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Cycling circuit eager to return to Springfield
Springfield Criterium 2021
Ashley Parker
Ashley Parker exhales after crossing the finish line near the Mars Theatre in the Men’s 4/5 race. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

 SPRINGFIELD — North America’s premiere cycling league is eager to give Springfield another spin.

USA CRITs conducted the Springfield Criterium on Aug. 24. A criterium is a race of a specified number of laps on a closed course over roads closed to traffic.

The Springfield version had time limits.

“The race organizers were extremely impressed with Springfield,” said Ashley Parker, the instrumental figure in landing the criterium. “They said it was one of the best ‘first’ events they had ever done. They heard nothing but great things about the course, the friendliness of the city and the way the streets are. The streets are in good condition. 

“It’s just a wide-open avenue and it has a perfect start-finish line and straightaway for this type of activity.”

Springfield’s 1-kilometer course started and ended at the Mars Theatre on Laurel Street. It also included 2nd Street, South Oak Street and Elbert Street.

“Everybody was able to kind of hang out right outside the restaurants and shops and take it all in,” Parker said. “That’s what we pictured from the very get-to and that’s why they do these races in that type of environment. That’s why they don’t do them in shopping mall parking lots or industrial complexes. Those places stay empty, too, but it’s not fun to be there.

“It’s fun for the crowds to be right outside a restaurant where they can grab a beer or soda or whatever.”

Parker, the founder and president of Bike Effingham, conferred with a couple City of Springfield officials the day after the race.

“I just got some feedback on what went well and what didn’t,” Parker said. “I asked them flat out if they had a good time. It means a lot to me because I want to be on good terms with them.

“They gave me some constructive criticism on some things that they thought would help out like maybe getting crowds across the street to access the inside of the course.”

Parker, who competed in one of the early races, said he has a few ideas to enhance spectator enjoyment but was unable to enact them this year.

He explained, “There were some things that we wanted to do with kid participation but with the timing and it being the first year (for the criterium) terms like ‘liability’ and ‘waivers’ kind of scared me. I was a little tentative to do it the first year and I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew.

“I didn’t want to lose focus of having the event by trying to do too much.”

Parker said a 2022 Springfield Criterium would feature short races for children in multiple age groups.

“I think that would be a great thing to draw more adults in,” he said. “It would bring the kids and, obviously, the adults would have to come. When the adults come, that’s more money and more of a crowd.

“They can hang out, have dinner and make a night of it.”

Parker said the city officials considered the criterium a success. Many of the spectators did, too.

 “I walked the course after my race turning the lights on and things like that,” Parker said. “Everybody was giving me a smile and thumbs up. They just thought it was the coolest thing.

“In the back of my mind, I always I thought (the criterium) would get that kind of reaction out of most people. It’s just clean fun. There is hardly nothing negative you can say about it.

“These athletes are in amazing condition with exceptional pieces of machinery. It’s just amazing to watch the endurance and speeds they can do on such a small stretch of road.”

The professional USA CRITS riders are capable of reaching speeds in excess of 40 mph on a closed downtown course. 

The Springfield Criterium feature six classes: Masters 35+ (4 p.m.), Masters 45+ (4 p.m.), Men’s Category 4/5 (4:45 p.m.), Men’s Category 2/3 (5:20 p.m.), Women’s Pro (6:15 p.m.) and Men’s Pro (7:20 p.m.). The races lasted anywhere from 30-75 minutes depending on the division.

There were 115 total participants.

“If things can get back to normal (considering the COVID-19 pandemic) — if that’s even possible — they have a date in April penciled in (for the 2022 Springfield Criterium),” Parker said. “That’s the normal time of year this event would have taken place.”

 Parker landed several sponsors for the 2021 criterium. He said a couple were quick to pledge support for a 2022 version.

“Hopefully, we can keep the same sponsors and bring a few more in, or trade a few out,” he said. “I’m expecting a better event next year.”