Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fountain Square Grand Prix debuts

It's fun to be able to say I was on hand for the inaugural running of something that turns out, years later, to be a popular event. In 1991, I participated in the inaugural Shamrock 4-mile run held on St. Patrick's Day in downtown Indianapolis. I ran it for three years more before I broke my streak. But the race is still going strong, and marked its 21st observance last March.

In June, I photographed my second annual Hendricks County (Ind.) Park2Park Relay. I had also shot the ground-level staging of the fundraising event for the Hendricks County Parks Foundation in 2011.

It's more poignant if the "first-ever" event you attend turns out also to be the last. In 1995, I went to an outdoor blues festival in Crawfordsville, Ind., in the height of my blues-clubbing years. I remember thinking not only how wonderful it was that a community the size of Crawfordsville would attempt to stage something like this, but also how neat it would be to drop in on this every year thereafter. It was sparsely attended, but I figured that was normal for a fledgling wannabe. But apparently attendance was way too sparse. The event T-shirt I have from that day -- an artsy one that remains one of my favorites -- is the only one of its kind. There was no second Crawfordsville Blues Festival. I just did a Google search to see if I could even come up with any references at all to the fact that it ever existed, and had no luck. The Gate2Gate 5K Run, which started and finished at the gated entrances to Garfield Park Sunken Garden in Indianapolis near where I live, fared only marginally better. I registered for both the inaugural, in 2010, and the one last year and have T-shirts from each. But both had sparse participation, and there was no Gate2Gate this year.

The above, I admit, is a long-winded transition to today's post about Saturday's inaugural Fountain Square Grand Prix cycling criterium, an interesting competition over a figure 8 course that with luck could materialize as a key third leg in a "Big Three" of Indianapolis summer cycling criteriums, joining the Mass Ave Crit and Indy Crit. I missed the inaugural Mass Ave in 2008, but made it to the past two. I made it to the inaugural Indy Crit in 2010, but almost missed the Fountain Square debut Saturday. That's because I wasn't even aware of it until less than a week before it was held.

I asked someone at Saturday's criterium whether the FSGP was pulled together at the last minute, and he said that no, it had been planned for the past year. But he acknowledged that publicity really didn't begin until three weeks ago. At first, I was incredulous. But then I realized that it should be expected that a first-time event ... with limited resources and budget (and without its own website, as best as I can determine, although Joe's Cycles (run by Joe Cox, who also lives in the Fountain Square area) is a good place to start to find out information) ... might have to pick its spots to spend on publicity and to raise awareness.

Attendance was sparse in the early morning hours at the FSGB; there was probably a handful or so people around to see off racers in the first competition, the Men's Category 5, which was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. but really didn't get off till almost a half-hour later. And the one and only women's competition -- a women's open -- had all of seven riders in it, not a very encouraging statement. (A quick note: Last week's Mass Ave Crit Women's 1/2/3 winner Sierra Siebenlist also won Saturday's inaugural FSGP Women's Open. Combined with her fourth-place finish in the 2012 Indy Crit in July, Siebenlist stands heads above other cyclists -- men or women -- in this first summer of three Indianapolis cycling criteriums.). The good news for the FSGP is that attendance picked up in the early afternoon, and there were 20+ riders in each of the men's competitions, topping off with 40 who registered for the main event on the bill, the Men's Category 1/2/3.

It's possible that some of the attendance pick-up was attributable to people straying from the nearby second annual Cataracts Music Festival, a two-day staging of live outdoor entertainment. The Cataracts Fest began Friday with a modest lineup at the Murphy Arts Center in the heart of Fountain Square. On Saturday, the musicians yielded the merchants' district to cyclists, and performances featuring more than 30 bands moved to house shows along Morris Street, south and west of the Murphy Arts Center building.

