Bikers to slash through Downtown in summer race

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January 20, 2003 // UPDATED 1:03 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Friday, June 13th will be a lucky day for Downtown bicycle racing fans. That evening, professional racers in the third stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix will speed around a seven-tenths-mile course that circles Peavey Plaza, WCCO-TV and part of the University of St. Thomas campus.

Race organizers are working with the Minneapolis Downtown Council to host the event, coordinating it with the Alive After 5 concert at Peavey Plaza, on the 1100 block of Nicollet Mall, said David LaPorte, director of the Great River Energy Bicycle Festival, an event that includes the Grand Prix.

Roughly 75 women riders will start at 7 p.m. and race for 40 minutes, he said. Roughly 150 men will start at 8 p.m. and race for an hour. Top finishers get time bonuses that count in the overall standings, similar to the Tour de France.

The men racers would do roughly 40 laps, the women 25 laps, he said. Racers should complete a lap in roughly 90 seconds.

"Bicycle racing is something you have to see in person," LaPorte said. "It isn't just the image, it's the sound and the feel. When the pack goes by, it blows your hair back."

Racers will get in tight packs, wheels inches away from each other, going full tilt, he said.

"The corners are the place to watch," he said. "That is where the action takes place -- riders coming around the corner at 30 miles per hour, jockeying for position, leaning on each other."

During the race, organizers will announce "bonus sprints" where the winner of the next single lap would get a small time bonus in the standings.

The event will include a bike exposition and stunt bike demonstrations on Nicollet Mall, between 10th and 11th streets, LaPorte said. Various bike advocacy groups would have tables at the expo, as would bike companies, "selling the latest titanium widget you can't live without."

An announcer would explain the race to spectators, with speakers set up on the 10th Street leg, far enough away from Peavey Plaza so as not to interfere with the concert.

Organizers hope to draw 50,000 people, including concertgoers, LaPorte said. The city would close streets from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

"One of the things that is attractive about Downtown Minneapolis is that we get a much better crowd if we bring the race to the people, rather than bringing people to the race," he said.

The move across the river The five-day race includes stages in Virginia, the Iron Range, Winona and Stillwater. St. Paul's Capitol grounds hosted one leg of the Grand Prix for four years.

A communications snafu contributed to the Minneapolis move, LaPorte said.

The race director in Stillwater called the rental company in April to reserve traffic barricades, he said. That person didn't know that the race director in St. Paul had already reserved enough barricades for both races.

The person at the rental company said they were out of barricades. "We were told they were needed for another event," LaPorte said. "They didn't realize it was the same event."

LaPorte called Phil Disch, operations manager for the Minneapolis Downtown Council. The Council does the Holidazzle Parade and the Aquatennial, and LaPorte said he thought Disch might have a line on barricades.

The Council didn't, but in the course of the conversation LaPorte said race organizers were interested in moving to Downtown.

The Downtown Council wanted to link the event with the Alive After 5 concert, and the Council and race organizers worked with the city to lay out a course that included Peavy Plaza while being least disruptive to traffic, he said.

LaPorte said if all goes well, the Minneapolis move should be permanent.

The Capitol area is a beautiful setting for a race, but "it doesn't have a lot of energy," he said. "It is not a natural entertainment destination."

Climbing the charts The Nature Valley Grand Prix is gaining national stature, LaPorte said. USA Cycling's national racing calendar rates races on a scale of 2.1 to 2.8, with 2.1 being the most prestigious. (The ranking has less to do with difficulty than with the longevity of the race, media interest and general perception in the bike racing community.)

This year, the Grand Prix moved up from 2.5 to 2.3, he said.

"It puts us in the top 10 for stage races," LaPorte said. "On that weekend, we are the most important race for men in North America."

Fox Sports Network would carry the event regionally, he said. The Outdoor Life Network would carry it nationally.

Volunteers do most of the work for the five-day event. The budget is $300,000 and that includes $40,000 of prize money, LaPorte said.

By comparison, the one-day San Francisco Grand Prix costs $1 million, he said.

Event proceeds go to the Children's Hospital and Clinics for "quality of life" programming, like wigs for kids in chemotherapy or play areas for the siblings of sick children, LaPorte said.

"Last year we raised $8,000," he said. "I think we can do better than that."

Organizers need volunteers to help with setup and teardown and assist with street crossings during the event.

Those interested should call LaPorte at 625-4983.