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Race director: Professional cycling needs higher profile

Big crowds aren't expected for this weekend's races

By Pat Ruff

pruff@postbulletin.com

The professional bicycle riders who've entered races Friday, Saturday and Sunday at three Minnesota sites face no risk of being overwhelmed by adoring crowds.

That, says the races' director David LaPorte, includes Marty Nothstein, an Olympic champion. Nothstein won't be hounded Friday in Winona, Saturday in St. Paul or Sunday in Stillwater. LaPorte is sure of it.

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"Bicycle racers are not treated like Michael Jordan when they come to town," LaPorte said. "These guys are as good in their sport as Jordan is in his. But all bike racers ask for (when they come to a town) is a ride to the airport and a couch at night to sleep on. These guys are in it because they love the sport. They are not in it for the money."

Or, obviously, the fame. But LaPorte is trying to do something about both. He hopes his approach in the Great River Energy Bicycle Festival and Nature Valley Grand Prix this coming Friday-Sunday begins to send bicycle racing in a new direction. He wants to make it more of a spectator sport.

"Bicycle racing is a really cool sport and we want people to come out," said LaPorte, who started these races three years ago, and used Plainview as one of the sites last year. "But people aren't sure they want to come out that first time if they haven't seen one before. Once they do go, they find out they really like it."

LaPorte is trying to get folks flocking to his event by making it as fan-friendly as possible. That's where the festival portion of the racing title comes in. These three days are about more than racing. Also included will be stunt rider demonstrations, live music, food, a kids fun race and a scavenger hunt.

While LaPorte is sure there will be plenty there to entertain just about anybody, the true bicycle racing fan shouldn‚t; go away disappointed, either.

These races are part of the National Racing Calendar, which is run through USA Cycling. They schedule 45 races throughout the country each year, with four of them in the Midwest. LaPorte's weekend blitz accounts for three of those. There will be plenty of star power involved Friday-Sunday, with Nothstein and current professional criterium champion Kirk O'Bee both signed up.

Friday's races in Winona are for professional riders, both men and women. Saturday, St. Paul will be host to 11 different divisions, including pro races. And Sunday in Stillwater, there will be professional men's, women's and mid-level men's races.

BOX; GREAT RIVER ENERGY BICYCLE FESTIVAL AND NATURE VALLEY GRAND PRIX

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Who's racing: Pro and amateur bicycle riders.

Where, when: The festival is a three-day affair, starting in Winona on Friday. Racers start and finish at Lake Park. Pro women start at 1:30 p.m. and finish at 4:20 p.m. Pro men start at 5:30 p.m. and finish at 8:30 p.m.

Saturday's races in St. Paul, which are on the St. Capitol grounds, begin at 8:30 a.m. with junior division races and finish at 4 p.m. with men's pro races. Women's pro races start at 12:30 p.m. and finish at 1:30 p.m. Men's pro races start at 2:10 p.m. and finish at 3:30 p.m.

Sunday's races, which start and finish in downtown Stillwater, begin at 12:30 p.m. with women's pro races. The women's races end at 1:20 p.m. Men's pro races start at 1:30 p.m. and end at 2:40 p.m.

Cost: Admission is free, though there is a kids fun area which requires a $5 donation to Camp Heartland, the world's largest year-round camping and care program for children affected by HIV/AIDS.

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