Ahead of the pack: Tour de Tuscaloosa returnsBy Luci Willis | 04/07/2016 9:34am
This Saturday and Sunday, April 9-10, the Government Plaza will be transformed into a cycling arena as VeloCity Pro Cycle and Cadence Bank host the 8th Tour de Tuscaloosa. | Photo courtesy of Warren Myers
For the second consecutive year, Government Plaza will be transformed into a competitive cycling arena as VeloCity Pro Cycle and Cadence Bank host the eighth Tour de Tuscaloosa this Saturday and Sunday, April 9-10. The event will include criterium races on Saturday in downtown Tuscaloosa followed by a road race on Sunday on a 12.5 mile course near Sipsey Valley High School. The event is open to the public. The races will feature cyclists ages 10 and older and will award $8,000 in prizes and primes throughout the course of the weekend.
“It’s something different in Tuscaloosa,” said Warren Myers, the owner of VeloCity Pro Cycle and the event organizer for the Tour de Tuscaloosa. “It’s the only race of this kind in Tuscaloosa, and there’s only a few left in the state, so it’s just something a little different from the regular weekend activities. It should be a fun event for students to come and check out.”
The event will take place over the course of the two days and will be split into two main events, a criterium and a road race. Each event is distinct: they will take place in different locations and appeal to very different styles of racers. Myers described the criterium as similar to a sprint and the road race as more akin to a marathon.
The criterium races will start and end at Government Plaza. For this race, cyclists will bike laps on a relatively short course for a period of time dependent on age category and skill level. When that passes, cyclists will race to complete three additional laps, and the first person across the finish line will win the category.
To increase the intensity, Myers said the criterium will include primes, smaller single lap races that occur throughout the set time period. When race officials announce a prime, the first cyclist to cross the line on that lap will receive an award.
“That keeps the spectators interested, ‘cause in the middle of a race you’ll have this one little one lap, go-get-‘em race,” said Lucas Miller, vice president of Druid City Bicycle Club, a local biking and advocacy group. “It gets pretty exciting. You’ll see guys dig, and they’ll burn each other out, and then they’ll do it again in a couple of laps. It’s a race within a race.”
The criterium will be the most interesting for spectators, Myers said, as the cyclists will be relatively near and the races will be more lively than the long, slower paced road race on Saturday. Additionally, the criterium will be directly adjacent to Druid City Arts Festival, which will take place throughout the day.
Race attendees will be able to enjoy the entertainment and activities of both events while watching the criterium. According to the event handbook, these events were also held simultaneously last year and drew a combined crowd of over 10,000 people.
This will be Myers’ second year organizing the event, and he said he anticipates a turnout similar to last year’s crowds.
“We’ll have people from all over the Southeast,” Myers said. “Last year we had people coming from Memphis [and] Atlanta. This year we’re hoping to get some Louisiana racers. Last year we had a few over 100 racers, and we’re hoping to exceed that this year.”
The festival and criterium will have music, food, beverages, art and a children’s area available on Friday in Government Plaza. Alcoholic beverages will not be sold within the event, but open containers from the nearby bars and restaurants will be allowed within the designated entertainment district. Both the race and art festival are free to the public. The arts festival will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the first race of the criterium will start at 10:30 a.m.
Though both Myers and Miller highly encourage students and new cyclists to get involved with the bike club and other local cycling events, neither recommended the criterium to anyone who is not an experienced racer, as the high speeds and difficult maneuvers can be very dangerous for newcomers to attempt.
“You’re riding 25, 30 miles an hour, going into corners, and your front wheel is six inches off somebody’s in front of you, and there’s a guy next to you who you’re almost bumping handlebars with,” Miller said. “It takes a daredevil spirit and a little bit of trust in your other racers that you’re all going to make it through in one piece.”
There are many ways to enjoy the Tour de Tuscaloosa. Anyone interested in participating can register for the criterium, road race or both events. Other options are to attend as a spectator or volunteer alongside members of the Druid City Bicycle Club, who will be working to keep the event organized and safe.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Myers said. “We have a lot of volunteers, like the bike club, who come to help out. They will mostly be serving as course marshals, making sure people don’t wander into the course while coming from a bar or checking their phone.”
This event is great for people who are interested in getting more involved with the biking community in Tuscaloosa, according to Michele Montgomery, a University of Alabama faculty member who serves as advocacy officer for the Druid City Bicycle Club.
Her role is to promote bike safety, awareness and bicycle-friendly legislation throughout Tuscaloosa, which she said has progressed quickly but still has many areas to improve before it can be designated a bike-friendly city. The only city in Alabama that currently has that designation is Auburn, and Montgomery said beating Tuscaloosa’s rival across the state provides extra motivation for her.
She expressed her hope that this event would help introduce biking to more people and students in particular.
“With events like this, I think it would be a great avenue for students to be a part of a fun event,” Montgomery said. “And I think not a lot of cities have these type of bike race events, so it is a great way to shine a light on Tuscaloosa and bring a large number of people in. It certainly will be a great place for students to see what’s going on and maybe really develop an interest. From there, there’s lots of ways to get involved, like UA cycling and the bike club.”