The Twilight Criterium is rolling around again, and the beerfest mess of last year has been rectified. Hundreds of cyclists and thousands of spectators will gather downtown Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7 for one of the premier events both in downtown Athens and the cycling scene nationwide.
Last year’s race was marked by a change in the course as well as the anticipation, and cancellation, of a beer and food garden that is slated to be one of the highlights of this year’s event—aside from the criteriums themselves, that is.
The race will see its second year on the new course, a one-kilometer loop along Hancock Avenue, Hull Street, Washington Street and Jackson Street. Gene Dixon, founder of Twilight, says that the toughest corner has proven to be turn three, in front of Little Kings Shuffle Club, because it’s downhill and a narrow turn. Criterium bike racing is known for high speeds, tight packs and lots of bumping, so that corner will be one of the most exciting places to set up camp for the day.
The race was also pushed back from the last weekend in April, its normal time slot, to the first weekend of May. The reason, according to Dixon, is that the calendar is too full, so professional racers were double booked. Twilight is the last in a series of races called Speed Week, beginning in Charlotte and ending in Athens, with four more races in between.
“Being in Athens Saturday night for the Criterium means you recovered from the other races,” Dixon says. Next year the race date may be changed again, but to the second-to-last weekend in April. Stay tuned, because next year may also see the first Twilight unicycle competitions, Dixon says.
The dates and one-wheel cycling aren’t the only details up in the air. Dixon says the course change is not permanent, and they intend to switch back to the old course eventually. “We moved because of the construction on Clayton Street, but the other course is much better,” Dixon says. “It’s more in the middle of town, it’s more vibrant. I mean, we spent 30 years rehabilitating downtown with the Twilight, so I hate to move it… And the Georgia Theatre corner is known worldwide. It’s like moving the Masters to Tifton.”
While Dixon may prefer the old course, the new one has its advantages. Parking decks are more easily accessible, and retailers have often complained about the closing of Clayton Street.
“Twilight is a very popular event that brings tens of thousands to downtown. The new race course is a popular change,” says Pamela Thompson, director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority. “The good news is that Clayton Street will not be closed to traffic, which will be good for business. We’re hoping this weekend works out for the race competitors, visitors and the people who come out for Mother’s Day shopping.”
Last year’s miscommunication between the organizers of the events and the state officials responsible for licensing has been ironed out as well. It was an issue on the state level, not local, according to Apps and Taps organizer Rachel Bailey, and the beer garden was cancelled because it wasn’t properly permitted by the state Department of Revenue.
“A lot of improvement has been made in the last year,” says Bailey, the director of My Athens. “The fest coming to fruition is a testament to the changes being made.”
Apps and Taps—sponsored by My Athens, an organization that promotes local arts and businesses—is a new addition to Twilight and will benefit Athens’ Habitat for Humanity, which is also the recipient of proceeds raised by Twilight. The money will be used to build homes for those in need in the community. Chris Herron, CEO of Creature Comforts, and Spencer Frye of Habitat made the initial push for the beer and food garden, which will “be a neat way for the community to join in,” Bailey says, “and it will enrich the Twilight experience.”
Breweries both local and national, numbering around 24, will be represented in the fenced-off area along Washington from Hull to Jackson. Food from Athens restaurants such as Last Resort, The Pine and South Kitchen + Bar will be there serving up eats.
Plan your Twilight weekend with the schedule below or visit athenstwilight.com. All locations are downtown unless otherwise noted.
Friday, May 6
12–11 p.m.: Expo and Food Court
6–9 p.m.: Registration and Packet Pick-up
7:30–10:30 p.m.: Chariot Race
Saturday, May 7
8:30 a.m.–3:15 p.m.: Amateur Races
8:30–9:30 a.m.: 5K Run
9 a.m.–4 p.m.: Kids Fun Zone
9 a.m.–4 p.m.: Kids Fit Zone
9 a.m.–1:30 p.m.: Mountain Bike Time Trials (at Trail Creek Park)
10 a.m–7 p.m.: BMX Contest
10 a.m.–3 p.m.: The Gambler
10:20 a.m.–10:30 p.m.: Kids 1K Fun Run
10:30–11:15 a.m.: Kids Criterium
12–4 p.m.: Apps & Taps Invitational
1–1:30 p.m.: Big Wheel Race
5 p.m.: Mountain Bike Criterium
5:35 p.m.: Amateur Finals
6:30 p.m.: Kids Victory Lap
6:30 p.m.: Sponsor Parade
6:45 p.m.: $1,000 Mile
7:15 p.m.: Women’s Pro Criterium
8:30 p.m.: Men’s Pro Criterium
Sunday, May 8
10–11:30 a.m.: Twilight Trail 5K Run (Hawkes Creek Farm)
12–4 p.m.: MTB XC Race (Hawkes Creek Farms)