Things move quickly during a criterium bike race, with dozens of competitors jockeying for position and hitting speeds upwards of 40 miles an hour. Sometimes, though, the race makes the move. This month, the fledgling New England Crit Week expands to five events with the addition of the Gran Prix of Beverly, the North Shore’s signature downtown cycling contest.
“Including Beverly inches New England Crit Week closer and closer to a national-level event,” said Brookline’s Sam Rosenholtz, a professional racer. “It’s a huge addition. The atmosphere of all these races, particularly Exeter and Beverly, [is] among the best in the country. I’m clearly partial, but I think that the New England cycling community is one of, if not the best, in the country. And it’s really highlighted in the racing.”
The 10th annual edition of the Gran Prix of Beverly is leaving its traditional mid-summer time slot alongside Beverly Homecoming and moving to June 28, joining “crit” races in Greenfield (June 24), Exeter, N.H. (June 26), Leominster (June 30), and Fitchburg (July 1). The final two events are part of the Longsjo Classic, a 58-year-old stage race that is the standard-bearer in Northeast cycling circles.
“New England Crit Week is the biggest week of bike racing in the northeastern United States,” said Longsjo Classic director Alan Cote. “Five races in eight days, all within a 70-mile radius, makes for easily accessible racing.
“By linking established races together, it’s my hope that more racers will attend, and that racers will be drawn from other regions – Quebec, Ontario, mid-Atlantic – beyond New England,” he said. “And it gives New England riders a big week of racing.”
Exeter Classic promoter Ryan Kelly agreed, saying: “The attraction behind Crit Week is having a consistent story through a week of racing, which we really don’t have in New England.
“For amateur racers, those opportunities are pretty rare in the United States in general,” he said. “By partnering with the other events, the quality of the field at all of the races increases. This is definitely the case for Exeter, since it’s on a Tuesday night in seacoast New Hampshire. Without Crit Week, the fields would be smaller and less competitive.”
Combining high-profile races also gives the series more prestige, said Kelly, and that works hand-in-glove with his goal of providing racers with a top-flight experience.
“For someone from Boston to come race the pro men’s race at Exeter, they basically have to leave the city at 3 p.m., and then they’ll be back home at 10 p.m.,” said Kelly. “If they don’t feel like the race was worth their entry fee and time, then they’re not going to come back, and they’ll put their time and money to another event. So we try to make sure that everyone racing – and spectating – has as much fun as possible and feels appreciated.”
For racers, entry fees range from about $20 to $60; prizes are about $300 to $600 for top individual winners, with another $300 split between the top three series finishers and $200 for series-winning teams. With road racing generally in decline due to numerous factors, Gran Prix of Beverly race director Paul Boudreau said races must become value-added propositions.
“The bike races that will last are the ones that are truly events,” said Boudreau. “It’s not enough to just find a closed road somewhere and then shoot a start gun. Bike races have to be events that include the community. Downtown Beverly embraces the Gran Prix and its participants. Citizens come out to enjoy a real family-oriented show.”
Dorcester’s Lydia Hausle, a racer and director of the Greenfield Criterium, said New England Crit Week “is more about creating a strong cycling community.”
“Bike racing is like going to church. It’s where your community is,” she said. “I see Crit Week as a way to boost that community, to give everyone something to be excited about and feel like they are a part of.”
Still, Hausle emphasized that even though the five races are connected, “each race had an identity before joining Crit Week, and we’ve managed to hold onto those identities.
“Our series offers racers and spectators a wide diversity of racing environments,” said Hausle. “The Longsjo is a classic and historic race that has had super-legitimate professional racers cross its finish line many times. The weeknight races – Exeter and Beverly – are examples of the greatest downtown, weeknight crit racing that New England has to offer, with electric crowds and really impressive prize and prime lists.
“My race – the Greenfield Crit – is like the hippie teenager of the family trying to learn how to be an adult,” she said, adding that it “has this really community-oriented and kind of care-free flare to it.”
Despite the different venues, all the races have a common thread.
“My favorite thing about Crit Week is the last three laps of every race,” said Kelly. “You can see a field of racers attempting to calculate how much gas they have left to give while their hearts are beating at 185 beats per minute, and almost all that blood is pumping directly to their legs.
“Across all race categories, everyone on the bike for those few minutes is in the same state of calculation and hanging on for dear life,” he said. “And then you know they’re going to do it again the next day.”For details on New England Crit Week, visit necritweek.com/ . If you have an idea for the Globe’s “On the Move” column, contact correspondent Brion O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Allow at least a month’s advance notice.