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updated: 8/15/2011 6:32 AM

Bikes and barbecues highlight Winfield Criterium

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Bicyclists dressed in a colorful array of spandex and helmets went head-to-head Saturday during the first race of this weekend's Winfield Criterium.

Those willing to brave the rain could race in the 12th annual criterium as long as lightning stayed away, said the event's organizer, Mike Ebert of Athletes by Design Cycle Club.

"I'm sure some people saw the black clouds and stayed home," Ebert said.

Nevertheless, about 175 racers were expected to compete Saturday on a .9-mile course through a residential neighborhood, and another 400 are expected to speed around a milelong course today in downtown Winfield.

The first two races Saturday started and finished with racers dodging nothing more than the occasional raindrop.

"It's turning out to be a nice day," said Brian Arfmann, 19, of Arlington Heights, while waiting for his race to begin. "I'm not too worried about crashes. If it was wet, I'd be more worried."

Arfmann said he raced the downtown course of the Winfield Criterium last year, but not the residential course. He practiced on the residential loop earlier in the week.

"It's pretty fast and it's pretty hard," Arfmann said about the course, complete with tight curves and a long hill.

In a criterium, racers circle a short course multiple times. Each race lasts a set amount of time, then concludes with a sprint of a certain number of laps. The lengths and sprint lap counts are lower for less experienced riders and higher for pros.

In his third year of competitive cycling, Arfmann was set to race in the Men's Category 2/3, a middle ground between the beginners (Category 5) and the pros (Category 1). He's also gearing up for a well-known bike race called the Little 500 at the University of Indiana, where he's soon to start his sophomore year.

"I'm always excited before my races," he said. "This is one of my last ones before I go back (to college) so I really want to do well."

While racers provide the entertainment, Winfield residents welcome the spectacle by throwing parties on race days. Village Trustee Tim Allen holds an annual party at his house, where friends and family cheer on racers from the top of a hill in the middle of the loop.

"This calls for a big party," Allen said he decided after seeing the race for the first time. "It's a Winfield thing."

The cheering, horn blowing and scent of barbecue make the criterium unique, Ebert said.

"Residents will turn this into a great event for themselves and their friends," he said. "And that's what makes it great."