The boulevards are wide, the course is flat, and the corners only count to four. This is Harlem, New York, and we’re back to good old fashion American criterium racing at the 45th edition of the Colavita-Bialetti Harlem Skyscraper Classic.
Many of the USA CRITS races occur at night, under the glow of floodlights and with the smell of beer in the air. The courses are technical, with dramatic elevation changes and multiple turns left and right. It’s American criterium racing 2.0, with new format designed to attract a younger crowd.
Harlem, in contrast, is on a Sunday afternoon, in the heat of summer. It’s one of the originals, dating back to 1973. The pro races kick off in the early afternoon in Marcus Garvey Park, just as the BBQs are heating up, signalling the end of Sunday church services. The park is spacious with lawns, ball fields, activity courts, an amphitheatre, and a swimming pool.
On a hot Sunday summer’s day in New York, cup after cup of cold iced tea is poured, kids run around with not a care in the world, as race day becomes a family affair.
The brakes don’t get much use on this course. It’s flat and fast. A simple touch of the brakes could send a rider backwards in the pack or even worse, hitting the tarmac.
The 1.2-kilometer course goes around the park via Mount Morris Park West, 120th Street, Madison Avenue, and 124th Street. The finish line is toward the end of the stretch along Mount Morris Park West. The pro women will race 45 laps, with the pro men doing 50 laps.
Leading out of the final corner is not the place to be for this race. Sitting second or third wheel is the sweet spot. It’s a long way from the final turn to the finish. Having one last wheel to come off of on the finishing straight can make the difference between a fight for the podium and a fight for the win.
By circumnavigating the park, the riders will get brief moments of shade from the hot summer New York sun under big old trees. Hydration will be extremely important on Sunday with temperatures expected to be near 90F (32C) at race time. It will be interesting to see whether increased temperatures and humidity with the adjustment from evening crit racing for the professionals to an afternoon start time for the professionals will affect any of the top contenders.
Tina Pic (Colavita-Bialetti) leads the women’s series standings by a mere two points over Samantha Schneider (ISCorp) after a crazy night of racing in Oklahoma City (OKC) a few weekends ago. Pic took the win in OKC while Schneider missed the large breakaway, thus losing out on a bunch of points. Pic is clearly coming into form and though she may have a weaker team than Schneider, her vast experience makes up for it.
Pic’s teammate, Christina Gokey Smith, sits fourth overall in standings, giving the squad a powerful one-two punch. Also, there’s a little bit of extra motivation for Colavita-Bialetti, as the team’s title sponsors are also the title sponsors of the race. Performing well in front of those paying the bills is never a bad thing.
ISCorp will surely come out swinging in Harlem after botching the USA CRITS race in OKC. Although Yussely Soto finished second to Pic, she was the only ISCorp rider out an 11-rider breakaway; not the odds the powerful squad would have wanted. U25 classification leader Caroline Baur is knocking on the door of capturing a win and Sunday could be the day. The Swiss rider has an engine and has been instrumental in chasing down breakaways and leading out Schneider, all while still finishing strongly.
Rachel Langdon (Gray Goat Mobile/Bullseye Total Media) is the CyclingTips Lap Leader by a wide margin and never shies away from going off the front. She sits third overall and a power course like Harlem could suit her attacking style well.
Notably absent from the Harlem start list is Feed Hungry Kids team. The squad boasts Laura Jorgenson, who recently captured second on day two of the Armed Forces Cycling Classic in Arlington, Virginia, but will not be racing in Harlem. Two other notables, breakaway artist Lily Williams and sprinter Peta Mullens of Hagens Berman-Supermint, will also be absent.
While the top six riders in the series standings will be present in the pro women’s race, the men’s race will start without powerhouse Holowesko-Citadel. Harlem conflicts with the Tour de Beauce stage race in Canada, so the squad elected to face contenders across the border, rather than in New York.
This is unfortunate, as Holowesko-Citadel leads the team classification and its premier sprinter John Murphy leads the FSA Fastest Lap, CyclingTips Lap Leader, and Colavita series overall standings. Murphy’s teammate Miguel Bryon leads the U25 standings.
While the team that holds all of the series jerseys will not be present, this opens the door for other riders and squads to swoop in and make up a bit of ground. David Guttenplan (Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan Coaching), third in the series overall, has the most to gain with Holowesko-Citadel’s absence. Guttenplan is an aggressive rider, always on the lookout for the breakaway; but this has cost him finishing points, as he often burns matches before the sprint. He missed the breakaway that lapped the peloton at Athens Twilight and has not done well in the sprint finishes at Winston-Salem and Oklahoma City. However, a big haul of points on Sunday can put him back in the mix for the overall title or even into the Colavita orange leader’s jersey.
Team Clif Bar has looked much improved this year, not only in their strength but also in the execution of their lead-out train. The squad has three riders in the top 10 of the series overall with Zack Allison fifth, Kevin Mullervy seventh, and Conor Mullervy ninth. They’ve gone wheel-to-wheel with Holowekso-Citadel, so they look to be the top team and the guys to watch in Harlem.
Expect a wild and crazy pro men’s race on Sunday with some of the strongest team and strongest riders absent. The race will be chaotic with attacks expected from the gun and throughout the 50-lap event.
Why Harlem matters
The Harlem Skyscraper Classic carries the prestige only races that have been around for decades can have. The race was founded in 1973 by former New York Police Officer David Walker and has grown over the years into a community festival.
Racing down Madison Avenue in the village of Harlem is a treat unlike any other. Unlike most U.S. criteriums, these streets were and are famous not because of a bike race, but because of their communities, culture, and rich history.
As always, you can catch the Harlem Skyscraper Classic on usacrits.tv. Race coverage begins at 1:15 p.m. EST on Sunday with the pro women starting at 1:30 p.m. EST and pro men beginning at 3:00 p.m. EST.