Aug 212011
 
Authors: Jason Pohl

The smell of barbecue, sight of skintight jerseys and sound of rattling cowbells mixed with frantic cheers converged as hundreds of cyclists and spectators flocked to the downtown area this weekend.

Cyclists came from around the area and as far away as Australia to take part in the sixth annual Fort Collins Cycling Festival west of Old Town.

Since its early days when a small group of bikers would gather for an after-ride party in someone’s backyard, the event has grown into one of the largest cycling festivals in the state.

“We will be the biggest cycling event in Colorado in a couple years,” race director Charlie Weinbeck said. “We are always building ourselves up.”

Those in attendance could visit vendor tents or relax in the beer garden, but the focus for much of the weekend was on racing. Events included amateur and pro races and the Rist Canyon road ride –– a 90-mile race into the mountains and back.

Saturday was the criterium races where dozens of riders stay close together around laps on a city course for about an hour. At that point, the number of laps remaining is announced and the sprints begin.

“It’s a really fast course,” said Jorge Espinoza, a 37-year-old professional cyclist riding for Horizon Organic/Panache. “It’s really wide open and hard to get away.”

Espinoza won the Senior Male Pro 1-2 race.

It wasn’t just about winning races this weekend –– it was about coming together to promote biking.
“This kind of event helps grow the great cycling community of Fort Collins,” said rider and occasional racer Greg Thornton, 44, of Fort Collins.

It helps that the races make for some great spectating, especially when it comes down to the final laps. Riders of all experience levels were invited to race in the events over the weekend.

“It’s pretty inspiring to see people put their all into a race, regardless of their age and class,” said Dirk Hobman, a CSU Masters’ graduate in ecology.

The event was in the planning stage for about 18 months. It was made possible through a partnership with the city over the years, allowing the event to grow exponentially.

Jeff Morrell is the president of Bike Fort Collins –– a local nonprofit that works to make cycling the dominant form of transportation in the city.

“Cycling events like this promote bike riding,” he said. “We want to get as many people out there as possible. That will make it safer for everyone.”

Several spectators said there were areas that needed to be improved, primarily advertising and marketing, but the event overall was a weekend of fun at the end of summer.

“There could have been twice as many people out here if it was advertised better,” CSU business alumna Jen Nuckols said.

Noting there is always room for improvement, Weinbeck has big visions of how successful the event will be in the near future. Pro-tour stops and a growing size are essential for the biking community of Fort Collins, he said. Additionally, he said it helps the local economy, especially when the festivals last for multiple days.

“Events like this show how great and real the local bike culture is,” he said. “It really is one big party.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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