Words by Marissa Axell (Metromint Cycling pb The Freewheel)
After a 4am wake up call, and two short flights on Southwest Airlines, my husband Anthony and I arrived in Tulsa, OK with our bikes in tow. This was the first travel for my new steed, and I admit to a bit of separation anxiety until we were reunited. We arrived at our amazing host’s house in the Maple Park district, near downtown Tulsa.
One of the reasons I love Tulsa Tough is the close proximity of each race, logistics are a breeze. I look forward to settle in with our host housing, and ride my bike along one of the dozens of miles of bike paths around Tulsa. The midlands bike paths take you within a few blocks of each of the three criterium race sites. After reassembling my bike (nary a scratch on her), we take off for an hour spin to clear out the travel cobwebs. We trace the bike paths toward the Arkansas river, stopping first for some extra air in our tires at Lee’s Bicycles before back tracking down and across the 21st street bridge to follow the Midland pathways south toward Turkey Mountain Urban Park. The air is so humid, we are practically swimming in sweat. It’s warm and lovely afternoon without another person on the paths.
6/12/15 – Blue Dome Criterium
The next day, we head out for an early morning spin, this time ready to shake out any nerves and warm up ahead of the Friday afternoon race. The rest of the day was spent on the porch or in the air conditioning, relaxing and focusing on the Blue Dome Criterium, race time 7:55pm. The entire town of Tulsa begins to show up with friends and brews, and line the course to cheer. With the multitudes of bars in the area, everyone is loud and having fun, with minimal impact between crowd and racers, thanks to the AMAZING volunteers working their stations along the course on Friday evening. After a minimal “warm up” (are you kidding, it’s 90degrees and 100% humidity – who needs to warm up?) we toe the line and get going. The speeds were very fast, the course is extremely technical figure 8 with a very mild hill in the middle, making for some leg burning uphill and eyeball screaming downhills. I managed to muscle into the first real breakaway of the day, but after we were caught I focused on staying as forward as possible. Unfortunately a few very late crashes occurred, but I stayed clear and went on to sprint in for 16th of 72 starters, a great result for me at this National Criterium Calendar (NCC) race.
After a slow cool down lap, I found Anthony and celebrated my finish with some hugs and high fives with our host family before rolling slowly back home via bike pathways.
6/13/15 – Brady Arts District Criterium
Saturday morning, we woke to steamy weather again, and after a short spin, we got dressed and visited Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Museum, home to Guthrie’s instruments, recordings, manuscripts, journals, and photos of Woody Guthrie, who got his “this land is your land, this land is my land” start in Oklahoma. This is a solid museum and a nice way to gain some culture at your bike race (just $8 and almost worth it for the air conditioning alone)! Race time at 6:50pm, temps hovering around 90-95 with 100% humidity again. The course features a longer incline, traversing directly of the famous SoundPony bar and Cains Ballroom, both are Tulsa institutions, and worth a visit.
The racing was extremely fast, with many racers shelled within the first lap. Occasionally, when my legs were screaming, I would deign to look at our speed (going up hill), and think ralize “OH, 25mph, that’s why it hurts!” Towards the top of the hill, nearest Soundpony, saw crowds 6-10 people deep on either side of the road, all shouting and ringing cowbells or vuvuzelas, nearly sounding like “crybaby hill” of River Parks Crit fame. As the laps wore on during the hour long crit, the primes were hotly contested, and everyone tried to move up and into a better position for the finish. With 15 minutes to go, the blackish purple clouds were descending upon us very fast, sending gales of wind into the peloton, skittering some of us sideways with abandon. I hoped the clouds would hold back their rain until we were done! Within 10 minutes after the finish, the heavens opened up and sheets of rain dumped down, sending the men’s field for cover as they would have to wait 30 minutes for their rain delay. On the ride back home, we witness a spectacular array of rainbows and sunsets, like straight out of “the Wizard of Oz!”
6/14/15 – Cry Baby Hill aka The River Parks Criterium
Sunday weather fared no better than Saturday. By the time 3pm rolled around, several rain bands had passed over the course, but the roads were mostly dry. In my four year career at Tulsa Tough, I’ve never lasted more than 4 or 6 laps of this very tough crit course. I planned to ride each lap as if it were my last and give it my all.
We take off up the first part of the hill, make the right turn onto “Cry Baby Hill” and into the loudest and deepest wall of noise, it nearly takes your breath away. The feeling is indescribable, only to say there is no. other. race. like it (in the US anyway). With the peloton down the hill and around to the straightaway again, and I’m still with the peloton! In fact, 5 laps later, I’m still with the peloton when about 10 women went down like dominoes just in front of me, and to the pit we go. We get our free lap, and we’re back into the race. Soon, I heard the “worlds largest crowd prime” announced, and we are racing for $2,500! Another cool Tulsa tidbit: this prime was collected by the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough Divas, a group of ultra tough Tulsa cyclists who band together to get more women on bikes! These fantastic women comb the crowds for the prior two days to put together the largest “crowd prime” of all time. The speed of that lap was my fastest lap of the day, and the CBH crowds were even louder; the drum beats thumping, the bands playing, the beer and water everywhere, and what crazy fun to watch a Colombian racer win that prime!
Not 10 minutes later, again, the heavens dumped hail/rain and torrential wind upon the peloton and the race was stopped for 30 minutes. Loud booming thunder and scary snakes of lightening all around us as we sought “cover.” After 30 minutes, and completely cooling down, we were once again on the start line, and off for the final 10 laps. Unfortunately 30 minutes was too much for my legs, they quit pushing me up that hill, and my day was done 3 laps later. Gut crushing efforts up and into that roaring crowd every lap is the stuff memories are made of. After being pulled from the race, it’s almost required to head up to the hill one more time, to say thank you to the crowd, hand out high fives, and take a cheap and cold beer hand up. This is the stuff Tulsa Tough is made of. After 3 races, I landed in 28th in the Omnium (of 72 starters), and created lasting memories of another epic Cry Baby Hill. Until next year, Tulsa!
Marissa Axell is a Personal Trainer and Endurance Athletics Coach.
She lives in Oakland, CA.