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It’s just a few days before one of the most intense bouts of criterium racing on the 2013 calendar, and Erica Allar is fresh off the massage table and doing her best to unwind.
Less than a week ago, Allar notched another podium spot at this year’s Sunny King Criterium in Anniston, Alabama, coming in second to youngster Coryn Rivera. At the finish line, the 28-year-old from CARE4cycling was glad that she had regained the top spot on the National Criterium Calendar (NCC), but you could tell from her slightly downcast eyes that she was dissatisfied with the loss.
“I made a pretty big tactical error that I think cost me the win,” Allar said. “I went too early in the sprint. So even though I was on top on the NCC again, which was really great, I was still heavily disappointed because last year was such an outstanding year for me in terms of races that I did well at and races that I won. It’s really hard to look back on that and look at what’s happened this year and see the variance of it.”
Allar has not stood on the top spot of the podium since she grabbed the final Orange Jersey of the USA CRITS Series in Vail, Colorado last October. That title, her third in the series, and the NCC championship that coincided with it capped a long string of what looked like relatively easy wins for the Illinois native who now calls Tucson, Arizona home. Often racing by herself or with just one or two teammates, depending on where an event is held, the pressure on Allar to perform generally falls on her own shoulders.
“My two elite teammates, Lenore Pipes and Jessi Prinner, are in school full-time,” Allar said. “So it is a lot of pressure on me to do well because this is what I’m doing and this is what I’m committed to. Theresa Cliff-Ryan just got second in Charlotte with just one person left in the field after they had a mechanical, so having a full squad behind you is not necessarily the make-it-or-break-it factor behind a victory.
You can single-handedly [win] … if you’re fit enough and smart enough and you’re a little bit lucky. You can beat these teams that have tens of thousands of dollars or more to work with.”
During the offseason, Allar was in fact approached by a couple of interested teams, but neither proved to be just the right fit at the moment for where she is her career. What she’s hoping for in terms of future opportunities within the women’s peloton is more options; not just for her, but for all female racers.
“It would be really beneficial if we just had more teams out there to give people places to go,” she says. “Instead of forcing teams to pay women X minimum dollars, it might be better if they got equipment, expenses, and travel so that way women get to those races and the promoters get big women’s fields. [That way,] there’s more depth and it’s more exciting and more people are getting an opportunity to actually race. So maybe they’re not getting a salary but they’re getting an opportunity to race. That’s a good step in the right direction because there just aren’t that many teams out there offering women positions.”
What does constitute the professional women’s field for the moment is headed to what many see as the U.S. crown jewel of criterium racing — this weekend’s Terrapin Twilight Criterium in Athens, Georgia. The 34th annual event is set to take place Saturday in front of the usual throng of boisterous college students and local cycling fans. This year, however, the forecast is calling for a fair amount of rain to soak the famous four-corner festival, making the infamous first turn down towards the Georgia Theatre and the rest of the course perilously slick. The wet conditions don’t spook Allar, however, who won last year.
“I don’t mind the rain,” she says. “I’d rather race in the rain than have to deal with blustery, 30 mph winds. It’s never really been a problem for me to race in the rain, so I welcome it. Yes, of course, your chances of falling down probably increase by 50 percent, but as long you control the things that you can control and race smart, it’s something that can be avoided. I feel that the spectators have to deal with the rain because that’s not fun, but I’m not afraid of it. It’s not going to scare me.”
From there, Allar and the rest of the criterium field head into the USA CRITS Speed Week Series; seven races that will take the riders from Georgia to South Carolina and North Carolina before heading back to Georgia again from April 27-May 5. It’s a long, arduous run of races that saps the legs of most of its participants by the time they hit the final event in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
“It hurts,” she says. “By the time you make it to Sandy Springs because it’s hot and the course is really hard, everyone is tired.
One stop Allar and the rest of the Speed Week field won’t be making this year is Beaufort, South Carolina. A longstanding fixture in the Speed Week calendar, the Beaufort Memorial Classic Criterium has been replaced by the Coastal Empire Cycle Fest in Tybee Island, Georgia. This new race is a .66-mile, four-corner crit on the southern tip of the Georgia tourist destination just to the east of Savannah, Georgia.
“It’s going to be something that Tybee and Savannah have never seen,” Coastal Empire organizer Anne Whitton Bolyea said. “But I think everyone’s going to really enjoy it. There’s a really great community of cyclists down here and the Savannah Wheelmen have been trying to get a bike race down here for almost two years and this has become a beautiful thing all of sudden. It’s extremely exciting.”
Boylea, who has been in the sport since she helped to sponsor the women’s Cheerwine racing squad, says the inaugural race is to be sponsored by AMBUCS, a non-profit organization that provides special bicycles and tricycles to children who are not able to ride regular bicycles. The American Diabetes Association has also been brought in to support the race, which is anticipating a good response when riders from Team Novo Nordisk roll into town.
Allar is looking forward to the weeklong event, and hopes that the momentum she’s beginning to gather will come to fruition before the long stretch of racing is over.
“Speed Week is one of my favorite weeks because it’s like crit camp,” Allar said. “You get to go down and travel throughout the Southeast and race all those different criteriums, which is something I love to do.”
USA CRITS Speed Week 2013 Schedule
April 27: Terrapin Twilight Criterium
April 28: Historic Roswell Criterium
April 30: Coastal Empire Cycle Fest
May 1: Downtown Walterboro Criterium
May 3: Spartanburg Regional Classic
May 4: Belmont Criterium presented by Carolinas HealthCare System
May 5: Global BMW Sandy Springs Cycling Challenge