Riders at last year’s Criterium race at high speeds around the streets of downtown Edwardsville.
The Bank of Edwardsville Rotary Criterium is not your typical Saturday afternoon bike ride through the trails lacing the Edwardsville region.
From 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, the streets of downtown Edwardsville will be transformed into a race route hosting 300 professional and amateur cyclists in competitions that feature speed, strategy and endurance.
But you don’t have to be a bicyclist to participate. Spectators are welcome to not only watch the races but also hear performances by three local bands, take part in games and activities for children, and enjoy food from Edwardsville eateries.
Now in its seventh year, the event started out as a fundraising idea by Rotary member S.J. Morrison.
“After completing my bachelor’s degree at SIUE, I headed to Bloomington, Ind., for my master’s,” Morrison said. “While in Bloomington, I attended the annual Little 500, a high-speed bike race that served as a fundraiser. When I returned to Edwardsville, I joined the local Rotary, a group that raises funds each year to support local nonprofits and groups and is always looking for unique fundraising ideas.
“The strong bicycle culture in Edwardsville, sparked by the great MCT trails throughout the region, seemed like a natural fit for an event similar to what I had seen in Bloomington,” he said. “So I began by pitching the idea to the Rotary board. It took a couple of years to convince the board, the city and local supporters on the idea. But eventually, everyone came together and the first Edwardsville Rotary Criterium took to the streets of downtown.”
The event is a collaborative effort among many entities. Downtown streets and neighborhood thoroughfares will be closed for the race, requiring support from the city, police department, residents and businesses.
As a result, the entire downtown area takes on a festival feel as vendors offer their wares and welcome spectators and riders alike. The city suspends regular ordinances for the one-day event and allows alcohol consumption throughout the site.
The race is sanctioned by USA Cycling Association and Missouri Bicycle Racing Association. Nine events offer cash prizes in the competitive races sanctioned by the two organizations. Participants in the competitive races must be members of USA Cycling Association.
“We have cyclists from 11 states registered for this year’s race,” Morrison said. “Eight of the races are set based on different skill levels.”
The ninth event is an open children’s race that allows young people to test their skills on the course.
The on-road race has a short course — seven-tenths of a mile. Competitions are based on time and distance, meaning the races will include multiple laps that feature riders jockeying for position, strategizing with others on the course and planning their final lap to finish at the top.
“Spectators can actually hear the cyclists strategizing and see them jockeying for position throughout the race,” Morrison said. “It all takes place at a very fast pace and is really fun to watch.”
There is much more for spectators to do at the event than just watch. Three local bands will take the stage throughout the event. Downtown restaurants will offer food, and six other Edwardsville restaurants — Wang Gang, Catrina’s, Mike Shannon’s, Social Gastro Pub, Peel and Joe’s Pizza — will have vendor booths.
Edwardsville Township is sponsoring a helmet-fitting and giveaway for young people. Volunteers will be on hand to assure that children’s helmets are properly adjusted to offer maximum protection. In addition, they will give away 200 helmets on a first-come, first-serve basis.
For the second year, First Cloverleaf Bank and the Edwardsville Art Center will sponsor a Peddle and Paint Art Tent. Young people will be invited to create art projects they can take with them.
This year’s named sponsor is The Bank of Edwardsville. In addition to financial support, the bank provides marketing support for the event and employees serve as volunteers. Along with the bank, 40 businesses and individuals have signed on as race sponsors.
For information, visit edwardsvillecriterium.com.