PEDAL TO PAVEMENT

Amateur and pro bicyclists alike will speed through downtown during the second Old Pueblo Grand Prix this St. Patrick’s Day. The festivities last all day, entertaining spectators with a series of short-course races, or criterium, that take a 0.6 mile loop through Tucson’s urban core.

Saturday, March 17 kicks off at 10:30 a.m., as juniors 10- to 18-years-old hit the pavement. The pro race event finale starts at 5:30 p.m. with professionals speeding through downtown Tucson as the streetlights blink on. $20,000 in prize money will be awarded throughout the day, part of it provided by the title sponsor Athlete Octane.

This year, the Old Pueblo Grand Prix joins the USA Crits Championship Series as the second of 11 stops. Now, the pros will have to race in Tucson in order to keep their standing in the overall series, said Kurt Rosenquist, the owner of Fitworks Cycling Support and one of the criterium’s organizers.

Tucsonan Jame Carney is one of those pros. A two-time Olympian, Carney showed his stuff in the Masters men’s 35 race last year, placing second. He thinks that this event can go big nationally.

“Hopefully this will be the start of a new era,” Carney said. “This is a cycling community. We need this.”

Having spectators cheer along the whole course amps up the event’s energy and enlivens downtown. “It’s just very exciting,” said Kate Van Roekel, a member of Team O2 Modern Fitness/Maynard’s and winner in the women’s category 3/4 race last year. “People are yelling and ringing bells. It was very cool to see everyone out and about downtown.”

With so many restaurants nearby, spectators can get a bite to eat or a good cup of coffee and watch the action unfold.

“It’s about the idea of an urban center where people gather,” said Susan Frank, O2 Modern Fitness owner and event organizer. “We want to see more of that in our downtown.”

This year, the route starts and finishes at the St. Augustine Cathedral, 192 S. Stone Ave. Racers will head east on Jackson Street, south on Scott Avenue, west on 14th Street and north on Stone Avenue. With two JumboTrons on opposite sides of the course, racers will be larger than life, whipping around sharp corners at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

“The gnarly crashes are part of the thrill,” Van Roekel said. “It’s like watching a car crash on T.V. You think, ‘cara daftar sbobet! I can’t believe that just happened.’”

Last year’s course had even more corners.

“There was no relaxing then,” Carney said. “It was just grinding your teeth the whole period. At one point, it got dangerous, so I took off.”

Frank admits that the road conditions downtown aren’t ideal, but the urban route is what makes criterium racing classically American.

“Every continent has a racing style,” Carney said. “Instead of having our city councils build tracks, Americans raced around city blocks. m88 bola That’s our tradition, and foreigners aren’t used to the skill it takes to go around a corner that fast.”

So expect a show.

“You have to have nerves of steel to do this,” Van Roekel said. “It takes a lot of adrenaline. But when else do you get to take over downtown?”

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