Saturday, June 14, 2008


I opted to skip the receptions last night after 10 hours of conferencing and head downtown on my bike. It just so happens that at the same time that Minneapolis is hosting the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, it was also hosting part of a week long series of pro bike races. Who knew this town was big enough for all of us?

The women raced first: 40 laps on a 1.2 kilometer course through city streets. I parked myself at an outside corner and could see them take two corners and the straightaway to the finish line. I was surprised to see how different the women were in size, shape, and age (okay, that part I could only see after the race) -- lots of rippling muscles, but muscles on very different types of bodies from stocky to long and lean. There were a few teams, but all were small. Compared to the men who came out later, it looked like the women were doing a lot more individual work. Four strong riders up front traded off the lead -- all from different teams. There were a few stragglers, but the women stayed fairly well clumped. I know nothing of the riders or the teams, but it was fun to watch the race and to chitchcat with the fairly diverse crowd that came out. These were bikey folk, but all different kinds of bikey folk. Our little corner had riding companions of racers, fixie hipsters, dad with trailer and toddler, lycra dude, and me (historian chick on a rented commuter bike that does not express my personality).

For the men's race, I made my way around the whole course. Once the pack passed my spot, I'd move along. I did happen to be on the backside when some sort of crash happened in the thick of the pack. About a quarter of the field (123 riders) went down or got hung up 20 yards down from my perch. The barricades got knocked over, but no one seemed hurt. A couple of bikes were out of the race as a result, but everyone walked or rode out of the heap under their own power.

The men had big teams (6-8 riders, maybe?)and the Bissel boys were up front for 32 laps. Then the olive oil guys took over for a while, but none of them won. Who won? The guy in the Wheaties jersey (meaning he had won the bike race the day before) who had been buried in the pack the whole race while other people pushed the wind out of the way for him. Then he took it in the sprint. This kind of racing is a team sport... but individuals win. Bike racing is a weird sport.

After all the hoopla, I -- like many people on bikes -- rode part of the course before they took down the barricades. No worries, I rode about 14 mph... not 43mph (the speed for the final sprint!).

The evening was nice so I explored the northwestern part of town a bit -- lots of condos butting up against the warehouse district -- found some Thai food for dinner and made my way back to the dorm to rewrite my presentation for the umpteenth time.

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