In its previous three years of existence the Tour of Lawrence has proven to be a draw for local cyclists, but there will be even more incentive at the 2012 version of the local USA Cycling pro-am event.
In its fourth year, event director Bob Sanner said, the Tour of Lawrence’s Sunday downtown criterium also will serve as the Kansas Cycling Association’s state criterium championship. Any KCA licensed rider can compete in the downtown race for a shot at the title.
“We were pleased to be offered that opportunity,” Sanner said.
The championship will mark the end of three days’ worth of races, which kick off at 7 tonight with street sprints on New Hampshire St., between Seventh and Eighth streets. The sprints course is just 200 meters long and will feature a series of heats.
On Saturday, the races shift over to the Kansas University campus for a hilly four-mile loop that Sanner said the cyclists enjoy. The course, which begins on Jayhawk Blvd., in front of Wescoe Hall, climbs 500 feet per lap and features less than a half-mile of level terrain. Amateur races will be going on all day, beginning at 8 a.m., and the professionals close the circuit race with the women at 4 p.m. and the men at 5:30 p.m.
The first downtown criterium races begin at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday. The downtown course is a mile long and features six turns for the cyclists, who will be zipping around Massachusetts St., New Hampshire St. and Vermont St. between Seventh and 10th streets. The professional women are scheduled to race at 3 p.m., with the men’s pro division starting later, at 5:30 p.m.
Between regional professional teams and area amateurs, the Tour of Lawrence expects roughly 600 cyclists to take part in this weekend’s races. Sanner doesn’t know the exact number of professionals who will be competing — “We experience a high number of walk-ups,” he said — but he hopes about 90 will be part of the men’s events.
Headlining the list of pros are Brad Huff, who won last year’s criterium, and Steve Tilford, from Topeka.
Numbers always are lower in the women’s professional division, Sanner said, because men comprise roughly 90 percent of the nation’s licensed riders and most of the pro women cyclists live on the East and West coasts. Sanner hopes to have 15 or so women competing in the pro events.