For the 2015 season Team CLIF Bar Cycling has launched the United States of Criterium project (#CLIFUSoC) in partnership with Peloton magazine (pelotonmagazine.com). Build buzz and bring more attention to US criterium racing - that’s the goal - because US criterium racing is a special beast deserving of all the love it can muster. While there are criteriums all over the country worthy of a place in the USoC project, the reality of a domestic-elite squad’s relatively small budget forces TCB Cycling to pick and choose a handful of races to focus on for the project - and Saint Francis Tulsa Tough is a no-brainer. To so many folks who love the sport of cycling Tulsa Tough is American bike racing at its very finest – the type of racing that gets people excited and leaves kids pretending that they’re crit racers every time they hop on their bikes. Races like Tulsa Tough make US cycling better. Plain and simple.
The name’s spot on. Three days of racing in Tulsa, Oklahoma – and holy cow are they tough. Truth is, they could have called it Tulsa Fantastic and that would be just as accurate. Hard as the racing may be, the Team CLIF squad finds Tulsa Tough easy to love. From the moment we step off the plane, the race’s energy is upon us. Walking to baggage claim we pass over some sort of large banner that’s been laid out on the airport’s main walkway. To our delight, it’s a big Tulsa Tough invite with ‘WELCOME TO THE PARTY’ for all to see. Most cities don’t do this sorta stuff for bike races - but Tulsa does. And for fans of cycling it means an awful lot to see such support. Each season, the Tulsa Tough party is always one to remember – except, of course, for a portion of the fans on Cry Baby Hill who probably can’t remember it.
Fantastic racing isn’t the only thing about Tulsa Tough that gets TCB Cycling excited. Let’s talk host housing for a sec, because in Tulsa it’s as good as it gets. The Greenes and the Ellsworths put the team up and take such good care of everyone that it makes it hard to leave. When tropical storms kept some of us in town an extra night there was none of that flight-cancellation-despair that most bike racers know so well, because it simply meant we got to spend an extra night with the team hosts, playing Liars Dice and eating another tasty dinner with people who treat us like family.
Tulsa Tough turned 10 this year. The Blue Dome Criterium, the Brady Arts District Criterium and Cry Baby Hill draw massive, boisterous crowds that turn out to celebrate something that started as a bike race and has grown into so much more. On Friday and Saturday the men’s pro/1 races start at night, but Sunday’s race takes on the afternoon’s humid heat. It gets hot in Tulsa - and it’s a delightful wet heat. You know it’s hot outside when you can cool off in the porta-potties.
Back at the races, the energy starts pretty dang high on Friday night, and evening #1 ends with a fireworks display that shakes the Blue Dome District somewhere around 5-laps-to-go in the men’s pro/1 race as the teams set up for the finish. Saturday the thrill of it all continues – this year with a pre-race deluge that postponed the men’s pro/1 start, brought a rainbow, but didn’t seem to wash away any of the enthusiastic fans. And the craziness builds to a nutty crescendo on Sunday afternoon when the race climbs Cry Baby Hill and hooks a right at Climax Corner. There was a ‘Down By The Sea’ theme on Cry Baby this season, which meant men in grass skirts & coconut bras, intoxicated mermaids who didn’t look up to seducing much of anything, a good number of people who definitely had dressed up but whose outfits didn’t fit the theme, and other “colorful” riff-raff that will haunt my dreams for months to come. Much of the time Cry Baby Hill really is just a big-ass party with music & dancing & beverages (mostly going in, occasionally out, and quite often all around) – but like clockwork, every two minutes or so, 100 whistles sound, folks in ref shirts yell “MIND THE GAP,” then low and behold a bike race blasts by – or, rather, through - the madness. It’s crazy. But it’s also marvelous. And it’s a bike race in Oklahoma.
My trip home from Tulsa ended up being a complete cluster. Cancelled flight, so-so hotel, crazy-early departure followed by a 6-hour layover, squashed banana all over the laptop in my carry-on, and a bag that decided to keep on travelling. But the travel snafus didn’t faze me one bit. Perhaps Tulsa had made me tougher. One thing’s for certain – Saint Francis Tulsa Tough had made me, and a whole bunch of other people, very happy – because Tulsa Tough, in all its random infectious glory, had once again reminded us just how fantastic US criterium racing can be.
Story and Images by TCB Cycling's D. Seguin