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Inaugural cycling race finds success in St. Pete

Mark Parker

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Luke Lamperti (center) took first place at the inaugural CRIT Championship in St. Petersburg. Jim Brown (left) and Jonathan "JP" Primm placed second and third, respectively. Photos by Mark Parker.

A unique professional cycling race designed to promote inclusion, highlight host cities and entertain spectators debuted in St. Petersburg Oct. 21, and stakeholders now hope it becomes an annual event.

The CRIT Championship brought thousands of spectators to the city’s Edge District Saturday night. Criterium races, known as “crits,” feature cyclists sprinting along urban streets and making extremely sharp turns rather than trudging through remote courses.

In addition to the fast-paced professional cycling that showcased the city for international racers and attendees, the free community event featured a skateboarding exhibition, live music and myriad vendors. Nathan Stonecipher, co-owner of Green Bench Brewing, said it exceeded expectations.

“Anytime you do something for the first time, you have a fear that no one is going to show up and have fun at the thing you’re trying to create,” Stonecipher said. “I’m very pleased with how it all worked out … and already have a million ideas for how we can make it bigger and better and more awesome the next time around.”

Luke Lamperti acknowledges a vocal and diverse crowd lined along Central Avenue as he crosses the finish line.

Stonecipher and Michael Rideout, founder of Made Coffee, have spent years working behind the scenes to bring professional cycling to St. Pete. The two launched race organizer Orange Belt and began petitioning prominent crit racer Justin Williams.

Williams, founder of the L39ION (pronounced Legion) of Los Angeles race team, announced the Circuit Racing International Tour (CRIT) in April. He called the multimillion-dollar investment and its inaugural event “bigger than a bike race” in a prepared statement.

Williams said his goal was to “elevate American cycling” by offering spectators and riders a unique showcase. He also hopes to increase diversity and inclusion in the sport.

Justin Williams (right) founded the L39GION of Los Angeles racing team and the CRIT Championship.

The event kicked off with a 9:15 a.m. community ride. A 5K run followed and preceded the children’s, women’s and men’s open races.

Stonecipher said 250 to 350 people participated in the community ride, “which was fantastic.” He estimated that several thousand people attended the races and accompanying festival throughout the day.

The sun was setting behind Central Avenue’s palm trees as nearly 200 professional cyclists took the .67-mile track. Riders reached speeds of over 30 mph as they looped around the Edge District and competed for a share of the $15,000 prize pool.

“The pro men’s race, I think, blew everyone away with the amount of riders and the speed …,” Stonecipher said. “And then to have all the riders together on the last lap – the group finish sprinting down Central Avenue – is about as exciting as you can get it.”

Three-time U.S. Pro criterium champion Luke Lamperti took the checkered flag for the L39ION in the men’s final. The “all-star” invitation-only event featured 10 teams.

Jim Brown of the London Tekkerz finished second in the 70-minute timed race. Jonathan “JP” Primm, riding for Reign Nashville, placed third.

The L39ION of Los Angeles dominated the professional races, as Samantha Schneider (right) paced the women’s field. Men’s winner Luke Lamperti (center) takes a swig of water.

After the race, Lamperti told the Catalyst that the challenging St. Pete course was “super cool.” The young racer grew up in California, lives in Spain and typically competes in Europe.

“A lot of crit racing is about the atmosphere, and there was a really good atmosphere tonight here in St. Pete,” Lamperti said. “Hopefully, tonight, we’ll be able to get a beer. I’ve never been here before … and being able to spend a few days here has been nice.”

Samantha Schneider, who also rode for the L39GION, placed first in the women’s field. Her teammates Skylar Schneider and Julyn Aguila finished second and third, respectively.

Mark Ferguson, owner of Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill, said he was impressed by the unique race and event. His establishment sits along the track’s final straightaway, and he said business increased with people stopping in for food or drinks before returning to watch.

“I had no idea what to expect – these guys are fast,” Ferguson said. “It’s great for downtown.”

A pack of riders sprint down the street track’s final straightaway.

Ferguson hopes the CRIT Championship becomes an annual event that spans a weekend rather than a single day. Stonecipher shared that sentiment and said he and Rideout envision placing jumbotrons and speakers along the course so people can see and hear updates throughout the Edge District.

Stonecipher also believes Orange Belt can implement additional elements that further activate the surrounding community and enhance the spectator experience. “The most important thing was just to get one off the ground so that people can see and … understand what this style of racing is and what this community event could grow into over time,” he said.

 

 

 

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