High-speed bike race zips through downtown La Crosse

One of the largest bike races in the Midwest took place in downtown La Crosse on Sunday.

Hundreds of cyclists from around the country competed in the 12th annual La Crosse Criterium.

The Criterium takes place on a small oval track in the middle of downtown.

With high speeds, tight turns and the danger of crashing around every corner, cyclists said it resembles a car race more than your typical bike race.

Chris Stindt, the race director for the La Crosse Criterium, said it’s one of the most intense races out there.

“It’s sort of like NASCAR on bicycles. It’s fast, it’s close, you’re rubbing bars, you’re going around corners that are tight,” Stindt said.

Competitors travel around the track up to 60 times at speeds up to 30 mph.

“If you relax, you sit up, you take your hands off the bars, people will have accidents, for sure,” Stindt said.

Organizers said emergency medical technicians were nearby in case anything went wrong.

“People are sliding out, so it’s almost a contact sport as far as this type of bicycling goes,” Stindt said.

Last year, there were 15 crashes in one day, but that didn’t stop cyclists like Kayla Clemons from giving it their all on the track.

“What’s going through my mind is just keeping my core tight, keeping my balance and just keep looking straight ahead. Don’t look at your wheel, don’t look at the corner, just look where you want to go in the end and just have the confidence,” Clemons said.

Clemons took first place in one of today’s races, even though she’s been competing less than a year.

“This was an event I’ve been training for all winter, so I’m really pumped to place really well today,” Clemons said.

She started off as a competitive runner but said cycling will be her big focus for years to come.

“It’s a lot faster, a lot less aggressive on your knees and on your body. It’s definitely a sport you can do a long time,” Clemons said.

Even if you’re not a competitive cyclist, the Criterium’s organizers say everyone should experience La Crosse by bicycle.

“When you get out on your bike, you get to experience things in a way that you just don’t in a car,” Stindt said.

There were 15 races in the Criterium, including both amateur and pro races.

There was also a wide range of ages, with some racers as young as 9years old and others in their 60s.

The Criterium’s organizers said the event is also great for La Crosse’s economy.

Most of the competitors will be staying in local hotels, and many bike shops and food trucks were set up at Sunday’s event.

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