In 2011 race director John Eustice decided that he’d shake up the Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic by turning the 39-year-old institution into, of all things, a track event.
“I like to experiment with racing.” Eustice says. “One of the problems with cycling is that it’s too static. The format never changes.
“If you look at Formula 1, where there’s huge money in a traditional sport, they’re constantly tinkering with their formula, trying to make it more interesting. So I tried an experiment with Harlem.
“There are races like that in Europe … omnium with miss-and-outs and points races. It worked to a degree, but for that sort of event to work you really need a cycling-savvy audience. It was exciting.
The 2012 edition, presented by Rockstar Games, is also the seventh stop on the 2012 USA CRITS Championship Series. And for that, Eustice will return to a 50-mile criterium format around New York City’s historic Marcus Garvey Park on Sunday.
The race will be streamed live on VeloNews.com beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern time.
The 0.75-mile square is a fast, flat circuit that will be sweetened for this year’s field by four $1,000 primes. That money comes from four local sponsors and is a part of Eustice’s strategy to call more attention within the city to the race’s deep roots in the Big Apple.
“One of the things I’m really trying to do this year is to get New York City to realize what an absolutely beautiful event this is,” said Eustice. “It’s one of only four NCC (National Criterium Calendar) and USA CRITS events on the calendar, it’s got the best TV of any of them, and we’ve got a team of six to eight riders that we bring in from Germany. You have all these young men and women who are either the heads or marketing leaders of these dynamic New York companies who love cycling. So this is a chance to get involved and support a New York cycling institution.”
Despite this year’s race falling into two separate calendars, Eustice doesn’t feel that what might be conflicting goals for different riders and teams will detract from any of the standard tactics.
“They’re all racing as hard as they can,” he said. “If one is marking the first-place guys in the USA CRITS overall and letting someone else go away, I can’t help that. But what’s very interesting is seeing the committed USA CRITS riders versus the committed NCC riders. It’s almost like the old NFL and the AFL. It’s brought us a terrific field of racers.”
For Team Mountain Khakis-SmartStop, who lead the USA CRITS team competition and also have Luke Keough just 27 points behind series leader Oscar Clark (United Healthcare of Georgia-The 706 Project), their agenda remains fairly straightforward.
“I think the people we need to worry about are the people who are there trying to win the bike race,” said Adam Myerson, who captains Team Mountain Khakis. “UnitedHealthcare are coming to win and we’re coming to win. If there’s any opportunity, we’ll take it. We’re perfectly fine letting one of our guys who’s in the breakaway take his chances, and then we’ll have Luke to win whatever sprint is left to win.”
It’s a tricky proposition for the North Carolina-based team, which will only be fielding four riders as opposed to UHC’s six-man “Blue Train” lead-out squad. But having faced UCH’s strength on many previous occasions, Myerson knows exactly how to respond.
“In theses situations it’s almost whatever sort of race UHC wants it to be,” he said. “Like at last weekend’s Air Force Cycling Classic, they knew exactly how much leash to give that breakaway in order to bring it back. That’s precision.
“If we see them making attacks or covering moves then we’ll know how to represent. We’re not going to go over the top of their lead-out, but if we’re not spread too thin and can bring Luke into the top five on the last lap, we can drop him off and he can follow wheels from there.”
As for the impact the NCC competition will have on the team and its race, Myerson doesn’t hold it as a necessarily a chief priority for Mountain Khakis.
“Both series are important, but Luke winning the NCC might be difficult. We can surely keep him in the top five, but with racing conflicts, like Manhattan Beach being held the same time as Iron Hill, Luke will probably go to the USA CRITS events because we believe he is capable of winning it again like he did in 2011.”
The Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic is being produced by Emmy Award-winning Tour de France veteran Kent Gordis for the NYC Life channel, and will also be streamed live on VeloNews.com.