My First Handcycling Criterium

Yesterday I did my first ever handcycle race.

That morning my handcycling buddy Denny called me.

“Katja, are you thinking about doing a race today?”

“I think so, Denny, otherwise all that being nervous last night will have been for nothing.”

“That’s funny.”

(Whining) “Denny, I’m going to be last!”

“No, you’re not–it’s a benefit for Craig Hospital, I’m sure they’ll bring some patients out to ride, and so you won’t be last.”

This was the Raisin Hope Cycling Classic, the first incarnation of what is meant to be an annual event. It was held at the Colorado State Patrol training track, a 1.7 mile closed road course up on the mesa in Golden, Colorado.

It was really a bicycle race, of course, with eight events (4 men’s, 4 women’s), and us. We were listed as “paracyclists”, which is, I think, the first time I’ve seen that term. In the schedule I received, the four men’s races were first, then lunch, then the women’s races, then the paracyclists last at 3:30.

Based on advice from our handcycling friends, we got there at about 1:00 pm. The marshals were great – when we pulled up and I said I was a handcyclist, we were escorted to a paved infield parking area. There was no pre-registration, so I went to register while my husband unloaded the handcycle. There were two guys, Matt and Aaron, already there before us.

I had drunk a lot of water earlier in the morning, and looked around at the (skinny) (one-step-up) portable toilets with some foreboding. At the registration table, I asked about an accessible toilet. There was a flurry of not very promising activity. I signed up, giving my age as 50 (not quite yet, but apparently in bicycle racing you race as the age you will be at the end of the year) and my class as “Handcyclist”, since the lady wasn’t sure what I should put. I was given a number to pin on my thigh.

At this point the race director came over, sank into a chair opposite me, looked me deeply in the eyes, and said, “I’m so sorry.” No accessible toilet. Given that this was a benefit for Craig Hospital (Denver’s TBI and SCI rehabilitation hospital) and it had a handcycling event, this seemed like an odd omission.

Ah, well, husband to the rescue.

As we went back to the car, I thought I heard an announcement to the effect that registration for the paracyclists was now closed, but that didn’t make any sense–there was still two hours until the event, and several competitors weren’t there yet. I put on my helmet and did a few loops around the parking lot, and a marshall came up to me and said, “We need you at the start line now.”

What? Just then Mark pulled in, pulling the Adaptive Adventures trailer, and there was a rather confusing period during which it emerged that nobody knew where the 3:30 time had come from, but the handcycling event was at 1:25, so would we please get our butts to the start line now?

We did, and waited for Mark, by which time the clock (which had already started on our 30 minute race) was down to 11 minutes. The race director offered us the option of racing for 11 minutes (I don’t think so), or just going round for 11 minutes for warm-up and/or fun and then racing for real after everyone else was done at 5:00 pm. So that’s what we did. As we were sitting at the start line working all this out, Denny drove up, and we all yelled at him to get on his bike, and my husband ran back to help him get set up. We were started. I was still confused about how this was supposed to work, and was asking stupid questions, when Matt said, “If you’re talking, you’re not racing,” and he and Aaron and Mark pulled away and I never saw them again. So I chugged dutifully around the course twice and was told to stop. Denny got started on my second lap, and did two laps of his own.

Back at the parking lot, Denny’s wife asked me how it went, and I told her what Matt had said (true) and that he’d dropped me in seconds. “But, Katja,” she said, “You got dropped by Matt Updike!” So I suppose that’s a distinction.

So then we hung around and yakked and watched the women’s races. Vlad and his mom Tereza pulled up at about 2:30–Vlad is 11 and seems to be involved in every possible adaptive sport in the world. Since they drove up from Colorado Springs for this, you can bet they were going to hang around until 5:00 to race. Rich came in at about 3:00. When he heard about the time mix-up, he decided to stay, too, even though he had a commitment at 5:00. Matt left, but Aaron stayed.

So now we were five: Aaron, Denny, Mark, Rich and me. We ate our lunches, admired the fast women, fiddled with handcycles (Mark travels with practically a whole shop, and my husband had quite a few tools as well). Mark gave Aaron some advice on setting up his bike better, and since we had time, he and Aaron and Aaron’s family changed it around some.

One of the female bicycle racers wandered through our area, eyeing the handcycles as if she were really interested. Mark, who is an unflagging ambassador of handcycling, gave her the 10 cent tour and then invited her to ride his handcycle around the parking lot. Once she’d done that, he offered her his place in the race, and she took him up on it. Liz is a physical therapist who is a rock climber and road bike racer and she decided she could probably figure it out.

Finally it was race time. The concessions had packed up, pretty much all the bicyclists and spectators were gone, but some officials stayed for us. By that time it was a little cooler and there was some cloud cover. The starter asked us if we wanted the full 30 minutes, and we said we sure did. And we were off.

Vlad took off like he was shot out of a cannon. Aaron and Rich weren’t far behind him. I managed to get ahead of Denny and Liz and stay there for a while. Part of the fun was trying to optimize my shifting (and remember it the next time round!). Denny passed me at the beginning of our third lap. I thought I could get him on the uphill, but I guess I just wasn’t willing to hurt enough to do it. I could tell Liz was making up the gap, but she was still quite a ways behind me.

At the end of the fourth lap I was coming up the hill to the finish, having finally remembered to shift down far enough to keep some speed up, when I heard everybody yelling–oh, no, Liz was catching up to me! No way was I going to let her get me, so I leaned hard into the cranks and sailed across the line just barely ahead of her.

As Denny promised, I wasn’t last. Liz was amazing–I think she spent the first two laps figuring out how to handcycle, and the second two laps relentlessly pursuing me. She would have gotten me if the race hadn’t ended.

So, lots of fun, and I know now that I have to train a whole lot more. Oh, and no prizes for women, darn it. Aaron won, Rich came in second, but only because Vlad’s chain fell off. Even with that, I never saw him again, so he was really smoking.

Here we are, hanging out before the start: Vlad (red), Denny (yellow), Rich (white), me (blue), Mark (in wheelchair), Aaron (black), Liz (blue)
Rich on the second lap
Vlad and Aaron, really racing
Denny, getting ready to pass me
Liz–look at that woman crank!
Me–form not looking too good on lap three
IMG_0032Top two finishers, male and female!


  1. weeble

    Sounds splendid! Job well done. So glad to see and hear about you taking on the para-athletic world :)

  2. Liz Sampey

    Hey Katja! I enjoyed your account of the race yesterday. =) It was so much fun meeting all of you and being able to race with you. Keep it up, you’re a super strong rider. Soon your biceps will look like Matt Updike’s. =)


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