'Round and 'round the Ellipse, pedaling fast and furiously, cyclists will compete in U.S. Cycling Federation events Sunday in the 13th annual National Capital Open criterium bike race.
The one-kilometer Ellipse course is expected to produce national records, as usual, the flat oval being ideal for the multi-lap criterium races. The Open is a National Prestige Classic, drawing national and Olympic caliber athletes because the points won count toward the national championship.
The first race, 25 km for "veterans" over 35, starts at 10; the women's 30-km race begins at noon; and the featured 50-km Pro/Am is scheduled for 3. The Open is sponsored by the National Capital Velo Club and Mel Pinto Imports.
The best spot for spectators is near the start/finish line at 16th and Constitution Avenue NW, from which one can see the entire course and follow individual and team strategies as well as listen to loudspeaker commentary that helps explain the action. Some tips about terms that will be used:
ATTACK: A sudden attempt to get away from another rider or group, to improve position, force the pace, or simply wear opponents down. Counterattacks often follow. In the Pro/Am race the 7-11 and Stowe/Shimano teams can be expected to use this tactic to place their riders out front. Two 7-11 riders, Ron Hayman (No. 3) and Alex Steida (No. 4), will attack and likely will be countered by the Stowe/Shimano team of Bruce Donaghy (No.1 and winner of last year's race) and David Ware.
BLOCKING: One or more riders hinder the pace of the pack or a group. Usually used as a team strategy. The 7-11s will try near the finish of the race to keep any of their riders out front by curbing the pursuing pack.
BOXING: A team encircles others so they can't get by; a great way to hobble a sprinter. Donaghy is known for his finishing dashes, and the other teams will try to box him out of sprint position.
BREAKAWAY: A rider or group sprints ahead of the main pack. This is not common on a flat course because it is very difficult to stay away as sprinters "sit-in" or draft until the finish, when they capitalize on their strength. In the women's race a new team, also sponsored by 7-11, may attempt to place their riders for a breakaway. Olympic speed skater Sarah Doctor and teammates Jackie Bradley and Rebecca Twigg should dominate this early season race.
DRAFTING: This is the key skill, as one rider takes advantage of another by remaining close behind in the air pocket the lead man creates; this enables the trailing rider to maintain the same speed with less energy.
HOOK: A rider cuts over so that his back wheel fouls the front wheel of a man behind. He will always say it was an accident.
LEAD OUT: A sacrificing tactic in which one rider sprints to create a draft for a teammate behind, who then "slingshots" past. Such sprints can reach 45 mph.
PRIME: A surprise one-lap race within a race, signaled by an official bell, in which a prize goes to the rider who leads that lap.
TAKE A FLYER: To pull ahead of the pack, usually alone