor of the Brick Criterium, it does not affect our editorial coverage.