Since its inception, the Tour de Georgia has grown, becoming one of the nation’s premier bicycle races.
This year is no different.
The sixth annual Tour de Georgia, slated to begin April 21 on Tybee Island, is expanding its borders and adding a European style team time trial.
For the first time in its history, the tour is welcoming China’s General Electric Marco Polo Cycling team, officials said Wednesday at Road Atlanta. Founded in 2005, Marco Polo Cycling is China’s first professional cycling team. It will mark the first time a China-based cycling team has raced on America soil.
"It’s a great honor to have China’s GE Marco Polo team in this year’s Tour de Georgia," said Geoff Lee, president of Road Atlanta. "It truly shows how this is quickly becoming an international event."
This year’s event includes cycling teams from Luxembourg, Denmark and Germany.
Adding more international flavor, the Tour de Georgia is adding a first-ever team trial event at Road Atlanta in Braselton. The trials pit cyclists against the clock over a course in two separate heats. All eight members of a team must race together, with the time of the fifth rider becoming the team’s time.
With the length of the course set at 16.1 kilometers (10 miles), most expect the teams to race as a whole, rather than individually.
"The team trials are about rhythm," said Jeff Corbett, a former professional cyclist now with Medalist Sports. "A really strong guy may actually hurt the team in the long run. The team that will be the most successful will be the team that has nice balance and cohesion."
The team time trial will be run counterclockwise around the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course. Riders will climb the steep hill at Turn 12 in the opposite direction used by sports cars and motorcycle competitors. Each heat will consist of four laps, with the finish line located on the support pit lane.
"This course is extremely difficult," said Jesse Lawler, team director for Jittery Joe’s professional cycling team. "The winners will not necessarily be the teams with the best (individual) rider, but the team with the most depth.
"It will truly be a team race this year at Road Atlanta."
Last year’s Tour de Georgia saw nearly 500,000 spectators, but with the involvement of Road Atlanta, Lee hopes that this year’s event lures in nearly twice that number.
"We’re about 35 days from the event, and we’re all excited," Lee said. "This year’s Tour de Georgia is the first time it can be seen worldwide, and we’re hoping to have about 1 million spectators. We encourage everyone to attend the event and bring your bikes. Road Atlanta offers some incredible views and you can get some exercise at the same time."
The annual event begins April 21 in Tybee Island and will travel to Savannah. Day two of the event takes riders from Statesboro to Augusta, while day three begins in Washington and ends in Gainesville. Day four will take place at Road Atlanta, with day five beginning in Suwanee and ending in Dahlonega. Day six will venture through the mountains, taking riders from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald Mountain.
The final day will end in Atlanta, concluding the seven-day, 589-mile event.