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Bike races in downtown Gainesville lure hundreds of spectators, racers
A cyclist races up Spring Street during Sunday afternoon’s downtown Gainesville Gran Prix and Criterium.

Hundreds of cyclists turned out Sunday to wheel through the streets of downtown Gainesville for the third leg of the Georgia Cup racing series.

A steady stream of spectators ambled through the square or set up camp in lawn chairs Sunday afternoon to watch the fourth annual Gainesville Gran Prix and Criterium, part of the Georgia Cup series, which is the largest pro-am cycling event in the country.

More than 450 cyclists registered to participate in the multidivision races that culminated with a 60-lap criterium looping through Green, Washington, Academy and Spring streets. Spectators gathered at the finish line on Spring Street to watch nationally acclaimed teams such as Toshiba, Jittery Joe’s and Jet Network cross the line under the clamor of the final bell.

Toshiba rider Mark Hekman took first place in the criterium, while Frank Travieso was the overall stage winner.

In addition to the gran prix and criterium held Sunday, an approximately 70-mile road race wound its way through Hall and Jackson counties Saturday that tested the endurance of more than 400 Georgia Cup riders through the rain and cold.

The Georgia Cup series kicked off its racing season, which will last through mid-September, with a race in Albany held in early March. The second leg of the race took place in Perry. Cyclists are now gearing up for the next round of Georgia Cup races to be held this weekend in Chattanooga. And for the first time, the Georgia Cup will host a five-day Tour of Atlanta race May 22-26.

Amateur cyclist Rick Lyons of Atlanta raced the Gainesville criterium for the third year in a row Sunday, and said the course is always a good race.

"Racing in Georgia 10 years ago was a lot more scattered and less organized. The Georgia Cup has really done a lot to raise the profile of racing in Georgia and has showcased racing as a family fun event," Lyons said.

The Gainesville gran prix also hosted women’s racing and a junior division for children younger than 14 years old.

Roughly 200 spectators came to downtown Gainesville to view the event, enjoying the traffic-free square closed off by the Gainesville Police Department until 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Rebecca Clanton, owner of Sweet Magnolia’s on Main Street, said she served nearly 1,000 customers Sunday, including cyclists and volunteers.

"We opened especially for the Georgia Cup. We’ve probably served 500 sandwiches or more and 20 gallons of ice cream," Clanton said. "It’s been a madhouse all day."

Although Scott’s on the Square was open for brunch early Sunday, Sweet Magnolia’s was the only business on the square open for the climax of the criterium.

Gainesville Police Department Officer Kevin Holbrook said the race unfolded smoothly.

"There was only one little accident, but he got up and walked off with just a little road rash," Holbrook said.

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