by Jordan Green
The pro national cycling criterium races come to town this weekend during an expanded High Point Cycling Classic with a hand-built bike exhibit, live music, food trucks and art vendors.
For the second year in a row, High Point is hosting the Professional Criterium National Championships, part of the annual High Point Cycling Classic, which began in 2010.
“In 2012, there were three finalists for the national criterium: High Point, Sacramento, California and Austin, Texas,” said Randy Carda, the volunteer chairman of the High Point Cycling Classic. “We’ve heard of Sacramento and Austin, but I betcha most of the folks in Sacramento and Austin haven’t heard of High Point.”
The men’s and women’s pro criterium championships are the top-billed races in a 1.5-day event stacked with rides to accommodate cyclists of all ages and abilities that will be rounded out with food, music, art and kids activities.
The fastest men and women will each compete for $10,000. The high-speed course through downtown High Point is 0.95 miles with the timed distance lengthening according to the ability of the riders. Pro men in top-ranked Category 1 will ride 110 minutes starting at 6:10 p.m. on Saturday, while women in categories 1 and 2 will ride 90 minutes at 4:10. The first rider to cross the finish line without getting lapped will win each race.
Pro men typically circumnavigate the course in less than 75 seconds and top out at 40 mph on the straightaways, Carda said, adding, “They don’t slow down much for the turns. It adds to the technical interest, if you will. It’s a challenging course.”
The races start and finish under the giant hangar-like canopy at Mendenhall Transportation Terminal next door to the International Home Furnishings Center. The course makes a sharp turn south on Hamilton Street past the Municipal Building, turns again at Russell Avenue and completes a loop that includes Wrenn Street, Green Drive and Elm Street.
The cycling classic is expanding from one to two soundstages this year. Carda said he didn’t want spectators to feel like they were limited to Mendenhall Transportation Terminal, so they would feel free to explore the course without missing the action. A main stage at the transportation terminal will showcase live music on Friday evening, but Saturday during the races two satellite stages will be set up, at Turn One in front of the Municipal Building and Turn Six in front of the Natuzzi building at the corner of Elm and Commerce streets. Jumbotrons next to each stage will show the racers at various points on the course.
A range of complementary activities along the eastern length of the course are designed to create the kind of urban interactivity that High Point normally lacks.
A Bobby Labonte Foundation Kids Zone with a climbing wall, electronic games, inflatables, balloons and face painting will be set up along Commerce Avenue beyond Turn One, and 20 arts and crafts vendors will line Hamilton Street south of the Municipal Building. Adding to the live music at the soundstage at Turn One, the event will be augmented by a beer garden and food truck area.
“We’ll have a whole walkable block, and we want that block to be full of people,” Carda said.
High Point University’s assumption of the role of primary sponsor helped the event expand, Carda said. The university’s chamber singers, who have performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, will sing the National Anthem on Saturday. The university is also providing 100 volunteers — roughly one in four of every volunteers for the event.
“High Point University coming in — they’re such a huge impact in this community,” Carda said. “People drive past those beautiful wrought-iron fences and they wonder if people ever leave that campus. Well, they’re coming out in force.”
Carda said he was told that the city’s backing was a key determinant in High Point’s selection as the host for the national criterium races. International Market Centers, which owns the majority of the city’s furniture showroom space, has also stepped up to support the event.
“The superiority of our venue is one thing that stands out about High Point,” Carda said. “Great streets. The transportation terminal is spectacular. The support of the city and IMC. The city has been awesome in closing down the streets. IMC owns Showplace, where they have the vintage bike show and a hand-built bike exhibit. There are artifacts from the Tour de France going back 50 or 60 years. IMC doesn’t charge us anything for that. We’re using the back area for hospitality for our volunteers. I have almost 400 volunteers. I can’t have people wandering around having to look for water and pay for lunch.”