On any given Sunday in Melbourne during Summer you can find a local criterium to race hosted by one of the many local cycling clubs. However on one particular Sunday a small part of South Melbourne transforms into a heaving mass of energy and excitement as the Shimano Super Crit comes to town.
Above: Elite Men, photo credits Peters Images
The small suburb of South Melbourne is no stranger to bike racing with the St Kilda Cycling Club hosting weekly criterium races every Sunday during summer using a short circuit nestled in an industrial area and away from any main thoroughfare.
On a typical Sunday of racing there are around 200 riders turning up to race at various times of the morning depending on which grade they are racing, with numbers varying based on weather conditions. However that number significantly increases when the Shimano Super Crit is in town with race entries quickly filling up as cyclists eagerly secure their spot in this great race.
Above: The Womens racing is often more exciting than the mens. Photo Credits - Peters Images.
Whilst the main events are the Elite Men and Women the racing starts with the graded or amateur races starting in the early morning. The inclusion of amateur grades is a great way for the 'average' cyclist to enjoy the fun and atmosphere of racing in this popular event and is a great way to increase awareness of cycle racing in the city.
Getting to and from this race is a breeze, there's plenty of parking if you choose to drive and if your preference is to ride to the race then you have bike lanes and plenty of cycle friendly roads feeding the area.
Amateur racing involves two grades racing on the course at one time e.g. A-Grade with C-Grade and B-Grade with D-Grade. The course is reasonably tight but the high volume of riders doesn't typically cause any issues. The faster grades will lap the slower grades throughout the race but the St Kilda Cycling Club do a great job of marshalling the slower grades to ensure rider safety as the faster grades overtake them.
You don't need to be an experienced racer, the lower grades will have marshals ride with them during the racing to keep things in control and keep the riders safe. The roads are closed with marshals on every corner to re-direct traffic and the course is a short loop (it's actually a square) so you don't need to worry about riding alone for extended periods if you find the pace too hard.
The typical format of racing is a fixed time period plus 3 laps with the lower Mens grades racing 45mins plus 3 laps and the higher grade racing 60mins plus 3 laps. It's a typical crit format and does allow for some interesting tactics to play out, if you attempt to breakaway early in the race you need to be prepared to ride hard and fast for up to an hour to keep the peloton at bay which is highly unlikely. In most cases the races end in a sprint finish.
As with any bike racing, there's always a chance of crashing and the weather had not been kind in the lead up to the race with torrential rain playing havoc on the course and resulting in sand and silt being present on race day. During the day the odd bit of rain also played a part in making the course a bit more hazardous than it normally is which contributed to some unfortunate crashes.
Despite the crashes the racing is fast and largely safe and if you are unlucky enough to crash there are medical staff on-hand to take care of you.
Above: A-Grade riders crash on 'corner 4'. Photo Credits Peters Images
All-in-all it's a great day out if you're a cycling fan, the atmosphere is carnival like and there's plenty of great food and coffee on hand. If you're a spectator you will enjoy the fast packed action and with the course being a short distance you've got racers constantly coming past to make for a great spectacle.
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