Cycling race series returns to Rowan this weekend

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — “Eighty-five racers on the course!” was the track announcer’s shout just after 9 p.m. Thursday, as a pack of bicyclists streamed from the start/finish line up North Main Street.
Not quite single-file, flowing like a river, they rounded the curve onto East Council Street and soon were out of sight.
The five-race Crossroads Classic stormed back into Salisbury on Thursday, and will return with two more races Saturday and Sunday.
Organizers said they’re pleased with the turnout.
James Meacham, executive director of the Salisbury-Rowan County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said the criterium race’s fifth year in Rowan County was a sign of success.
“Our (tourism) master plan calls for more light adventure and amateur sports,” Meacham said.
He estimated that about 400 bicyclists, plus friends, family and supporters for the pro teams, would all spend time — and money — in Rowan each day of racing.
Neal Boyd of Charlotte Sports Cycling, which runs the event, said one racer brought enough people to North Carolina for the races, they decided to find a place to stay in Salisbury.
“They rented an apartment, right over here on Fisher Street, for the week,” Boyd said.
Meacham said local businesses would benefit from the additional traffic.
Nearby restaurants, including Cooper’s and Uncle Buck’s, had crowds, though it was impossible to tell whether the race had any impact on the crowd.
And, about four blocks away from the starting line, Rose Meeks Jones had only one customer at her wine bar, The Blue Vine, although she said a cyclist had come in for lunch earlier.
She said that two years ago, when the race ran by her shop, “we loved it. People were sitting out there (on the sidewalk patio), sipping and watching.”
Meacham said some restaurants had given out gift certificates or used other enticements to bring in customers. Jones said she hadn’t done that this year.
Also, with a new play showing next door at the Meroney Theater, there was competition for parking.
“It’s growing pains,” Jones said, “… because we’ve gotten to be a size that there’s so much going on. And that’s wonderful. We’re a growing, thriving community.”
For Meacham, the bicycle races are just part of a bigger picture.
Boyd’s Charlotte Sports Cycling also organizes other area events, including the Kannapolis Rotary Club’s Nutrithon – a duathalon with separate 5K and 8K foot races — in September.
And the Rowan Runners and other local groups present day races, while Landis sports the Mud Run.
“We’re always looking to partner to bring those events here,” Meacham said – not just races, but fishing tournaments and other sports.
The next step, he said, was to “make downtown an experience,” through collaboration.
Locals made up part of the field during several races, with Rowan County’s John Patterson placing first in the Masters 45 Plus group, and Charlie Brown winning in the Masters 35 Plus.
But for many of the racers out on the course, the next step may be fame.
Thomas Craven’s BMC Hincapie Sportswear cycling team, with seven team members registered, trains young racers who want to become pros.
“You’re familiar with the Tour de France, right?” Craven asked.
“What we do is cull the younger guys and teach them how to race, how to behave, how to eat right and train right.”
His racers were all aged 18 to 22. Most of the cyclists in the Tour de France, he said, are ages 25 to 30.
Craven praised the downtown Salisbury course.
“It’s quick and exciting. You’ve got the turns and straightaways, you’ve got chances to see the cyclists multiple times,” he said.
Liam Harland, originally from Adelaide, Australia, races with Team Type 1 Sanofi – a development team comprised of cyclists with type 1 diabetes.
“From where I come from in Australia, cycling’s big,” he said.
But in his part of the country, “there’d be maybe only 30 competitors, and maybe just family watching,” he said.
Here, locals join the loved ones in applauding and cheering in what’s fast becoming a tradition.
“We come and sit at this same spot every year,” said Sandra Roakes, who sat on the curb outside of Off Main Gallery, which remained open during the event.
“It’s exciting!” Roakes said.
All the more reason organizers hope this event continues to pick up speed.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.