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Law enforcement beef up security for race

POSTED: May 4, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Although roadblocks will halt traffic and security will be amped up, authorities say that today’s Tour de Georgia stage will be business as usual.

The Tour de Georgia celebration begins behind the Gainesville Civic Center at 1 p.m. — complete with bicycle helmet fittings and face painting — in anticipation of more than 100 cyclists finishing the third leg of the weeklong race.

About 25,000 spectators are expected for the race, and Gainesville police officers and Hall County Sheriff’s deputies will be on hand.

Gainesville police Lt. Keith Lingerfelt said officers will provide standard security at the stage’s finish line near Martha Hope Cabin, and there will be an officer at each of the intersections affected by Tour cyclists.

During the race, three Gainesville officers will provide security for events behind the Gainesville Civic Center and around the Martha Hope Cabin. As intersections and roads reopen, more officers will provide security near the finish line.

Both authorities and event coordinators said they do not expect any trouble, although three cyclists from China are competing. Protests about China’s human rights violations and violent crackdown on Tibet have dogged the Olympic torch several times during its relay.

Jackie Tyson, director of communications for the tour, said no protests were reported during the first two days of the race.

"I expected none, because they (Chinese cyclists) don’t have anything to do with the Olympic Games," said Tyson.

The threat is so miniscule that local authorities have not made special arrangements, although Maj. Jeff Strickland says the Hall County Sheriff’s Office can handle any occasion.

"That’s the first I’ve heard," said Lingerfelt. "I haven’t heard anything about possible protests."

Tyson, who has worked with the Georgia State Patrol in previous years, said law enforcement across the state does a good job of keeping cyclists and spectators safe.

Since Gainesville and Hall County have experience with the Tour, Tyson said "they know exactly what to do" when it’s time to clear the roads for cyclists.

"They do a great job with safety for the cyclists and safety for the spectators as well," she said.

Even so, motorists could find themselves sitting at a roadblock for a half hour or more if they hit areas at the wrong times.

As the race passes through parts of Hall County and Gainesville, the roads used for the race will be closed 30 minutes prior to cyclists arriving in that area.

Motorists who normally use Exit 24 on Interstate 985 in the afternoons should use Exit 22 today, because Exit 24 will be closed between 2:30 to 3 p.m., said Terri Pope, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

A number of other streets throughout the city — including a closure of Longstreet Hills subdivision to nonresidential traffic — will be affected as well.

For those who want to attend the events behind the Civic Center, free parking will be available at First Baptist Church, Providence Church and the lot in front of the Green Street Pool, said Gainesville Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Stacey Dickson.

However, with thousands of spectators expected, those parking spaces may fill up. Dickson says that should not discourage people from coming to the Tour events.

"It’s going to be a beautiful day, and we encourage people to just park in the county deck and just walk down," said Dickson.

Dickson also has another bit of advice: If you want a good spot at the finish line, get there early.

Those wanting a good view of the cyclists racing to the finish should be in place by 2:30 p.m., because cyclists should be arriving downtown by 2:45 or 3 p.m., Dickson said.


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