Auburn Family

SouthEast cyclists travel to Opelika for Rail City Criterium

The James Bros. Bikes’ race team and the nonprofit organization, Alabama G.O.A.L. Fest, are hosting the first Rail City Criterium (Crit) in historic downtown Opelika, Ala., on April 13. The Crit expects 100-150 cyclists from the SouthEast to participate and will feature six different races on a challenging six-turn course.

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Grant Chaffin, race director for the Rail City Crit and member of James Bros. Bikes’ race team, said was interested in helping bring a Crit to Opelika because it will be beneficial for the city.

“Opelika is a great venue because it’s always developing,” Chaffin said. “Whether the city knows it or not, the race will eventually bring in a lot of people.”

Chaffin said he was also interested in the Crit because it will change people’s perception of cyclists.

“It will shine a more positive light on cycling,” Chaffin said. “People won’t look at cyclists as traffic hazards, they will see the more competitive side, rather than the recreational.”

Chaffin is encouraging community members and Auburn students to attend and experience the high-intensity cycling event.

“Crit races are a lot like Nascar for cyclists,” Chaffin said. “It’s a lot more spectator friendly because the cyclists stay on a closed course, so spectators get to experience the cyclists’ sharp turns and fast-pace cycling up close and personal.”

Crits are also ideal for live spectators because they allow attendees to see the riders pass by multiple times.

“The course loop is .68 miles and the riders will be going in excess of 20-30 miles per hour, so spectators will see the racers ride by every minute and a half,” Chaffin said.

Chaffin, who is participating in the Rail City Crit, said Crits are a lot more nerve-racking than other races.

“There is a technical aspect because of the cornering and speed, and an endurance aspect,” Chaffin said. “Crits are the pinnacle of exciting cycling events.”

Chaffin said because of the intensity, an ambulance will be on site to assist with injuries.

“I’ve never been to a Crit where the ambulance didn’t leave more than once,” Chaffin said.

Although there is a real potential for harm, Chaffin said that is what excites him.

“The fear is what drives me,” Chaffin said. “It’s just like sky diving, it’s scary, but you have to just let go and trust that it’s going to be OK.”

Because it is such a high-intensity race, Chaffin said he tries to duplicate the racing scenario during his training.

“You base your training on the percentage of your heart rate and sprint training is 100 percent of your capable heart rate,” Chaffin said.

The first race will start at 1 p.m. and the last race will finish at 6:30 p.m. The Crit will start and finish at the Lee County Courthouse, located at 215 S. 9th St. in Opelika.

The streets will close at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 13, and will reopen at 7 p.m. that night. The day of the event, community members may park on South Railroad Street, the Train Depot or the Opelika First Baptist parking lot located across from the Overall Company.

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