Cycling event rides into town on July 4 weekend

Inaugural Tour of Lawrence features 3 days of races

Volunteers needed

Organizers of the Tour of Lawrence are still seeking volunteers to help run the three-day cycling event.

A meeting for people interested in volunteering will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

A variety of jobs are available for all three days of the event.

Race maps: The event will close off streets downtown and around the KU campus

Downtown Lawrence, buckle up and tighten that chin strap. A weekend of fireworks and fury is heading your way.

After a one-year hiatus, the Lawrence Jaycees fireworks show will return to the downtown area on July 4, but not before a new type of thrill show takes center stage.

Downtown Lawrence — home of quaint strolls and leisurely dining — will turn into a revved-up race haven over the July 4 weekend as about 400 amateur and professional bicycle racers take over the downtown as part of the inaugural Tour of Lawrence event.

Participants are promising the race will produce its own brand of fireworks.

“It will be like a more human form of NASCAR,” said Adam Mills, a semi-pro racer who lives in Lawrence. “There will be a lot of drama. You’ll have a pack of bikes going around a corner at 30 miles per hour, and you’ll definitely be wondering if anybody is going to fall.”

Organizers are hoping the Lawrence economy ends up being the ultimate winner from the event, which will have activities Friday through next Sunday.

“That is really one of the main reasons we’re doing this. Fourth of July weekends are really very quiet for the hotels and a lot of the downtown businesses,” said Bob Sanner, director of sports and conventions for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We wanted to do something to change that.”

Racing and street closures

Downtown will be the center of the racing activity on Friday and Saturday.

On Friday, racers will participate in the Eldridge Hotel Street Sprint. The event will be a drag race-like event with riders starting at Seventh and Kentucky Streets and sprinting uphill to Seventh and Massachusetts. The event will close parts of Seventh Street and the Seventh and Massachusetts intersection to motorists.

Part of the area also will be shut off to accommodate a “Kids Zone” at Seventh and Mass. that will feature inflatable playground equipment. The Eldridge Hotel also will provide a live band and outdoor food vendors in the vacant lot just south of the hotel.

The live music begins at 6:30 p.m. The Kids Zone and the racing begins at 7 p.m.

On Saturday — Independence Day — the event’s premier race will take over much of the downtown. Racers will speed through a one-mile course that will be run on parts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont streets.

The race, called a criterium, is expected to produce some of the better opportunities for spectators to see top-notch racers.

“This event is going to attract, basically, the best bike racers in a 600-mile radius,” Mills said.

The crit-style racing — which is the same type of racing featured downtown from 2005 to 2007 as part of the Collegiate Road Racing National Championships — will produce large packs of riders tackling the downtown terrain at average speeds of about 30 mph.

“The riders are so close, that if they just throw their elbow out, they are going to hit somebody,” Mills said. “It is really tight racing, and it does get kind of scary out there.”

The Saturday race will completely close Massachusetts Street to motorists and parking. The parking garage at Ninth and New Hampshire will be open, although motorists can only access it from the north. Most of the other surface parking lots in downtown also will be open.

Bolstering the economy

Jane Pennington, director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said many of the area’s restaurants and shops plan to be open on the July 4 holiday.

A Kids Zone featuring carnival-like rides and inflatables will be on Ninth Street between Vermont and Massachusetts streets. At 12:45 p.m., a kids bicycle race will be at Ninth and Mass. Walk-up registration is allowed.

The main racing will begin about 1 p.m., with the men’s professional race starting at 7:30 p.m.

On Sunday, the racing will move to the Kansas University campus. There, the focus will turn to longer distance racing on a course that features massive changes in elevation.

“There will be a number of guys who roll into town, and after a lap or two, they’ll be shattered,” Sanner said. “It is a tough course, but they tell me that is what they like.”

Motorists should use caution anywhere near the university’s main campus, as many streets will be closed for the race.

Various heats of races will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In all, 14 professional teams — along with hundreds of amateurs — have agreed to participate in the event. They’ll be competing for about $22,000 in prize money.

Fireworks and food

On Saturday, the racing will be just the beginning of the holiday fun downtown. Lawrence Originals, a group of locally owned restaurants, will be host to a food and music festival at Watson Park, Sixth and Kentucky streets.

The festival, which will start at 3 p.m., will feature three local bands and food and drinks from 18 locally owned restaurants. People can buy tickets for food and drink the day of the event.

Bands will play until about 9:30 p.m. when the Jaycees’ annual fireworks show will take over. The restaurant group is sponsoring this year’s show, and organizers agreed to move the launch site of the fireworks closer to the downtown Kansas River bridges. That will allow spectators to gather at Watson Park to see the fireworks. The view from Burcham Park, the traditional location for the show, will be limited.