Herman Miller Brickyard Crit

Tyler Carlton's review of the Herman Miller Criterium in Grand Rapids, MI.  This seemed like a great course down by the BOB, but the large size of the combined 3/4 field led to a number of accidents during the race...  

The bad vibes surrounding the Herman Miller Crit started before the race was under way. The field was HUGE, so we were planning on getting to the line early in hope to get a good spot. We rolled up to the line, stopped, and were told that staging wouldn't begin for 5 more minutes so we'd have to take a lap. Fair enough we thought, until we took that lap and came back to see 60+ people already lined up. Ugh, this was going to make the race a lot harder as we'd have to work to get to the front instead of already being there. To make matters worse, I slipped my pedal twice before finally getting clipped in. Going into the first corner I was in dead last, exactly where I didn't want to be. 

Matt Ronan in the first turn of the Cat 3/4 race
The course consisted of six corners, two of which came right after each other and included a pretty darn sharp turn onto a narrow road. Before our race started we got to see a cat 5 being taken away in an ambulance after crashing on this corner, but sadly this was just foreshadowing of the mess that was to come. Also, the section right after the first turn was cobbled, alternating between sections of smooth and quite rough cobbles from corner to corner. 

A hard first lap brought me back into the first 1/3 of the field, but things were about to get hairy. On lap 2 some guy was trying to pass in a corner, took it too wide, hit the curb and went down. Of course I was right behind him so I ended up slamming right into the pile of bikes and bodies before flying over the handlebars. Luckily I landed on some other dudes so the damage was minimal and I was able to dust myself off before heading to the pit to get my free lap. I noticed later that they put up a barrier to prevent people from taking this corner as wide. 

For some reason the official wouldn't let me get rolling before the field came by, so I had to go from a stop to 30 as fast as possible in order to not get immediately dropped as the field roared by. Not more than a few laps later I was nearly involved in another crash as someone roared up next to me screaming "INSIDE INSIDE INSIDE" way too late before diving under me into the most dangerous corner on the course. After cornering, he struck a pedal and nearly went down. That move got him chewed out by me, his teammate, and a few others as they rode by. There's no reason to make sketchy passes with 40+ minutes to go in a race. A few laps later I saw Jeremy Zeigler standing on the side of the road with his bike in this same corner.

Brad Field and Tyler Carlton
waiting for the restart
We managed to make it a few laps without another incident, but it was just the calm before the storm. I don't know what caused it, but about 30 min in there was a huge crash in the death corner of doom. There were bikes and bodies strewn about the whole road and unfortunately I couldn't avoid it. I was pretty much stopped when I tumbled over, so I wasn't hurt at all, but I sure was angry. As I rolled up to the start finish line I told the officials that I was done because I wasn't about to leave this race in an ambulance. They calmed me down, told  me the race had been neutralized, and asked if I wanted back in. I figured that I'd already paid, so I might as well finish the race.

The neutralization lasted a good 15-20 minutes while they carted two guys off to the hospital in ambulances [thoughts go out to them] and changed the course [they made the death corner wider by about a lane]. After everything was cleaned up they had us take a neutral lap, which of course meant that everyone was trying to get to the front for the restart. You shouldn't have to sprint out of corners on a neutral lap, but alas I was.

After the restart my heart just wasn't really in it anymore. I hung on the back of the field and just rode it in. I had no faith in the pack's ability to avoid more crashes, so I didn't feel like trying to mix it up in the sprint. I rolled in 42nd, just happy to be in one piece.

I had many gripes with the way the race was put on, and unless there are changes I won't be returning. The course changes mid-race are what really frustrated me. If the road was available to be made wider and safer, why was it not like this originally. Three people went to the hospital in an ambulance on the corner!  Also, I see no reason for the combined 3/4 field. It was clearly too many semi-inexperienced racers for that kind of course. There were more than enough people to fill separate fields, but instead the organizers insist on lumping everyone together to advertise bigger cash purses. The difference in ability between almost Cat 2 guys and just got their 10 races so now they're Cat 4 guys is too big for a course like that and results in people riding over their ability, making mistakes, and causing crashes. 

The race has a huge potential with a really cool location, but poor organization has made it an event I don't plan on doing again unless significant changes are made to how its run. And here's your summary of results...

Masters 40+: Tom Wamsley 39th

Cat 3/4: Rob Ehrman 3rd, Tyler Trask 25th, Matt Ronan 41st, Tyler Carlton 42nd, Colin Hebert 54th, Jeremy Zeigler DNF and Brad Field DNF

Cat 5: Michael Kines 2nd and Ben Rothacker 9th

Tyler Trask on the bricks

Tyler Carlton in the "death corner"