Calhoun County gearing up for this weekend's events
by Jason Bacaj
Apr 08, 2011 | 2565 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Few Anniston or Oxford residents noticed the professional athletes mingling among them today. It’s easy to overlook the skinny cyclists here for Saturday’s Sunny King Criterium and Sunday’s Foothills Classic Road Race.

The Sunny King Criterium is the first criterium event on the 2011 National Racing Calendar, an American racing circuit. Many of the riders are looking forward to testing their off-season training Saturday evening and breaking into the new season.

Some spent today traveling to Anniston, while those already here relaxed and took in the laidback local atmosphere.

There’s no line at Starbucks – unheard of back in Los Angeles, said Jamie Paolinetti, a cyclist with the SKLZ presented by Pista Palace team. He and teammate Rahsaan Bahati flew into Atlanta and got in town Thursday, a day earlier than most riders.

Paolinetti likes to get in early and warm up, Bahati said. The two pros were taking in the morning and some coffee outside the Oxford Starbucks.

“There’s something about the South, makes me want to live here,” Bahati said, mentioning that his mother is from Birmingham.

It’s the fourth year he’s done the race and the first for Paolinetti. Both are excited to hit the turns on Noble Street. The quick turnaround for the Foothills Classic is another matter

“I told Rahsaan if he wins we’re not racing Sunday,” Paolinetti joked before the two left to visit a school.

Pro riders were flying in from all over. Pennsylvania native Laura Van Gilder, a racer with the Mellow Mushroom team, was stuck at Los Angeles International Airport. Her arrival time was pushed back from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. – and she wasn’t optimistic about that.

“It's already been a long day, I haven’t gotten very far and I’ve been up for 6 hours,” Van Gilder said over the phone.

But she’s pushing through because Anniston’s race is important and she’s had success here in the past, winning in 2007.

“I really like the course,” Van Gilder said. “I’m hoping to have success again this year.”

The Kenda-Geargrinder team hopes to carry momentum from an early season victory into Saturday’s Criterium, said Chad Hartley, who raced here last year.

He and a few teammates were driving across the country to Anniston. They left Dallas early this morning after a local race Thursday night, he said. If traffic cooperates, his car will pull into Calhoun County around 4 p.m., with enough daylight left for an easy leg-loosening ride.

Performing well Saturday can set the tone for the rest of the season, he said.

“It’s pretty important,” Hartley said. “It’s the first NRC-level criterium, (and) any time it’s the first race on the calendar it’s always a pretty big deal.”

The team director and sponsors will likely be watching the live race broadcast online, just adding on to the incentive to ride hard, Hartley said.

Guys are “chomping at the bit” to get going, he said.

“We’re literally going across the country just to do it,” Hartley said. “Motivation doesn’t usually run any higher than the first big one.”

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