Tour of Lawrence kicks off today

This Fourth of July, there will be more than fireworks lighting up the streets of downtown Lawrence. The inaugural Tour of Lawrence cycling event is coming to town for a three-day weekend of some serious cycling. The USA Cycling-sanctioned pro-am event has drawn over 400 amateur and professional riders from across the region, including many local Lawrence and Topeka riders.

“I can’t wait to race downtown,” said Michelle Jensen, a Lawrence resident who rides with Mercy Racing. “When the college nationals were downtown, I was a little envious that I couldn’t ride. It’s going to be great to show off our talent in front of our friends and family.”

The event kicks off at 7 tonight with the Eldridge Hotel Street Sprint. Racers will pound their pedals in a 200-meter uphill battle through the streets of downtown. Bikers will ride Seventh Street between Kentucky and Massachusetts. During and after the race, spectators can enjoy live music and visit food and beer vendors directly south of the Eldridge Hotel from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

“The downtown atmosphere is perfect for this event,” said Brian Jensen, a Lawrence rider for Tradewind Energy/Trek Midwest. “It brings lots of people downtown and lots of consumers. It’s important for the cycling community because it shows Lawrence what cycling is. When you race out in the middle of nowhere, it gets kind of boring. It’s the atmosphere that makes races exciting, and I think downtown is great for that.”

The event is truly a family weekend with a Kids Zone set up on the corner of Seventh and Massachusetts streets throughout the weekend. Youngsters will get a chance to show off their own cycling skills with a Kid’s Bike Race scheduled for 12:45 p.m. Saturday. Expect to see some colorful and decorated wheels as the younger riders make their way down Massachusetts Street. Walk-up registration is accepted.

The Tour of Lawrence Criterium, the premier event of the weekend, will follow the kids activities Saturday, with the first race set to start at 1 p.m. The men’s professional race will cap off the day with a 7:30 p.m. start.

The criterium is a unique style of racing where riders speed around a one-mile circuit and try to complete the most laps in the 70-minute time interval.

“I’m definitely looking forward to this race,” said Adam Mills, another Lawrence resident and member of Mercy Racing. “It’s something that’s never really been done in town. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

“It’s going to be really exciting,” added Cathy Walberg, a member of Team Kendra Racing from Topeka. “It’s the best event for spectators to see. You’re amazed by the speed and proximity of the riders.”

The start and finish line is set for the intersection between Ninth and Massachusetts streets.

“That’s probably going to be one of the best places to watch,” said Bob Sanner, director of sports and conventions for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Another great place is going to be on Eighth and Mass St. There you are going to get to see riders coming from different directions depending on where they are in the race. There’s going to be lots of excitement.”

Food and beer vendors will be out throughout the day, and several downtown restaurants will remain open for the event. Around 9:30 p.m., riders and spectators can relax and celebrate the holiday with Jaycee’s annual fireworks show.

The racing will start up again at 8 a.m. Sunday with the KU Campus Circuit Race. Various heats will be circling a 4.3-mile loop around campus. The men’s professional race at 4:30 p.m. will be the last race of the day.

“When you go to these national bike events out west, people think of Kansas as Western Kansas or Eastern Colorado,” said Steve Tilford, a Topeka resident and rider for Tradewind Energy/Trek Midwest. “Those people are going to have no idea what hit them when they get up on Mount Oread.”

The race is spread out across campus, but Sanner highlighted a few good spots for spectators.

“Where Naismith connects with Sunnyside, you’re going to see a lot of speed,” he said. “There will be riders screaming by. Eleventh and Mississippi is going to be a good place to catch some action too.”

This weekend will be the first time Lawrence has hosted the cycling event, but local racers hope it becomes an annual tradition.

“I’m really excited that Lawrence is willing to spend the time and money to put this on,” Brian Jensen said. “I hope people come out to see the benefits. It takes at least three years to get a race established. Hopefully we can keep this going for a few more years.”