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Criterium race bicyclists brave high winds, sharp turns

It was like a NASCAR race – minus the cars.

Instead, it was substituted with bicyclists whizzing around Niagara Square and the surrounding downtown area. Toss in a potent helping of gust. Added together, it was Sunday’s Queen City Criterium.

The course, which cut across about one mile of downtown’s landscape, was styled like a race track, in that competitors completed laps instead of biking over a great distance. It attracted about 150 cyclists from the Northeast and beyond, with races for riders of all skill levels. Cyclists are designated by ability ranging from one to five, with five denoting a beginner.

Though brief in length, the Criterium offered up its share of challenges, chiefly a cocktail of strong gusts and sharp street corners that required skilled maneuvering.

But the complications were a welcome challenge.

“We like turns and twists,” said Eric Curtis, assistant race director. The event was hosted by East Aurora Racing Club and Buffalo 51.

The proximity of downtown skyscrapers also tossed a wrench in cyclists’ paths, as the riders were hit with blasts of wind in the openings between buildings.

The cross-wind hit Scott Cimato, 34, especially hard as he pedaled past the Buffalo Athletic Club and City Court buildings.

“It was fast,” described Cimato, who placed 17th in the race for level four and five cyclists.

A competitive biker for the last two and a half years, Cimato said being surrounded by a crop of talented cyclists has him hungering to improve.

“There’s always someone better than you, so you constantly keep working,” he said.

Strategy-wise, bicyclists agreed it was easier to stave off the gusts by strategically partnering with a member from the same bicycling team, though the Criterium was an individual event. That advantage took center stage midday Sunday during a race designated for men ages 35 and older.

The field of about 20 men took off from the Delaware Avenue start line in front of the New Era building. Turning the corner onto West Huron Street then bicycling beyond the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, the closely packed group of cyclists emerged from behind City Hall, still flirting with pecking order after the first couple of go-rounds.

On the third lap, TBS Racing teammates Adam Trost and Craig Polston surged forward, distancing themselves farther from the mass with each passing lap, eventually finding themselves more than 40 seconds in front of the rest of the field. Midway through the 24-lap race, the remaining racers were vying for third.

Trost eventually pulled away, claiming first.

Curtis broke down the pair’s strategy. After separating from the group, Trost and Polston were able to jockey between the first two spots, offering one another momentary relief from being hit head-on by wind.

Their communication was likely strengthened by being teammates on TBS Racing, which Polston confirmed after the race.

“We just took off the third lap and tried to go hard,” Polston said.

Bob Sobon, from Amherst, watched during Polston’s race in anticipation of the level three and four race he would ride in later in the day. After a disappointing showing during one of the day’s earliest races, Sobon kept his expectations in check.

“It’s just a matter of hoping to hang on and not get lapped,” he said.