WEST CHESTER – With hundreds of national and international participants now descending on Chester County, this area will become the epicenter for short course, criterium-style bicycle racing this week.
A total of nine races will be staged in downtown communities throughout the county through July 13 and all are free of charge. The Ninth Annual Iron Hill Twilight Criterium, which took place Saturday on the streets of West Chester, was expected to draw crowds approaching 20,000 and is the marquee event. The traveling eight-race Chesco Grand Prix series was added to the mix a year ago and will once again bring racing from Malvern to Oxford, Phoenixville to Parkesburg. The inaugural race series in 2012 drew 1,500 cyclists from 15 states, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, and drew more than 10,000 spectators.
'You will see the riders every 30-40 seconds, and when you have 150 guys going 35 miles per hour, the wave of air they push is just unbelievable,' said Mark Yoder, president of the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the Iron Hill race.
'Cycling races are perfect for shining the spotlight on local downtown communities,' added Chesco Grand Prix Director Crosby Wood. '(These races) will again bring top level athletes into town for family-friendly, healthy lifestyle events which feature not only exciting racing, but an opportunity to promote the community and its local merchants.'
The action kicked off Thursday, July 4, with the Chesco Road Race, held on a challenging 13-mile circuit that wound through West Marlborough Township. The only non-criterium race of the Chesco Grand Prix series, it crowned the Pennsylvania State Road Race champions. (Click here for full results from the race.)
A two-day reprieve from the Chesco Grand Prix series will then commence to make way for the Twilight Criterium, which has grown exponentially since debuting in 2005 and now draws more spectators to West Chester than all but two annual events, according to Yoder: the Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade and the Restaurant Festival. An estimated 3,000 people showed up for the first Twilight Criterium, and just six years later it topped out at nearly 20,000.
'It's doubled in size a number of times over the years,' said race spokesman Jay Gundel.
Not officially affiliated with the Chesco Grand Prix series, attendance for the Iron Hill event dipped for the first time in 2012 to about 15,000, but that was due to oppressive heat and the threat of violent afternoon storms.
The Chesco Grand Prix resumed on July 7 with the Third Annual Coatesville Classic, which was the first of six straight days of multi-lap races for amateur, elite women and pro men held on circuits between 1 and 3 kilometers (.6-1.5 mile). The Malvern and Parkesburg criteriums are on July 8 and 9, respectively, followed by the Eagle Criterium, the only new event on the 2013 series. It replaces the Chesco Time Trial, held last year near Unionville.
The final three criteriums will be staged in Phoenixville (July 11), Oxford (July 12) and Kennett Square (July 13). The finale in Kennett Square will take place on a new racecourse featuring eight turns, including a stretch on West State Street in which the cyclists will be racing in both directions.
'The Kennett Square race is especially exciting because the best pro team of the overall Chesco Grand Prix will be crowned that night,' explained Dave Chauner, the event's co-executive director. 'We are expecting at least a dozen teams from the U.S. and several foreign countries to be in the hunt.'
Garneau Quebecor, the Canadian-based pro cycling team that rode to victory a year ago, is back and will be among the favorites. And team leader Bruno Langois, 34, is returning to defend his individual title in the Chesco Grand Prix as well as a win in the Twilight Criterium.
'I am very excited to race (in) Chester County again this year,' he said. 'My form will be good but I know it will be tougher … as more teams and good riders are planning to come.'
A total of 10 days of local cycling will then come to a close on July 14 with the Kinetic Chesco Tour, which is not a race but a recreational ride for all that will cover between 20 and 75 miles and will begin at Kinetic Physical Therapy in Eagle.