Setting the stage

City riders talk strategy for upcoming cycling race

Lawrence residents Dan Hughes, left, and Adam Mills work on their sprints last Thursday in downtown Lawrence. Hughes and Mills were training for the Tour of Lawrence, set to take place Friday-Sunday in downtown Lawrence and at Kansas University’s campus.

With the inaugural Tour of Lawrence bike race coming to town Friday, about 400 amateur and professional racers are cleaning out their spokes and greasing their chains to get their bikes ready for a weekend of races.

The Tour will consist of three different cycling events: On Friday, the racers will start off with the Eldridge Hotel Street Sprint, a 200-meter dash straight uphill through downtown Lawrence. The premier event, the Tour of Lawrence Criterium, will take place Saturday. Competitors will battle to complete the most laps around a one-mile circuit in 70 minutes. On Sunday, racers will close out the Tour with a KU Campus Circuit Race covering a 4.4-mile loop around campus.

Most of the riders will likely use standard road race bikes with drop handle bars, according to Dan Hughes, owner of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop in downtown Lawrence.

“Since all three races involve a mass start, where you have multiple people lined up racing against each other, the main cycling governing body, USA Cycling, will not allow the forward protruding handle bars that are found on most time trial bikes,” he said.

But even within the same style of bike, there can be lots of variation. For the Street Sprint on Friday, most cyclists will favor a lighter, stiffer wheel.

“For a sprint like this, you want to accelerate quickly,” Hughes said. “The lighter the wheel is, the more you accelerate. You want a stiffer wheel because when you’re throwing your bike around and pushing power into the pedals, you want to make sure your wheel isn’t flexing. You want all your power to go to your rear wheel to push you forward.”

For the criterium, where speed is everything, most riders are going to pick a more aerodynamic wheel.

“Downtown Lawrence is fairly flat,” Hughes said. “You don’t have any real true climbs so you want a bike that once you get it up to speed, say 26, 27, 28, 29 miles per hour for most riders, or 30 miles per hour for the category I or category II riders, it holds speed on its own.”

On Sunday, faced with a 500-foot vertical climb with each loop and the hilly KU campus, riders will want the lightest weight wheel they can find.

“You want something that can climb,” Hughes said. “To get better performance, you need to reduce the weight in the rotating parts, so the wheels, the cranks, the pedals. It counts for twice as much as the static parts like the seat and the handlebars.”

Here’s a look at some top of the line models you may see on the course this weekend.

1. Trek Bicycle Corporation

This Waterloo, Wisconsin-based company has been providing top-level bikes for more than 30 years. The choice of superstar racer Lance Armstrong, the company is best known for its Madone road bike.

“The name comes from this climb in France that Lance Armstrong used to test himself on when he lived in France,” Hughes said.

“It’s been around forever and it’s a super good fit,” said Steve Tilford of the Tradewind Energy/Trek Midwest team who will be riding a Madone in this weekend’s races. “The frames are feather light and they’re super stiff.”

2. Specialized Bike Components

This California-based company is the other premier bike supplier in the United States. Its choice bike for elite level road racing is the Tarmac.

“I’ll be riding the Specialized Tarmac in the Campus Circuit race,” Hughes said. “It’s lighter and stiffer.”

3. Scott Sports

This international bike company offers other top of the line carbon fiber options and some of the lightest bikes on the market.

“It’s such a nice bike,” said Adam Mills of Mercy Racing who will be riding a Scott model. “It’s the best I’ve ever ridden.”

4. Orbea

This Spanish biking company is the sponsor of Samuel Sanchez, the gold-medal winner in the 2008 Olympic men’s cycling road race. Michelle Jensen, of team Mercy Racing, will be riding the Orbea Opal this weekend.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s so stiff and super light. And it’s different from what most people have. I would say only about 10 percent of the field rides an Orbea.”

The race festivities begin at 7 p.m. Friday, but volunteers are still needed.

To volunteer, e-mail