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From Inside Peloton: Greetings from Boise

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As the airplane begins its descent over the desert after a one-hour flight from Seattle, I take a break from lamenting the $150 fee I had to pay to check my bike and shift my mind to the place where I will be landing in a matter of minutes. All I can see for miles are mountains and valleys dotted with green irrigation circles. We pass a giant curving river.

Words & images: Andy Bokanev

There is a road or two in sight but the whole place feels remote and removed. It is a short flight, so technically I am still in the Pacific Northwest, but this is Idaho. It does not look anything like Seattle or Portland or Spokane or Bend. Just before touchdown, a cluster of buildings comes into view—downtown Boise—against a backdrop of mountains shrouded in clouds. That is when I realize I know nothing about this place.

I’ve read in magazines like Outside that Boise is the best place to live in the United States—something about the perfect mix of the outdoors, jobs and affordable house prices. Then there is the thing about potatoes. But that is not why I am here. I am here for the Andersen Banducci Twilight Criterium, a race held in downtown Boise, now in year 29.

I check into The Modern, a former Howard Johnson’s remodeled into a boutique hotel featuring what looks like a nice bar along with bathroom sinks that only make sense in catalogs and interior design trade shows. I still have time to kill before the Clif Bar boys show up, so I head out for a coffee and a ride before the afternoon sun starts to scorch everything it touches. The coffee shop is “across town” but I get there in five minutes.

After running into a Seattle friend who’s also in town for the race, we go for a ride, heading aimlessly toward the hills. We end up on the road to Bogus Basin, a steady and twisting climb heading somewhere north and up. As we continue our conversation the neighborhoods fade away and we find ourselves riding through high desert, sagebrush and, I assume, rattlesnakes. On the way back down a sign catches my eye: Kristin Armstrong Bikeway.

USOC_CLIF_CIRCLE_STAR_Take2_PrintIn town, I meet up with the Clif crew at K-Edge, a Boise-based company that makes Garmin and GoPro mounts (among other things) for bikes. The company is a sponsor of Team Clif Bar and the riders are in the office having casual conversations with the staff. I start up a conversation with Joe Savola, who tells me how the company came to be when his wife needed a chain catcher for her time trial bike for a big race in Beijing. Then came the call from Garmin-Slipstream that wanted a number of the chain catchers for Paris-Roubaix. Then the word spread throughout the cycling community and a new company was formed. “Wait, what’s your wife’s name?” I ask, not wanting to make any assumptions. Joe smiles and says: “Kristin Armstrong.”

Race day comes with its compulsory giant breakfast (Big City Coffee, 1416 Grove Street), a meet-up at another coffee shop (Flying M, 500 West Idaho Street) and some aimless pedaling around town. This leaves me with a whole lot of time to spend around the criterium course in the middle of downtown. At just under a mile long, the course technically has four corners; however corners 1 and 2 are linked by more of a curve than a straight, which makes those corners only faster and more technical.

A few hours before the race a thunderstorm swoops through the area dumping buckets of rain, delaying some of the early races, significantly dropping the ambient temperature and changing attire from shorts to jeans. The weather does not affect the crowd, because the spectators swarm the course barriers two to three deep in some areas.

It takes about a lap into the men’s pro race before Clif Bar’s Pete Morris attacks. When I ask him about it later, he musters something along the lines of “Why not?” He maintains his lead for a few laps, quickly becoming the crowd favorite: “Go, Thor!” Then his teammate Michael Jasinski attacks and spends a few laps at the front. The crowd loves it. They have come to expect fireworks from the Clif squad, this being a kind of a home race for the team (the team manager Dylan Seguin lives in Boise, the team is sponsored by K-Edge and the team hosts a post-race party at a sandwich shop called Bleubird on corner 3).

Keys to Success when racing a Morning Crit following a Twilight Crit*
1. Do not go to sleep at 5 a.m.
2. Do not eat a giant breakfast
3. Do not ride to the crit if it involves 2,000 feet of climbing in 95-degree heat
4. Getting into a breakaway will hurt due to the first three points

*Based on observations from the St. Luke’s Sports Medicine Idaho State Criterium Championship in Hidden Valley, Idaho, run on the morning
after the race in Boise.

As the race goes on it settles into a rhythm. Punches are exchanged at the front as a prime bell is rung and the lead changes again. Then, with about a third of the race to go, Pete attacks again and this time gets away from the pack and maintains a solo lead of a handful of seconds. The crowd eats it up. As he makes turn after turn, going from the floodlit corners into darkened straights, the fans continue to cheer him on at the top of their lungs. At one point they create a wave on the start/finish each time he rolls through. But Pete’s break finally comes to an end and it’s current national elite criterium champion Daniel Holloway who rolls across the finish line in first place to collect yet another criterium win.

And then, once again, it’s over. It’s time to pack up the bikes, load them onto the car and drive back to California (or elsewhere)—there’s another crit in a week’s time.

Bokanev on Instagram: @bokanev