Hundreds of cyclists from all over the globe will descend upon the Gateway to Wisconsin on Thursday.
The 2012 International Cycling Classic, also known as “Superweek,” is a series of bike races taking place in 42 states and more than 20 countries. This year, the series begins today and runs through July 22, with cyclists scheduled to race through Beloit late Thursday morning.
The city was approached by the organization International Cycling to host the event, said Therese Oldenburg, board secretary of Be Active Outdoors (BAO).
“They like to be in the hearts of communities,” Oldenburg said. “It’s more engaging than being in a park in the middle of nowhere to race.”
Oldenburg said Beloit has a great, growing biking community that quickly saw the benefit of bringing the event to the city.
Races will take place from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday, with seven races scheduled between 10 a.m. and 3:40 p.m. before the Pro race at 5:45 p.m. — a race that will see cyclists riding 60 miles at 30 miles per hour, Oldenburg said.
“It’s very high energy, very exciting,” Oldenburg said.
BAO will also host a Community Challenge Race that afternoon, which is open to anyone 18 and older. Registration for the race is $10, which Oldenburg said will help cover the cost of the event, and riders can sign up on-site or on the Web at http://bit.ly/N4qFVA. Additionally, a “bike race block party” will be set up in front of Bushel & Pecks Local Market, 328 State St., which will act as “kind of the hang-out place for the day” for cyclists and onlookers alike, Oldenburg said. Food vendors will be on-hand to sell their wares, and businesses are invited to host sidewalk sales.
City Manager Larry Arft said the event is “definitely” good for Beloit.
“This organization stages these races in cities they consider to be trendy, nice downtown venues,” Arft said. “They bring a lot of people.”
Arft said he’s heard there may be as many as 500 cyclists coming to town to compete, bringing with them friends, families and crews. Some cyclists are pros. Oldenburg said some will head straight to the London Summer Olympics after Superweek wraps up and may draw fans who travel just to see the races.
“It’s a very popular sport and there’s plenty of people who go from city to city to watch the races,” Arft said.
The event will close some streets in downtown Beloit for the duration of the event. East Grand Avenue, between 4th and Pleasant Streets, will be closed off, as will a block of Pleasant between East Grand and Broad Street. Broad Street will be closed from Pleasant to where it connects with East Grand.
Some business owners along Grand Avenue expressed concern or displeasure with the decision to close off the road for the event and spoke with the Daily News on condition of anonymity. One business owner said the event doesn’t have adequate planning and some business owners were not involved in the process. Another said the event would cause an inconvenience with parking. When the event was first discussed at a Beloit City Council meeting, a business owner brought up a concern about customer parking. Council members asked the police to work with business owners on their concerns at that time.
Other business owners, however, said the event will be a boon to the area.
“I’m for it,” said Tom Hankins, owner of Suds O’Hanahan’s Irish Pub, 435 E. Grand Ave. “I think anything new and exciting that draws people downtown...they’ll find ways to get people downtown if they want to get to you.”
Jackie Gennett, owner of Bushel & Pecks, agreed, saying the possible benefits from the event far outweigh any negatives.
“I think anytime you bring in visitors from out of town, it’s good for business,” Gennett said. “I think having the street closed is a minor inconvenience...we’re very excited to have people from outside Beloit visit Beloit.”
Oldenburg said the race might cause some inconvenience for the surrounding community, but noted major cities often shut down a number of city blocks for similar events, citing the Chicago marathon as an example.
“For everyone involved, it’s going to be a slight inconvenience — you are shutting down a city,” Oldenburg said. “It’s just one of the things that cities do because it draws people to the communities and it’s an economic driver; there’s inconveniences, but there are also huge offsetting benefits.”
A BAO news release also noted there’s still a need for businesses to sponsor BAO to cover “expenses related to the promotion, production and programming of the event.” There are three levels of sponsorship, according to the release — $500, $1,000 and $5,000 — and each come with a set of perks for the business. Oldenburg said the deadline has passed to appear on marketing materials for the race, but sponsorship opportunities are still available.