Yesterday I attended the Roswell Criterium bicycle race. “Crit” Races are short-lap races done under a time limit. The field goes out and circles the course for a set time—30, 40, 50, 80 minutes—depending on the category of the race. They are technical races due to the the number of turns and accelerations that occur.
I was a volunteer for the first half of the races then a wandering spectator. During the Category 3/4 race I was moving toward the finish line to catch the final sprint when the officials stood out in front of the racers and waved everyone to a stop at the line.
During a criterium, the way that the racers know how many laps are left is by a board at the finish line with a number on it. When it is time for the last lap, the officials at the finish will also ring a bell to let the riders know that this one is for all the potatoes.
Apparently, at the end of this race, there was some confusion amongst the officials and what was announced as the last lap (through the bell or whatever, I wasn’t present) was actually the second to last lap. The riders came to the finish, going hell-for-leather, only to discover that they still had one more lap to go. They continued to sprint the race one more lap and then were pulled up in the pile seen above so that the officials could tell them what was going on.
What happened was that the officials on motorcycles who were pacing the pack had tried to alert the racers that they still had two laps to go, rather than one. They succeeded at this, but only for the rear of the pack. The rear half sat up and didn’t push the pace unlike the front half who gave it their all.
There were some upset bikers in the field. I was standing on a ledge right next to the finish and they were lambasting the officials left and right. The officials announced the three-lap finish and a few of the bikers tried to organize a mass sit-in (i.e. when they blow the whistle, don’t go). That didn’t work out but it illustrates how strongly they felt.
Eventually they did their remaining three laps and a winner was declared (not necessarily the pictured rider). It was fun to watch, despite the whoopsie!
More images at my Flickr set on the 2009 Historic Roswell Criterium