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The women professionals race through downtown Beaufort, S.C., on Tuesday in the third leg of the  USA Criterium Southeast Series. Behind them is The Rhett House Inn. Kelly Benjamin of Team Cheerwine won the race.
Photo by Megan Lovette, The Beaufort Gazette
The women professionals race through downtown Beaufort, S.C., on Tuesday in the third leg of the USA Criterium Southeast Series. Behind them is The Rhett House Inn. Kelly Benjamin of Team Cheerwine won the race.

A day at the
races, downtown

Decatur plays host today to pro-am bicycle racing

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

If you want to see a lot of wrecks during Sunday’s Decatur Daily Downtown Criterium, plant yourself at First Avenue Southeast and Lee Street.

But if you seek the total experience of the afternoon full of cycling races, plan on strolling around the 0.6-mile rectangular course to learn how the strategy of racing plays out.

“If you stay in one spot, you don’t get a real good idea about what’s going on during the race,” said Stuart Lamp, a professional cycler from Decatur who helped lure the finale of the 2007 USA Crits Southeast Series to downtown.

The free event has drawn 300 to 400 professional and top amateur cyclists to Decatur, showcasing perhaps the most spectator-friendly style of races in their sport.

There will be four groups of racers, with dozens on the course at once. Bunched together, they will circle two city blocks in about a minute, reaching 40 mph at the fastest points.

If you’re worried the colorful race whirring by won’t captivate your children, you can take them to Bank Independent on Second Avenue, which will have a free children’s play area. This includes several inflatable rides: slide, obstacle course, maze and moonbounce, as well Decatur Fire and Rescue’s fire and storm simulator.

Smokey Holler Café will sell barbecue, hot dogs and hamburgers in the vending area on Second Avenue across from Emiron Music. Other vendors will sell snow cones and pizza.

A Pepsi wagon will be near The Decatur Daily, which will set up a hospitality tent, offering snacks. Both Maria Bonita and Lagniappes restaurants will be open.

Parking is free, and the closest lots near the course are at the Morgan County Courthouse, AmSouth Bank, Decatur Athletic Club and The Daily.

The racecourse starts on Second Avenue in front of the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts. It turns right onto Johnston Street, then right onto First Avenue, and right again on Lee Street before getting back on Second Avenue.

The fastest speeds will occur on First Avenue, coming down the hill between Moulton and Lee streets.

Lamp said First Avenue and Lee Street will be the most exciting single spot on the course.

“You’ll see six or seven guys wide, and they’ll all have to narrow to three to make that corner,” he said.

Johnston Street and First Avenue also will be an exciting spot, Lamp said, because that’s where the cyclists will launch attacks, a sudden burst to break away from the other riders. Attacks also are likely to occur on Second Avenue between Moulton and Johnston streets, he said.

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Lamp still recommends spectators circle the course counterclockwise so they can better appreciate how quickly a race can change. The racers will be moving clockwise.

“You can see a guy on one lap who’s leading the pack and on the next lap is in the middle of the pack or even at the back,” he said. “You can lose position really quickly in those types of races, so walking around the course, you can see how riders move around.”

The first races begin at 1 p.m. with the masters 35 and older group. The next group, men’s category 2/3 (elite amateurs but not quite ready to go professional) will race at 2. Women’s professional will race at 3:10, with the men’s professional race starting at 4:30.

The final race, offering $10,000 in prize money, will last about an hour and 20 minutes.

Free band concert

At 5:30 p.m., the Princess Theatre will open its ticket office and begin handing out free tickets to a concert performed by the U.S. Army Materiel Command Band. The one-hour concert starts at 6:30.

Though the races start at 1 p.m., the public is invited to join a fun ride starting at 10 a.m. at The Daily. The free event allows the public to ride side by side with the professional cyclists for various distances from 10 to 35 miles.

Decatur Daily Downtown Criterium schedule
Category Start Length Winnings
Masters 35+ 1 p.m. 40 min. plus 3 laps $500
Amateur men 2 p.m. 50 min. plus 3 laps $500
Pro women 3:10 p.m. 60 min. plus 3 laps $5,000
Pro men 4:30 p.m. 75 min. plus 3 laps $10,000

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