So here's a salute to Joe's Cycles/Cardinal Bicycling Co., 1060 Viriginia Ave., in Fountain Square, the major driver of Saturday's inaugural Grand Prix ... and a toast that this thing grows in future years. And, oh yeah, I picked up an event T-shirt. There's no date on it, and I asked about that when I purchased my copy. The person who sold me the shirt outside Joe's said they were aware of that, but that a date stamp will be considered in future years. She then smiled and mentioned that my newly acquired shirt would be one of a kind.

One of the impressive experiences I had while shooting Saturday's FSGB were the shots of riders coming down Virginia Avenue in each of the two directions on the figure-8 course. On the north end, you had the downtown skyline, including the Chase building (Indiana's tallest skyscraper), to compose as a backdrop. Two examples of that are the muted approach seen in the photo leading off this post and the more inclusive shot immediately below. On the south end of Virginia Ave., there was the heart of Fountain Square -- the fountain and theater marquee -- in the background, such as the second image below.

One big difference between the FSGP and the two other criteriums is that aside from Virginia Avenue, the FSGP is run on small, neighborhood streets. The Indy and Mass Ave crits use relatively wide downtown streets. And oh, the FSGP was run with hardly any construction signage to dart around. As many Indy residents know, the heart of the Fountain Square merchants' district has been under siege by construction for three years as its infrastructure is upgraded for integration into the new Indianapolis Cultural Trail. I don't think the work is 100% done just yet, but the light at the end of the tunnel can be seen.

Like at the Mass Ave Crit, I didn't stay for all of Saturday's races. Photos of what competitions I did shoot, as well as a gallery devoted just to the event's atmosphere, can be found at my SmugMug site.

Above: The exterior of Joe's Cycles, 1060 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, a driver of this year's inaugural Fountain Square Grand Prix.

Above and below: Cycling as artforms.

Above: The figure-8 course took riders like this participant in the Men's Category 5 off the beaten path, such as this area along Leonard street flanking I-65, a section that served as the left upper loop of the "8."

Above: Indianapolis residents Sierra Siebenlist and Sydney Hatten were 1-2 at this point of the Women's Open category, and they would finish in that order as well. Placing third was Luanne Murray of London, Ohio.

Above: I used the Fountain Square Grand Prix to explore some monochrome conversions, such as the shot above which has Sieblenist drafting behind the lead rider here.

Above: I also tried a straight-on leg-shoe-wheel crop for the first time. I'm not sure this is a remarkable success, but I do think it's worth exploring more. 

Above: More of the Fountain Square business center in the background.

Above: Jeffrey Meade of Carmel celebrated early before crossing the finish line first in the Men's Category 3-4 race. He and Joe's Cycles team member Benjamin Weber of Indianapolis broke away relatively early in the race and were still together at the start of the last lap. Meade has more gas in the tank at the end, however; he won with room to spare. 

Above: Because of trees and spotty shade, the portion of the course traversing neighborhood streets presented an interesting -- and difficult -- challenge: dealing with dramatic difference in lighting in the same scene. That's what the shot above illustrates. I did very little in post-processing to resolve the radical difference in exposure between the rider in open sunlight and the foreground cyclists in shade. But the blown-out highlights on the former were impossible to remove, so ... I decided simply to work with it. This isn't noteworthy artistically, but I do like the contrast.  

Above: Leading off a series of atmosphere shots is this image of a toddler with a "window" to the action through the bars of the street rails along Virginia Avene. 

Above and below: Jeff C. Williams said he came from Springfield, Ill., to display his bicycle paintings and prints. He set up along Virginia Avenue, not far from Joe's Cycles and the race staging area. Check out more at jeffveloart.com

Above: Bright colors are what motivated me to take this photo of a man preparing to cross Morris Street on the west side of Shelby Street. His finger gesture, intended for a volunteer cross guard, was to confirm that it was safe to cross the street.

Above: Because Fountain Square is known for its art galleries and influences, I tried to compose something for my contribution to the inaugural (and unofficial, in the sense that I just made it up) Fountain Square Grand Prix Art Fair.

Above: A nod to one of the wall murals that can be found within the district. 

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