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Observations on the bike race

I’d love to see the folks who put on Sunday’s Waynesboro Grand Prix bike races come back in August as planned, but it would take some modifications to have me comfortably on board.
I spent a good part of the day walking the course and talking with cyclists and the handful of city residents who made it out for the day of exciting racing. The racing certainly was something worth getting excited about, with a series of close finishes sparked by the challenging 1-mile course that organizer Tony Bilotta mapped out utilizing the brutal hill on West Main Street that runs in front of the Augusta Free Press Publishing office and then the speedy descent down 11th Street that had the competitors almost flying down toward the old City Hall on Wayne Avenue.
Issues that came to mind for me during my day at the races:

– Nobody seemed to know that there was a bike race going on. I ran into one city resident down from the post office along the race course who had to ask me what was going on to know for sure that the packs of cyclists going by us weren’t there just having a Sunday drive.

“There was something about it in the paper, but I didn’t know it was today,” he said.

My first inclination is to want to blame the local papers for not doing their job to get the word out, but I can say for myself that all I got from the organizers was a signup sheet. It would have helped to have had more formal contact from Mr. Bilotta or from the city tourism office.

It would also have helped me cover the race to have had somebody from the race to serve as a point of contact for media inquiries on race day. I tried to talk to Mr. Bilotta for a story on race day, but he had to break away the one time I was able to catch up with him. I never saw him after that, which is why we ended up reporting on race day with a photo essay.

I still haven’t even gotten back anything from the race organizers on winners.

– Nobody knowing what was going on meant nobody was downtown shopping. Remember the brouhaha over closing the streets and the impact of that on Bill Mikolay at Main Street Discount? The city ended up accommodating Mikolay by keeping Main Street open above his store to allow vehicular access for his customers. I didn’t see much in the way of activity at Main Street Discount or across the street at Chickpea’s or Shukri’s.

I don’t know that we can attribute the slowdown entirely to the race; I live downtown, and most Sundays down here are slow after church lets out. I will say that the throngs of people that we’d been sold on being downtown for the race never materialized.

To their credit, the organizers seemed to try to steer the people who did show up for the races, the cyclists and their family and friends and fellow team members, to patronize downtown businesses.

I didn’t sense a lot of activity to that end, but the effort was there, anyway.

– Positive Note: The course was challenging. I cycle a couple of days a week, and since I live on Main Street I have to tackle that hill that runs in front of our office/residence either coming or going every time I go out. The cyclists that I talked to yesterday said to a person that the Main Street hill was among the tougher that they have to encounter, and that the course overall is above-average in terms of degree of difficulty.

We’ve got something here, in other words. If we use it right.

– Bottom line: I’m a cycling fan, who rides regularly in the spring, summer and early fall, and even watches the Tour de France every year. (Yes, televised cycling. Guess I’m a big fan.) I’d love to see these races become an annual staple on our city calendar.

But …

What we saw yesterday was a lot of to-do about not much, frankly. Again, the racing was great, and you’re not going to hear me complain about having a competitive cycling event going on just outside my front porch. But to close downtown for a day for an event that was not at all well promoted and didn’t do much at all to bring us any business down this way is going to be a hard sell.

That said, I’d be willing to pitch in and help make the August edition of the Grand Prix a success if that would be considered a help at all. I’ve got some ideas for how to make the day something that hardcore cycling fans and the general community and the downtown-business community could enjoy.

I say that hoping that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water here. We have something to build on from what we saw yesterday.



– Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press