In case you got lost in a haze of green beer & leprechauns, the cycling community would like to remind you that there’s a high-speed, (sotra) full contact bike race happening in downtown Tampa on Saturday (and again in Clearwater a week later).
“We’ll be open almost all day and welcoming everyone for after-race festivities,” City Bike Tampa owner Kevin Craft told CL over the phone. His shop opens at 10 a.m., but will be closed from 4-6 p.m. It will reopen at 6 p.m. for the party. “There will be shenanigans,” Craft, 31, promised, “and there will be free beer.”
By definition, a criterium is a one-day bicycle race on a circuit road course. Cyclists ride in very close proximity to each other, sometimes making contact, and well, you know.
Over 500 riders across several categories will be in downtown Tampa on Saturday, a day that will also include rides benefiting Boys & Girls Club, a bike build challenge, and Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn’s River O’Green Festival. Racing starts at 8 a.m. with juniors action. Pro races, complete with prize money, start at 2:45 p.m. (women) and 4:25 p.m. (men). The nonprofit Sunshine Grand Prix hosts festivities.The organization’s goals are to improve collaboration among all cycling stakeholders, improve access and safety plus programming of cycling-related activities in schools all while improving the promotion of the region as a cycling and healthy living destination.
There is no cost to watch on Saturday, and spectators will be an arm's length from the action. Special VIP viewing areas complete with private bars, lounge areas as well as food & wine can be accessed with a $100 ticket.
Some in the community will remember that Tampa had it’s own version of a crit for the better part of a decade, but the Gasparilla Criterium bit the dust just days before their 2015 event. Organizers of the Sunshine Grand Prix are keeping the spirit of the crit alive.
“We understand that the event has had its struggles in the past, however this new group of individuals, as part of the Florida Cycling Foundation, feel strongly that the Criterium spirit never wained even though the event did not happen in 2015,” Brandon Hicks told CL in an email. Hicks, 43, is Sunshine Grand Prix’s Tampa venue director and says the Tampa Bay area is primed for a surge in active and healthy lifestyle options, including a renewed push for bicycle-friendly policies and activities.
“There’s no better place to be in mid-March then the Tampa Bay region and we expect the Sunshine Grand Prix to be a true destination for bicyclists and racers from all over the country,” he added.
Saturday’s race covers over half a mile and encompasses three city blocks. It will start on Tampa Street, head north and turn right on East Polk Street, take rights on Franklin Street and Kennedy Boulevard before making another right back onto Tampa Street completing the loop. Racers get a bell lap near the race’s time limit to indicate they have one lap to go. The winner is the leader at the end of the last lap.
The Tampa event kicks off a week of cycling activities that include circuit races in Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg, training rides to Brooksville and the beaches, and another criterium in Clearwater on March 26. More information is available at sunshinegrandprix.com. The City Bike Tampa after party is happening at 208. E. Cass St. More information on the party is available on Facebook.