BEVERLY — The 5th annual Fidelity Investments Gran Prix of Beverly — one of the North Shore’s fastest-growing cycling traditions — returns to the Garden City’s downtown on Wednesday, July 24.
This year will again present a cast of top-flight cyclists, including a women’s field, performing at top speeds before an anticipated standing-room crowd.
For the fourth straight year, the Gran Prix of Beverly will double as the state’s criterium cycling championship for men, sanctioned by the sport’s national governing body, USA Cycling.
Though defending champ Ben Wolfe of the Jelly Belly Cycling Team hasn’t confirmed, 2011 champion Shawn Milne of Beverly (who finished second last year) and other top pros (including Tim Johnson of Beverly, Jeremy Powers, Adam Myerson and Mark McCormack) will be in the mix. The Elite Men’s race is set to go off at 6:50 p.m.
In addition, the Gran Prix features an Amateur Men’s race at 4:20 p.m., a Masters 40-plus Men’s race at 5:10 p.m., and a Women’s elite race at 6 p.m. The women’s race returns after a two-year hiatus, with Masconomet Regional graduate Maureen ‘Mo’ Bruno Roy and Boston’s Ride Studio Café team leading the strong group of contenders.
All four groups will race the same serpentine course, which starts and finishes on Cabot Street and winds along sections of Hale and Dane streets.
For the uninitiated, a criterium, or “crit,” is a high-speed, high-stakes chess match. Held on a short-circuit course, a crit features competitors constantly jockeying for position at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour, and closer to 45 miles an hour during the final furious sprint to the finish. Each race lasts just about an hour, and consists of several “races within a race,” called primes (pronounced “preems”), ensuring non-stop action for competitors and spectators alike.
Which is why organizers expect another outstanding field of more than 250 racers.
“This course is one of the most challenging criterium courses in New England,” said race director Paul Boudreau, a Beverly resident and president of Essex County Velo. “There are lots of high-speed corners that require riders with excellent bike-handling skills.”
The Gran Prix races also highlight the growing interest in cycling and bike advocacy in Massachusetts in general, and on Boston’s North Shore in particular. Beverly has a number of excellent cycling shops, and is also headquarters for Parlee Cycles, a manufacturer of high-end carbon fiber bikes. Several professional cyclists, including Johnson (a native of nearby Middleton). Milne, and Jesse Anthony, call Beverly home.
Race organizers are actively recruiting volunteers to help stage the event; each volunteer will receive a free T-shirt. To help encourage area cycling fans to pedal to the Gran Prix on July 24, the Beverly Bike Committee is offering complimentary bike valet services at the First Baptist Church.
“The people who run our bike valet are part of a larger movement to make cycling safer and more accessible to everyone,” said Boudreau. “The Beverly Bike Committee works closely with city officials as an advocate for cycling. We really want to highlight the tireless work the Bike Committee does for cycling.”
Todd Balf, a Beverly resident and member of the Beverly Bike Committee, said the Gran Prix brings a unique atmosphere to Beverly’s business hub. “For me the race offers a vision of what Beverly’s downtown can be,” said Balf. “It’s much bigger than simply a professional road race — as cool as that is — but a coming together of the community in a way we don’t often get the opportunity to see.”
According to Balf, Beverly recently “granted us permission to use Ellis Square for our bike drive with Bikes Not Bombs. I think we’re definitely benefitting from the great reputation the Gran Prix event has at the city level, and the way the event has positively showcased cycling and cyclists downtown.”
“The Gran Prix has gone a long way to building cycling awareness and driving event-specific enthusiasm,” said Balf. “Obviously getting people used to the idea of riding regularly downtown is a big leap, but that’s the goal. The bike valet at the Gran Prix represents the spirit of what we’re after — riding, not driving, to the race.”
Boudreau also pointed out that another goal of the Gran Prix is to raise awareness for other local causes, such as the River House Shelter for homeless men.
As in past years, local restaurants and businesses are expected to take advantage of streets being transformed into a race course/walking mall, setting up outdoor cafes to create an amphitheater atmosphere for spectators and racers alike. “I’m excited to see the community embrace this event,” said Boudreau.
In addition to elite-level bike racing, the Gran Prix of Beverly will also continue to offer the popular Kids Race and Parade. Both are free, but registration — from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Beverly Common — is required. Those races will be held starting at 5 p.m. in the following age groups: 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12. And right across the street, the Friends of Beverly Library will serve lemonade and lollipops on race day. The Kids Parade is set for 5:50 p.m. on the Gran Prix racecourse with a number of the top pro riders.
For details or more information, including photographs, please contact race director Paul Boudreau at firstname.lastname@example.org.