If you notice something different when you arrive downtown for the Twilight Criterium on Saturday, don't worry—you didn't pre-game too hard or fall off your bike and hit your head.
Because Athens-Clarke County is replacing sidewalks and utility lines on Clayton Street, the renowned bike sprint, which draws about 30,000 people each year, is being moved a couple of blocks over.
Rather than start near College Square and pedal clockwise past the Georgia Theatre to Washington and Thomas streets back to Clayton, cyclists will begin the race at the corner of Washington and Lumpkin, turn left onto Jackson Street, then left onto Hancock Avenue before taking what Twilight founder Gene Dixon describes as a "super high-speed corner" at Hancock and Hull Street and powering up the Washington Street hill.
"It is going to be hard to unwind 35 years of racing on what is considered the best criterium course in America, but the new course offers its own unique challenges," Dixon says.
Racer Matt Whatley, who crashed early last year and couldn't finish, says the unyielding brick wall at Little Kings Shuffle Club concerns him the most. “This already is one of the most dangerous races of the year," Whatley says. "It’s dark. The tight corners mean you have very little peripheral vision. And it’s Twilight, so everybody is excited and nervous.”
For the newbies out there, criterium racing is often compared to NASCAR on two wheels. Rather than endurance, like the Tour de France, the focus is on raw speed over 40–80 kilometers, often in an urban environment. Cyclists work in teams to spring their best-positioned sprinter from the pack into a "breakaway" for an all-out blitz to the finish line. The sport is known for frequent wrecks.
The new course will provide more standing room for spectators than cramped Clayton Street. It may be beneficial to retailers, who are concentrated on Clayton and have complained in the past about their street being closed off for the race.
"I think it's going to end up working out better," says Pamela Thompson, executive director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority.
Another benefit is that the College Avenue parking deck—previously used as a staging area—will remain open. The Washington Street parking deck will be open, too (one lane of Washington Street will remain open). Ingress and egress will be reversed, though, with drivers entering from Clayton Street and exiting onto Washington, Thompson says.
Downtown police Lt. Gary Epps told the ADDA last week that he expects traffic to improve as a result of the new course. "It should make through-traffic on some of the arteries like Dougherty Street more passable, because it's not totally shut down, although it is longer hours," he says. Expect closures from Friday night through early Sunday morning.
This year's festivities will benefit Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, which hopes to raise enough money to build two houses for low-income homeowners.
Here's a schedule of the weekend's events. More info is available at the Twilight website. All locations are downtown, unless otherwise noted.
Friday, Apr. 24
10 a.m.–6:15 p.m.: Grid Qualifiers
7 p.m.: Ted's Most Best Music Stage
Local folk duo Cicada Rhythm opens on the stage in front of Creature Comforts, with alt-rockers Oak House following at 8 p.m. and acclaimed Southern rocker T. Hardy Morris headlining at 9:30 p.m.
8:45 p.m.: Red Bull Chariot Race
Saturday, Apr. 25
8 a.m.: Women's 3/4 amateur race
8:30 a.m.: 5K run
Registration is closed, but for those who've already signed up, packet pickup is from 6–9 p.m. Friday and 6:30–8 a.m. Saturday at the Washington Street parking deck. For spectators, the 5K starts downtown and loops along Barber, Boulevard, Satula and Prince. Free kids' 1K and half-K fun runs downtown will follow the 5K.
8:30 a.m.: Twiathlon
As Tofu Baby might say, "You can't win unwess you twi!" Start off with the 5K run, then know when to walk away to the Gambler (see below) armed with an extra card.
8:35 a.m. Masters 45+/55+
9 a.m.: Scott Mountain Bike Time Trials
Mountain bikers compete for the best time around a 2.25-mile course through Trail Creek Park, located off Peter Street in East Athens. Registration closes at 8:30 a.m.
9:15 a.m.: Men's Cat 4
10:15 a.m.: The Gambler
Stop along the way on these 50K and 100K road races through the pastoral hills of Madison and Oglethorpe counties to pick up playing cards to make the best hand and win a prize. There'll be time enough for counting when you're sipping a beer at the finish line.
10:15 a.m.: Masters 35+
11 a.m.: Kids Criterium
11 a.m.: Ted's Most Best Music Stage
The free outdoor concert continues with the melodic Son & Thief, followed by groove-oriented Nifty Earth at noon, soulful singer Dana Kelson at 1 p.m., quirky WrennPop at 2 p.m., ambient Epifects at 3 p.m. and Funkasaurus Wrex (the name says it all) at 4 p.m.
11 a.m.: Trans Jam BMX Contest
A section of East Washington Street will be transformed into a fully functional BMX course, complete with 10-foot-tall quarter pipe ramps.
The competition will feature riders of all ages and skill levels. Children as young as 4 can compete. “Sometimes a kid that is really good can have just as much entertainment value as some of the professional riders,” says Trans Jam president and pro rider Keith King.
All Trans Jam BMX competitions are hosted at festivals or bike races such as Twilight, rather than at designated BMX arenas. This decision, King says, is what makes Trans Jam special. The Trans Jam competition will allow Athenians with no attachment to BMX a chance to experience the sport.
“The contests I put on have entertainment value, because they are in front of all walks of life,” King says. “I want [the sport] to grow, and the only way that it is going to grow is if you expose it to people outside of the sport.”
Although the pro competition usually draws the biggest crowd, there is a constant flow of viewers for the duration of the all-day event, says King.
The competition features two different styles of BMX riding: park, which involves stunts on the ramps; and flatlands—tricks on the ground. The two are interspersed throughout the day.
Prizes are awarded to the top five riders in each skill group: beginner, novice, expert, and professional. Along with a gift bag with products from sponsors such as Max’s Tires, each winner should expect to receive a hand-crafted metal award that is more akin to a piece of art than a trophy. $2,500 in prize money will be split among the pro winners.
Registration starts at 9 a.m., and an awards ceremony will follow at 7 p.m.
12 p.m.–4 p.m.: Georgia Brewed Festival
Get your buzz on while you watch the afternoon races. The first-ever beer festival at Twilight will feature unlimited samples from 30 Georgia craft breweries. Tickets are $40 or $150 for a group of five.
12:35 p.m.: Men's Cat 2/3
1 p.m.: Big Wheel Race
1:25 p.m. Juniors 14–18
2:05 p.m.: Juniors 13–14
2:40 p.m.: Juniors 9–12
3:10 p.m.: Men's Cat 5
5:15 p.m.: 25K amateur finals
6:10 p.m.: Kids Parade Lap
6:15 p.m.: Twilight Amateur Finals
7 p.m.: Women's Criterium
8:15 p.m.: Men's Criterium