Idahoans love their bikes. And Saturday is a perfect day for Treasure Valley fans to get stoked about spokes as the 26th annual Twilight Criterium hits the streets of Downtown Boise.
Last year, nearly 20,000 people came out for at least part of the days events.
Heres what you need to know before pedalling down to take in the festivities:
ARMSTRONG RIDING, NOT RACING
Boise Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong will host her annual Ride with Kristin Armstrong Kids Event to kick off the festivities at 2:30 p.m.
Children 3 to 10 years old are invited to ride with Armstrong. Helmets are required and the event is free, but registration is required for participation at boisetwilightcriterium.com. Armstrong will be available for autographing posters in the Idaho Statesman booth next to the Kids Ride registration from 2 to 3 p.m.
Armstrong, who won the 2008 gold medal in the time trial at the Beijing Games, captured the womens pro event at the Criterium in 2009, but she wont be competing this year. She broke her collarbone in the prologue of the inaugural Exergy Tour in Boise in May. Since then, she has been named to the U.S. time trial and road race teams at the Summer Games in London.
Armstrongs teammates on the Exergy TWENTY12 team will be in the womens race.
Shes sitting Saturday night out because criteriums can be potentially dangerous, with crashes and things, said Simon Cope, the director of the Exergy TWENTY12 team. You want to avoid that just before the Games. But Im sure Kristin will be cheering from the sidelines.
WOMEN A MAJOR FACTOR AGAIN
After a few years of dwindling participation, organizers went without a womens pro race last year. Instead, six women raced alongside the men in the their pro race and they divided a $500 pot.
What a difference a year makes.
This year, the purse for the womens pro race will equal the mens. Each race will have a $15,000 purse and the winners will each receive $4,000, second place will get $2,000 and third place receives $1,300.
The ladies told us that if we got it back on the calendar, (they will) come, race director Mike Cooley said. Our goal was to have 40 girls which is a very solid field, and by race day we should be close to 50.
GOING IT ALONE ALMOST
Cooley said this years mens field is a little different than in 2011.
I think the field is strong, but maybe not as deep, Cooley said. We dont have as many teams that have complete rosters.
A perfect example of that is Isaac Howe, a 25-year-old cyclist who rides for Kenda 5-Hour Energy. Howes team didnt commit to racing in Boise, but he still wanted to come here because he has competed in the Twilight Criterium twice and enjoyed the race and the surroundings.
Howe was buying camping gear for his trip to Boise when he was reached by phone from North Carolina, where he trains. He and teammate Jim Stemper will be paying some of their own expenses to race in Boise.
Howe, who has a top-10 finish in Boise, said he was ranked as high as second in the nation among criterium racers before suffering a fractured clavicle in May.
Now, hes fresh and excited to get back to racing.
Im feeling really, really strong on the bike, Howe said. I would definitely be disappointed with anything less than a top-three finish. Im certainly starting the race with the idea that I have the fitness and the capacity to win the race, if I play my cards right.
Theres the rub.
Howe and Stemper will be partnered against teams of six riders, so they could be at a competitive disadvantage as the full teams help each other tactically.
Hes coming with one teammate, so hell have to make the right move at the right time, Cooley said.
But Tad Hamilton, the director of the Boise-based Team Exergy men, wont be counting racers like Howe and Stemper out.
Theres singles and pairs out there that can do some damage, Hamilton said.
ROOT, ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM?
Team Exergy will field both mens and womens teams, and the two teams directors hope that the fact that theyre based in Boise will help rally some fan support.
We want the whole town to get behind the team, because its a home-based sponsor, a home-based team in a home-based race, said Cope, the womens director.
Cope likes his teams chances, too.
Weve got more than an average chance of winning, he said. As long as the plan comes together, we should be pretty set to race for the win.
Hamilton, the mens director, said the mens field might be more even than the womens field, but his team is motivated.
Theres pressure every week, he said. But theres never been a Boise (mens) team or a Boise rider to win this race.
NEW UNIFORM FOR NEW CHAMPION
One female rider will stand out among others Saturday: Theresa Cliff-Ryan, who won the National Criterium Championship on June 22 in Augusta, Ga., and competes for Team Exergy.
Im really excited, but Im also nervous, Cliff-Ryan said. Ill be in the stars and stripes Saturday night. Itll be my first race as the current national crit champ, and Ill also be nervous because its a home race for the Exergy team, and I want to do well for the team.
Last year, Australias Jonny Cantwell took first place and countryman Ben Kersten finished second in the mens pro race. The year before, Kersten won the race and Cantwell finished second.
There wont be any repeats this year, however, as neither rider is in the field.
Cantwell is racing in the Tour de France, and Kersten has retired from racing.
Cooley said the lone returning champion in the field is Hilton Clarke, who won in 2008.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424