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Whoosh! Cyclists circle downtown for criterium race
Diners watch as bikers pass by in the Georgia Cup Gainesville Gran Prix and Criterium last year. This year’s event begins Sunday. - photo by Times file photo
This Sunday afternoon, take a swing through downtown Gainesville to see the two-wheeled version of a NASCAR race.

Part of the Georgia Cup series, the largest pro-am cycling event in the country, this weekend’s Gran Prix and Criterium will bring world-class cyclists to race through the streets of downtown. Many restaurants will be open earlier or extended hours on Sunday, and the premier seating will be at tables along the sidewalks.

James Lowe, director of the Georgia Cup, said riders from across the country will line up at the starting line on Spring Street for the timed race. The goal? Sixty laps in the circle made by Green, Washington, Academy and Spring streets.

"You’re literally racing around the downtown," Lowe said. "We have a big stage in the middle with a professional announcer telling everyone what to expect."

Spectators can also catch a fleeting glimpse of famed cyclists George Hincapie and his brother Rich. George, Lowe said, was Lance Armstrong’s teammate for all seven of his Tour de France wins.

Nationally recognized teams will also be at the event, including Toshiba, Jet Network and Memorial Health. And Cyclist John Murphy, of the Health Net team will also be competing, straight off his win at the Tour of Taiwan.

"It’s pretty crazy. It’s such a tight course, its just exciting because everyone, if its a good crowd out, everyone wants to animate the race and everyone attacks and it keeps the spectators happy and makes the racing hard," said Murphy, who raced in Gainesville a few years ago.

Because the course is flat, Murphy said riders get up to 30 mph. And the faster the cyclists go, the more the crowd needs to cheer, he said.

"The crazier the better, always," he said. Spectators can bring cow bells, scream — anything to raise the excitement level.

"If the crowd gets involved, it just means they’re watching. And that’s more motivation to put on a show."

This year the Georgia Cup series will also include the Tour of Atlanta, a five-day event that is open to both professional and amateur teams, Lowe said.

The Tour of Atlanta, which begins May 22, has categories for men, women and junior riders and is split into seven stages.

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