The race, along with the Noble Street Festival, will be held this year the weekend of April 9. That’s because a Talladega Superspeedway race caused bike race director Mike Poe to make the event a week earlier than it was held last year.
The fuss started when a high-profile bicycle race in New York was rescheduled to that second weekend in April as well, forcing professional teams to choose between the two.
The Tour of the Battenkill was originally scheduled for a later date, but organizers a few months ago moved the New York event to April 9 after fundraising fell through.
The Tour of the Battenkill is a one-day, 82 mile race over varying terrain that attracted more than 2,000 racers from all over the world last year, according to the race website.
Confusion and uproar caused by the Battenkill race — which is on an international bicycle racing calendar as well as the national calendar — conflicting with the Anniston race led Battenkill to lose its spot on the national racing calendar. It will not be on the international race calendar this year either due to sponsorship issues.
The Sunny King Criterium is on the National Racing Calendar, an American racing circuit.
“We went to great lengths to apply for a date that did not conflict with anybody else,” said Poe, the criterium’s race director. “We’re very relieved that USA Cycling pulled them off the NRC.”
All the uncertainty surrounding the Battenkill race might actually end up helping the professional turnout for Anniston’s nighttime race, said Frankie Andreu, Kenda-Geargrinder team director. His team is already committed to fielding a full eight-man roster this spring.
“I didn’t think that was fair,” Andreu said of the Battenkill situation. “As a director, I’m not going to mess around with all that unknown.”
Beyond the situation’s equality, Anniston’s race is a “great scene for the racers,” Andreu said. It’s also the second event on the national racing calendar and gives a team momentum heading into the bicycle racing season, which runs from late March to early October.
“It’s a good launching pad into the Criterium series,” Andreu said from a training camp in Florida.
Last year’s addition of the Foothills Classic Road Race — which drew 77 pro cyclists who competed in the previous day’s Sunny King Criterium — makes Anniston’s a stronger event, Andreu said. The 65-mile road race is one of the few well-organized road races in the country, he said. And getting two different-style races the same weekend is appealing to team directors and is worth the effort to travel to an area.
The Foothills Classic might become part of the national racing calendar, Poe said. Cost is the major hurdle, as it’s much more expensive to host a two-day race than a one-day race.
If that hurdle can be cleared, it could strengthen the Anniston race’s national reputation. That in turn could strengthen downtown Anniston.
A survey after the Cheaha Challenge three years ago showed more than half of those attending the Sunday ride, intended for more energetic amateurs, stayed in area hotels and visited local attractions on their trip. All told, Poe expects a little more than 1,000 riders to participate in the Cheaha Challenge and Foothills Classic.
The Sunny King Criterium was also shown live online last year. About 3,500 people from seven different countries watched Anniston play host to pro cyclists, Poe said.
Any exposure downtown is good, said Betsy Bean, director of the Spirit of Anniston. Revitalizing downtown is a long process though, and it’ll take multimillion dollar investments, she said.
But the Sunny King Criterium’s reputation among the bicycling community is a good sign for the city.
“Anniston opens up its doors, they accept everyone. The riders appreciate it a lot,” Andreu said. “That’s why everybody always wants to go back there.”
Star staff writer Jason Bacaj: 256-235-3546