Winding its way through all parts of the state, the 2008 Tour de Georgia will find its way to Gainesville to finish Stage Three racing on Wednesday.
Now in it’s sixth year, the tour has become one of North America’s premier cycling events while involving local communities in the festivities.
"There have been at finishes, when Gainesville has had a finish before, 25,000 people," said Stacey Dickson, president of the Gainesville-Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The schools are letting out early in the city and we have a lot of people coming in from out of town. Our hotels are full; we expect to have a good crowd."
Each year, cyclists from all over the world compete in six stages amassing 600 miles of racing while thousands of spectators show up to offer support.
This year the stage race will begin Monday on Tybee Island then move north along the eastern side of the state and enter South Carolina, for the first time, during Stage Two, which finishes in Augusta.
Stage Three begins in Washington and ends in Gainesville on Wednesday, and the much-anticipated Stage Four at Road Atlanta will be Thursday.
"That is going to be, from what I am drawing from my consumers, one of the more popular stages this year," said Kevin Mooney, manager at Bike Town USA in Gainesville. "Just because it is something different that hasn’t been done before."
Stage Five, the longest stage of the Tour, will be Friday as the cyclists take a trip through 10 counties, from Suwanee to Dahlonega. The final stage on Saturday will feature the trek to the top of Georgia’s tallest peak, Brasstown Bald.
"For me and for most of the (cycling) population, the most interesting is whatever is happening in the mountains," Mooney said. "Up in the northern part of the ride. "
What do the stages mean?
Even though the race has six stages, there are some that may be more important than others.
Some stages let riders showcase their skills
The Team Time Trial at Road Atlanta and the climb at Brasstown Bald is a chance for some riders to gain time. At Road Atlanta, the teams will do four laps of the two-and-a-half-mile course, making a 10 mile Team Time Trial. There will be two teams on the track at a time.
"It’s really a very unique aspect of the race this year," Rice said. "It’s on an enclosed race track, it’s going to be a really neat opportunity for fans to see these riders close up on a closed course. The whole team will be on the track at the same time, helping each other."
What’s special about the Gainesville stage?
The final laps through the Longstreet Hills neighborhood are a good chance to see high-speed, competitive laps.
"They are actually going to do a circuit race," Dickson said. "They are going to go around that circuit at least three times and so they’ll be 30 to 40 minutes of good racing to watch all around that circuit, so fans could gather anywhere around that area."
What do the jerseys mean?
Throughout the race, the riders will be vying for spots as champions of various classifications: General classification, Sprint classification, King of the Mountain, the Best Young Rider and the Most Aggressive Rider.
What’s at the finish line?
The exciting up and down Gainesville course in Longstreet Hills will be accompanied by a slew of events for locals to enjoy.
"It kind of skirts by the (City) Park but it goes through Longstreet Hills neighborhood," Dickson said. "We are recommending that people park in lots like at the (First) Baptist Church, on the far side of the Gainesville High football field.
"The side that is closest to the Civic Center is going to have all of the team vehicles in it, the big trucks and trailers, which people can walk through all that and look at them and each team sets up a tent and there is interaction."
Along with the race there will be a Healthy Living Expo from noon to 4 p.m. at the Martha Hope Cabin and N2, a Cure Kids Lil’ 500 Bicycle Races for kids ages 5 to 12 at the finish line. The race is $10 to enter and proceeds benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta AFLAC Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service.
At Road Atlanta on Thursday there also will be an N2, a Cure Kids Lil’ 500 Bicycle Race, a Health and Wellness expo with food and beverage vendors and family activities.
What are all those cars doing?
Just like any other sport, cyclists have a team of professionals that are an integral part of each race, especially stage races like the Tour de Georgia.
"The idea is you really take all the pressure off the riders and they are there just to race and to concentrate on the race," said Micah Rice, team manager for Jittery Joe’s Professional Cycling Team USA, based in Athens. "The key to doing well in a stage race like the Tour de Georgia is recovery. After that stage is over, you don’t want that rider to be doing anything. The more that we can do to take away the worry of the rider, that is what the team staff does."
Who’s on the support team?
Team director: For Jittery Joe’s that’s Jesse Lawler. Rice said he’s the one who makes sure all the riders’ needs are met. "His job is to make sure that the team has everything they need, so to completely race their bikes and do nothing else. He also drives the car behind the riders during the race and talks to them on the radios." All the riders have ear pieces and get race updates and information from Lawler during each event.
Soigneurs: "In French it means caretaker, basically," Rice said. "A soigneurs’ job is to massage all the riders every night, so they give leg massages to the riders and they also spend time in the feed zone, which is at a couple of places during the race where they can still pick up a bottle ... they might give a bag with some food and a couple of bottles of drink in there."
Mechanics: Two mechanics also are on staff to keep the bikes ready for each hill and curve. "The mechanics make sure that their bikes are absolutely ready to go and every night they get washed down and the chain gets oiled again," Rice said. "The mechanics have the bikes ready to go with the bottles of water, tires pumped up and totally cleaned and then they race and then when they finish the race ... they hand their bike to the mechanic so the rider doesn’t have to think about anything."