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Bicycle sprints, s'mores coming to Gainesville tonight
Family events part of three-day race event
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2016 Mission Source Tour of the Southern Highlands

March 4

What: S’More to Life family fun night, street sprints
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Gainesville square

March 5

What: Stages one and two
When: 8 a.m.
Where: 610 Main St., Clermont

March 6

What: Stage three
When: 8:50  a.m.
Where: 610 Main St., Clermont

A 5-year-old Gainesville road race will be revamped this year into a three-day event for the whole family.

Formerly known as the Gainesville Gran Prix, the 2016 Mission Source Tour of the Southern Highlands is transitioning to a pro/am stage race March 4-6.

The race will be held throughout Gainesville and the Northeast Georgia mountain region, with four events for pros and three for amateur racers.

“This is the evolution of the Gainesville Gran Prix,” said Betty Hodges, assistant race director and partner in Dingo Race Productions. “The Gainesville Gran Prix was a three-event omnium. That means, while it was three events and one big race, you could pick and choose which one you wanted to do and still race.”

But Tour of the Southern Highlands is a stage race, which means all three races or “stages” are required, and make up the entire event.

“So for a stage race, you sign up for the whole race and you have to begin and complete all the events, or you are disqualified,” Hodges said.

The last stage race held in Georgia was the Tour de Georgia, which ended in 2008.

“So it’s the first stage race in the area in eight years,” she said. “It’s a big deal.”

The three-day event begins March 4 with professional street sprints starting at 6:30 p.m. off the Gainesville square. Hodges described the races as “drag races on bicycles,” and they can be viewed during a family fun night called S’More to Life.

The feature of the evening will be a kid zone with a s’mores and hot chocolate bar. A number of local event sponsors will be set up with prizes.

“It’s the first time we’ve done a Friday event for the race,” Hodges said. “It is just the pro 1-2 men and women and there will be a kids race. So the only required racing that night is for the pros and elite amateurs.”

Kids are required to wear helmets to race.

On March 5, amateurs will be able to join with races starting at 8 a.m. on Main Street in Clermont. Stages one and two will take place Saturday for men and women, amateurs and pros, and stage three will be Sunday.

The road race covers more than 7,000 feet of climbing.

“Gosh, the terrain is absolutely beautiful,” Hodges said. “You may not pay much attention to the scenery while you’re racing, but it’s a gorgeous place that makes it challenging and selective.”

For young people competing in the Tour of the Southern Highlands, the event is especially important. It has been marked as a team selection race for the U.S. Junior National Team, Hodges said.

“As a USA Cycling Junior National Selection Race, the 2016 Mission Source Tour of the Southern Highlands is the only race east of the Rockies offering juniors an opportunity to demonstrate their ability,” said race Director Nathan O’Neill, “while bringing national attention to our sponsors and this beautiful region.”

Volunteers are still needed for the event, which is bringing people from across the country.

“We have people coming from South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, California, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and all over,” Hodges said. “I think it’s maybe going to be the biggest event we’ve ever produced, and it’ll only get bigger. We hope that it just continues to draw to Gainesville and the area, because it is such a wonderful place to race.”

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