Hundreds of professional cyclists will zip through Uptown June 12, for a leg of the Nature Valley Grand Prix moved this year from Downtown.
The Uptown Minneapolis Criterium, as it’s been named, is on day three of the multi-city bike race. Other segments are in Mankato, St. Paul, Cannon Falls and Stillwater.
Downtown Minneapolis hosted a section of the race in past years, but the leg was moved this year because of construction. Planners said they’re realizing the area is well suited for a bike race.
“With Uptown being a place with a lot of recreational bikers and commuters, this race is an opportunity to really focus on that green, sustainability aspect of Uptown,” Thatcher Imboden, the Uptown race coordinator, said.
Thousands of people are expected to gather around the course in an area close to Calhoun Square during the race. The course is short at just over a kilometer in length, so spectators will get to see everything, from the start to the finish and all of the tight turns. Bikers will race for about an hour around the course.
“The European model is that you start in one city and finish in another. It’s not a spectator event. That’s a road race,” David LaPorte, Director of the Minnesota Bicycle Festival, said. “We have a lot of criteriums, which are specifically designed to appeal to spectators.”
Coordinators are expecting 15,000 to 30,000 spectators, many from out of town. Uptown is an ideal host site for those visitors, LaPorte said.
“What they’ll find is an exciting, vibrant part of town that they will come back to the rest of the year.”
Planners hope for a boom in Uptown business because of all the people. Coordinators are encouraging local businesses to open their doors to spectators on the day of the event and also to market themselves so that people will come back to the area.
“This is a great opportunity for businesses to take advantage of the event,” Imboden said.
Those in the food industry might change their menus or ways of selling food, such as moving outdoors, so that it’s quick and convenient for spectators on the night of the race.
“There are going to be opportunities to sell food, and possibly have music,” Brad Bridwell, regional manager of Old Chicago in Uptown, said. “We are expecting residual business from the event, so we want to use the opportunity.”
Businesses are hopeful, but don’t know what to expect because the race has not been in Uptown before. “A lot of businesses are in a wait-and-see-what-happens situation,” Imboden said. “If the event is a success, we’ll have it here again, which is what we’re hoping for.”
Olympic gold medal winner Kristin Armstrong may also help to draw crowds. She won the Nature Valley Grand Prix stage race the past three years and is planning on racing again.
“What really makes this race special are the sponsors, organizations, volunteers and the community,” Armstrong said. “Everyone comes together to make this a top-notch event.”
Armstrong said she feels close to the children who come to watch her ride. “Yes, I have won the Nature Valley three years in a row and I will once again come to win in June, but at the same time I want to be a role model for those young boys and girls out there,” she said. “Each year Minnesota has been a perfect place to do this.”
The children will have their time in the spotlight as well on the day of the race. Kids of all ages will be able to race on the same course as the pro athletes. “They will be learning bicycling is a great lifetime activity while emulating professional cyclists,” LaPorte said.
The children’s race will happen between the men’s and women’s segment the night of the race.
The Grand Prix is part of the Minnesota Bicycle Festival, which runs June 10–14. The festival is meant to raise awareness of the benefits of riding a bicycle. The proceeds, earned through donators and sponsors, go to the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.