Cycle: Underground Crit Brings Aggressive Group Riding to North Phoenix
criterium (krī-ˈtir-ē-əm): a bicycle race of a specified number of laps with at least four corners on a small course over public roads closed to normal traffic.
photo by Jason Franz Cyclists blur through a corner at the Underground Crit in North Phoenix.
By its very definition, a criterium - or crit - is a race, yet the Underground Crit, one of the Valley's most popular group rides, is showing that a crit can be ridden under the same conditions while removing the moniker of "race."
Held on the wide streets of a yet-to-be-developed business park off of 7th Street and Deer Valley Road, the Underground Crit is easily one of the most intensely ridden yet safe group rides in town with nothing more at stake than bragging rights and a chance to go shoulder to shoulder on a challenging course with some of the Valley's very best.
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The ride started in April, 2011 when ride organizer Tim Fleming sent an email to 17 of his cycling buddies inviting them to gather on a Tuesday evening to ride the course that is also used for the Arizona State Criterium Championships. With each passing week, the group expanded through word of mouth and Fleming gathering more and more emails for his distribution list.
Photo by Rick Rowen/Right Brain Photography, courtesy of Underground Crit
Now, a typical Tuesday night sees 70 to 100 riders lining up to spin around the nearly one mile loop, attracting all levels of riders from recreational spinners to pre-teen junior racers to local pro and 2012 El Tour de Tucson winner Eric Marcotte.
"The best thing about this ride is all of the different kinds of people who come out, from pilots to CEO's to blue collar workers to these young kids," said Fleming, who also rides and sponsors a local team. "This ride is on city streets and we have had good support and communication with the city, plus we usually have a couple of local police are riders."
Each Tuesday night crit is split into two group rides. The "B" group rolls off the line at 6:30 p.m. and usually warms up over five neutral laps before opening up for five race-pace laps. The B group is for all riders regardless of ability allowing anyone a chance to get a feel for safe group riding at a fast speed.
Google Maps The Underground Crit course is a mostly isolated roadway in an undeveloped commercial area near 7th Street and Deer Valley Road.
The "A" group then rolls at 7:30 for two neutral laps before allowing the strong men and ladies to unleash their fury on the glassy tarmac for the next 30 minutes.
And because of the crit circuit course, if a rider gets dropped at any time, the group comes back around offering another chance to either hop on the train or pick up a few stragglers who also couldn't hold the pace. But that's not to say the course doesn't have its challenges. There is an uphill draw along the start/finish straight that can put a real strain on the legs while working to hold speed.