The Big One

This 1994 file photo shows what was called, “The Big One.” The men’s pro bicycle race, part of the Athens Brick Criterium, raced around Court Street to State Street to Congress and West Union Streets in great packs. The race is returning June 22 after a 20-year hiatus.

Note: This story appears in the Thursday, June 13 newspaper on Page A1.

The climb up Congress Street, the downhill sprint, and a series of close turns with competitors’ wheels just inches away from one another.

The thrill of a bike race is like no other, especially when held on the bricks of uptown Athens.

The long-awaited return of the Athens Brick Criterium is finally here. A series of races for all ages is planned for Saturday, June 22. Registration is open through next Thursday.

The Brick Criterium was first held in 1986 and ran for a dozen years, long enough to draw well-known cyclists like Lance Armstrong. After a two-decade lull, organizers have worked this year to bring the event back to Athens and restore the race to its former glory. Local rider Daniel Brown led an effort to get Athens City Council to close the roadways to allow the race to take place.

The half-mile course will take riders down Court Street, then left onto West State Street. Riders will then turn and climb the Congress Street hill. This quickly turns into a downhill slope, leading to a sharp left turn onto West Union Street. Riders then turn back onto Court Street to complete the loop.

“The course — it’s what attracts people to this race, it’s what attracted racers in its past,” Brown told city officials back in March. “It’s on the bricks, you’ve got the hills, it’s a challenging course, there’s some pretty tight corners.”

The day will begin with “Kid Street Sprints” for young riders between 5-13 years old down Court Street at 11 a.m. There will be two age-appropriate heats.

A “Juniors” race is set for 2 p.m.

Other adult races are planned throughout the day, finishing with “women’s pro” and “men’s pro” in the evening.

A memorial lap is also planned for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. to remember three local figures in the biking community that have died in the past year: Dr. Michael Ginder, David West, and Larry Guy.

All races require pre-registration, which is available online at www.bikereg.com. The kid race is free and adult prices range from $35-50. There is prize money available in the top races. Registration is open through Thursday, June 20 at 5 p.m.

The spectator-friendly event will feature a raffle for those who support local businesses throughout the day. There is also a “kids zone” planned in the green space near the intersection of Congress and Presidents streets.

For more details, visit www.brickcrit.com.

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