In a light sprinkle with morning temperatures in the high 70s on Sunday, about 50 cyclists shot off on a 12-square-block bolt around the old courthouse in Independence.
The scene marked the start of the second annual Square Criterium, part of the Truman Cup, a two-day cycling race put on by Jacomo Racing and sponsored by Alloy Wheel Repair Specialists.
Men 40 and older began the first race of the day.
The men’s masters race was 35 fast, flat laps with riders pedaling just inches from one another, going handlebar to handlebar for 50 minutes, sometimes at more than 25 miles an hour.
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In a flash of multiple colors the cyclists whizzed past the spectators who were sprinkled around the 3/4-mile course.
John Townsend, 51, of Kansas City was in the group that had to navigate six sharp turns per lap on rain-slick pavement. His girlfriend, Susie Darling of Independence, sat near the finish line to cheer him through.
“This is a great place for this race,” Darling said. “I’m just surprised there aren’t more people out here. Maybe it’s the rain.”
Racers ride, rain or shine, said Jason Rew, a member of Jacomo Racing. This year’s Truman Cup began on Saturday with a 28-mile circuit race that had riders doing seven 4-mile laps on an “unrelenting” hill course in Sugar Creek, Rew said. The worst hill, he said, was a 1.5-mile climb up Kentucky Road. “It made for a very challenging course. That hill and the heat.”
Rew couldn’t say which race he found tougher, sweating through the Kentucky Road climb or keeping his bike upright on Sunday’s slippery, wet road.
Four riders lost control of their bikes and crashed during the masters’ race. Sometimes, Rew said, if it’s not to far into the race, a rider who’s not hurt too badly after a fall will pop back up and get right back into the competition.
“Once you taste pavement, it’s pretty hard to recover,” the race announcer blurted out over the public address system after the fourth master crashed in a turn and had to be carried off the course.
But racers look out for one another, said Jennifer Rhoades of Kansas City, a member of team 360 Racing.
“We work together out there,” said Rhoades, who rides six days a week and has been racing for 10 years. “It can be dangerous, so there’s a lot of team tactics going on when you’re racing in a crit.” That’s short for criterium.
About 350 people, some from as far away as Arizona, Kentucky and Arkansas, including children as young as 8, participated over the two days of competition. Races were broken down by age, gender and skill. First-, second- and third-place finishers in the adult races went home with prize money from a nearly $6,000 total purse.
But it’s not about the money, Rew said. “You’re not getting rich doing this unless it’s the Tour de France.”
“It’s good to bring people in from different parts of the city and the country with a similar love — cycling — and show off the different parts of this area,” Rew said. “Everybody has seen the Plaza, but a lot of people even in the Kansas City area have never been to Sugar Creek or the Independence Square.”