Some 300 to 400 professional racers are expected to take part in the May 6 event in downtown Decatur.
Convention bureau lands last leg of USA Crits event; downtown loop to be site of short-course race in May
By Paul Huggins
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North Alabama fans of the Tour de France can get a race preview this May and won't even need cable television.
Just grab a lawn chair and go to downtown Decatur for the last leg of the USA Crits Southeast Series, a circuit of eight bicycle short-course races in eight different cities in nine days.
It will showcase 300 to 400 professional male and female racers from as many as 160 teams from around the world, including some national champions and regular participants in the Tour de France.
The cyclists will race for an hour around a 1 kilometer loop circling Second Avenue Southeast, Johnston Street, First Avenue and Lee Street. The top 25 finishers will share $10,000 in prize money.
"The best way to describe it is NASCAR on two wheels," said Stuart Lamp, special events coordinator for the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Big, tight racing packs and lots of big crashes," he said.
Lamp is a professional cyclist and a former alternate member of the U.S. Olympic cycling team. He said his cycling contacts allowed Decatur to get to the front of the line to join the race series.
The visitors bureau, which paid the race series a $15,000 host fee, expects the professional cyclists to fill at least 200 room nights that can have a $100,000 economic impact.
The figure is based on the cycling teams staying in town one night.
Lamp hopes the race will generate more room nights because it's the last of the series and racers won't have to rush to the next town. There also will be an amateur race he hopes will draw competitors from around the region.
In addition to bringing in tax revenue, Lamp said he hopes the race gives Decatur more exposure as a successful place to host athletic events and perhaps even lure a cycling team to train here during the winter.
The May 6 event is free for spectators. It will start with a charity ride at about 2 p.m. and give anyone from the community the chance to ride with the professionals for an hour or two around the city. The amateur race and then a professional women's race follow. The women are followed by a children's race, and the competition concludes with the professional men's race.
After the final race, a U.S. Army band from Virginia will present a concert at the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts.
The USA Crits Southeast Series starts April 28 in Athens, Ga., and then continues through Roswell, Ga., Beaufort, S.C., Walterboro, S.C., Greenwood, S.C., Spartanburg, S.C., and Anniston before finishing in Decatur.
The top rider from each race earns $750 and 250 points toward the series championship. As in NASCAR, racers also receive points for leading particular laps.
Sixteen teams with competitors representing 20 countries already have signed up for this year's series.
Most riders are from America, and the rest represent Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Serbia, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, New Zealand, Australia, Trinidad, Mexico, Columbia, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the Bahamas.
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