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When the sixth annual Beaufort Memorial Cycling Classic hits the streets of downtown Beaufort Tuesday evening, spectators will be treated to more than 100 of the best riders in professional cycling at speeds as high as 40 mph in two exciting races on a tight, 0.6-mile course.
The evening gets started with a kids race at 5 p.m., followed by the professionals -- the women's race at 6 p.m. and the men's event at about 7:15 p.m.
The professional races are a part of the USA Crits Southeast series. The series kicked off Saturday in Athens, Ga., and features seven races in nine days, each in a different city.
Amazingly, while this is the Classic's sixth visit to Beaufort, the criterium racing format is far less familiar to the average sports fan than the road races like the Tour de France that dominate what cycling reaches American television audiences.
"This is where we develop our youth," said Donald Veitch, the race organizer and a member of the Lowcountry Velo, a local club of riders that supports junior riders and amateur racing. "It's easier for promoters to put on. Most racing in the United States is criterium racing. But it doesn't get the TV exposure that the road races do."
Not only is criterium racing how most youth cyclists in the U.S. are developed, it simply makes more sense for cities and towns to support criterium racing.
"It's a 4-corner course. You can walk the whole thing really easily. That's what's so cool about criterium racing," Veitch said. "In the Tour de France, the Tour de Georgia, the Tour de California, it takes a lot of money, a lot participation for the towns to hold those races. They put forth a lot of effort to watch these guys go by once. And poof, they're gone.
"In a criterium, its in a closed environment. We can create a festival-like environment. You get to watch these guys go by 75 times. It's like a tractor-trailer going by on these tight streets. It's spectacular. There will be a line of guys all strung out and it will be three corners long on the track. The beauty of this is that spectators can visit different places on the course, watch from different places on the course, bring the family, watch the teams attack, see the strategy and hear the announcer lay it out for them for the whole race."
And best of all, it's free.
But if for no there reason, Veitch says spectators can come out just to see the best cyclists in the world.
"For the riders, there's no real money in the sport, and there's no glory other than the respect of the guys they ride with," Veitch said. "These guys are dedicated to the sport."
6TH ANNUAL BEAUFORT CYCLING CLASSIC
Tuesday, downtown Beaufort
Course: 0.6 miles, begins and ends at the clock tower on Bay Street and encompasses stretches of Newcastle, Craven and Scott streets
5 p.m.: Kids' race, open to all local riders ages 12 and younger. Registration starts at 4 p.m.
6 p.m.: Women's race, 50 laps
7 p.m.: Men's race, 75 laps
Purse: $10,000 for men; $5,000 for women
Cost: Free and open to the public