Event organizers expect more riders in this weekend’s cycling events: Saturday’s Sunny King Criterium and Sunday’s recreational Cheaha Challenge and competitive Foothills Road Race.
Event director Mike Poe said 200-300 racers usually pre-register for the Sunny King Criterium, but by Thursday afternoon, 450 had already registered online. Poe said organizers expect more will register at the event on Saturday. For Sunday’s competitive race, nearly 250 racers have registered, significantly more than the average 100. For the recreational 102-mile Cheaha Challenge, online registration has already closed at about 400, at the upper end of what NEABA usually sees. In-person registration for Sunday’s events will be open Friday, at the festival on Saturday and before the events Sunday.
“With the beautiful weather we’re going to have, we can have between 600 and 700 riders in the Cheaha Challenge on Sunday,” he said.
Locals and visitors alike are expected to flock to Noble Street and surrounding areas on Saturday, where beginning at 10 a.m., they can peruse the Red Diamond Restaurant Tour, listen to music with a meal at the Hot Blast Music Cafe and entertain little ones at the numerous Kidzone activities.
Before the festival begins, the YMCA 5K kicks off the day at 7:30 a.m. with a run through downtown Anniston. The course begins at the YMCA at 14th Street and Gurnee Avenue and takes runners past Downing’s General Store, the Anniston Police Department and Calhoun County Courthouse.
Race director Ann Angel said pre-registration is down slightly at 105 runners, but she expects more runners to register in-person beginning at 6:30 Saturday morning.
The Sunny King Criterium races begin at 10 a.m. and include amateur cycling races for all experience levels, culminating in professional women’s and men’s events at 6:20 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. respectively.
Former professional cyclist Frankie Andreu, who has ridden the Tour de France several times, will coordinate children’s races beginning at 5:35 p.m. and will provide commentary for the professional races.
“He’s a very great guy, very community-oriented, “ Poe said.
Video of the day’s races will be available on the Internet for those who can’t stay for the all the events. Last year more than 22,000 people around the world tuned in to the criterium races, and Poe said organizers are hoping to increase that number this year. Viewers can watch the stream live Saturday at AnnistonStar.com.
Several streets will be closed in downtown Anniston for the Noble Street Festival, with the race course looping around Moore and Wilmer avenues and 11th and 12th streets. Noble Street will be blocked south of Ninth Street up to the race course to accommodate food, music and children’s activities of the festival.
Some road closures will take place near Sunday’s start and finish point at the Piedmont Civic Center, but the majority of the course that takes riders over Mount Cheaha to Adam’s Gap and back will be open to traffic, with law enforcement escorts for large packs of riders.
With about 1,100 cyclists expected to leave the Piedmont Civic Center between 7:30 and 8 a.m. to ride down the eastern side of the county, Poe said organizers ask residents to drive with caution when leaving church or their homes and be “respectful and wary” of the participants.
The weather is expected to cooperate for cyclists, providing two clear days for riding.
“It looks like a great weekend for the event,” said Jim Stefkovich, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service office in Calera. He said both Saturday and Sunday will be fairly cool with low humidity. For the Noble Street Festival on Saturday, temperatures are expected to reach 65 or 70 degrees then drop to between 40 and 45 degrees in the evening
Sunday, said Stefkovich, will be “glorious with a high in the low 70s and brilliant sunshine all day long.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.