Courtesy photo

More than 400 racers will compete in a once-national bike race in San Luis Obispo on Sunday.

The San Luis Obispo Downtown Criterium Classic and Cycling Festival returns to San Luis Obispo for its third consecutive year after falling into oblivion since 2001. Racer Peter Brown of Santa Rosa said the race is very spectator-friendly.

“It’s a very intense bike race on a closed circuit where riders lap about every minute, 45 (seconds),” said Brown, who will race with the Clover Team in the Elite 1/2/Pro category, beginning at 3:15 p.m. “I think the whole day is going to be a great day. It’s great for the city and the athletes, and of course, the competition is going to be really good.”

The 400-plus professional, collegiate and amateur racers will compete for cash purses of more than $6,000. The events begin at 7 a.m. and end around 5 p.m. The route begins and ends on Garden and Higuera streets, traveling clockwise on Higuera, Broad and Monterey streets, and then races through Mission Plaza. The circuit then turns onto Osos Street and finishes with a right turn back onto Higuera.

Race officials said they expect upward of 5,000 spectators throughout the day.

“This is one of the most dramatic courses in California,” event director Shaba Mohseni said. “Nothing compares to cycling through Mission Plaza.”

Festival attractions will include Farmers’ Market-style booths, live music and activities for families and children.

The day-long races will be accompanied by a community two-lap fundraising event called “The Deux Run Run,” which benefits the SLO County Special Olympics at noon.

The race was very popular in the ’80s and ’90s but had a lapse for a few years, said racer Dirk Copeland, 35, a Cal Poly alumnus. It returned to San Luis Obispo two years ago.

“It kind of just died out,” Mohseni said. “I don’t know exactly the reason why it lost momentum, but if an event changes hands too many times, there is discontinuity in leadership.”

Since 2001, race officials and supporters have tried to bring the race back to San Luis Obispo as a festival of sorts to support local businesses and encourage more people to come out and enjoy themselves, Mohseni said. But it didn’t return until 2006.

Brown, who has been racing for about 15 years and who has participated in this race at least three times, said the main event of the day is the Elite 1/2/Pro race.

“Last year, it was just packed with thousands of people,” said Copeland, who also plans to race in the Elite 1/2/Pro category with his team, the Cal Giant Cycling Team. “We’re all going to try and ride together, but we always try to make sure at least one of us is near the front.”

Kristina Seley, 28, of San Luis Obispo, has been racing for four years and said the festival is a great place to showcase a racer’s talents.

The Cal Poly alumna participated in this event for the past two years.

“It used to be on the national calendar where pro riders would get points,” she said. “It’s very similar to running track. It’s a small course and a timed event where typically sprinters race for about 50 minutes to an hour.”

Seley said she will race with the PROMAN Women’s Professional Cycling Team alongside four other female racers, two of whom are also from San Luis Obispo, in the Elite 1/2/Pro category. Technique plays a huge part in racing, she added.

“It takes a lot of strategy,” Seley said. “You want to come to the finish line with people you can out-sprint. We’re all going to work together for one of us to win.”

Copeland, a Cal Poly alumnus, said that he’s glad the race has returned to San Luis Obispo because it continues to improve every year.

“It’s pretty cool that they block off the downtown streets,” he said. “Last year, Shaba (Mohseni) did a really nice job organizing the event. It’s just going to be a great event this year. It keeps building on itself . as it becomes more and more community oriented.”

Those interested in cycling, even without experience, can participate in the Free Race Tactics Clinic hosted by Seley at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Art’s Cyclery.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *