In about two weeks, we’ll find out if, or on what scale, our bike races will happen this summer.
Such is our annual spring vigil as the region awaits word on the North Star Grand Prix, the exhilarating but chronically underfunded festival of bike racing that has, most years since 1999, brought daring packs of world-class bike racers to our city streets and country roads.
Not many places offer opportunities to stand curbside and experience the wonderful madness of people, in tight groups, propelling bicycles at 30, 40 or even 50 mph just because it’s fun. We’ve had this chance largely because of tirelessness of local volunteers and for many years the generosity of the people who make Nature Valley granola bars. They once sponsored the races, but have since moved on. Each year has been a struggle to assemble the necessary sponsors.
Then, last year, this fragile effort collapsed when its most popular venue — roaring around Uptown in Minneapolis — was lost to street construction. The events were canceled.
Race director Brendon Hale recently said that the organization used the cancellation as a chance to catch its breath: “See where we wanted to be in five years,” recruit more volunteers and board members, seek new sponsors — all to re-establish credibility.
But the Grand Prix nonetheless found itself this month $200,000 short of a budget necessary to stage races that would attract a stellar national and international field. The proposed answer: crowdfunding. The North Star launched a GoFundMe campaign, giving itself a May 3 deadline to decide if, or at what scale, the races will run on June 14-16 in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Stillwater.
The decisions could be difficult. As of middle of this week, the GoFundMe site listed just $5,135 in contributions to support the North Star Grand Prix.
It is rare, an oddity even, that these races have lasted this long. Few regions can muster much more than local bicycle races. The Tour of California in May is the big U.S. event — 800 miles ridden over seven stages, televised globally, with both men and women. The seven-day Tour of Utah in August draws a similarly competitive international field of men. The Colorado Classic, also in August, is becoming the nation’s most competitive women’s race.
But, it should be noted, none of those events has been around as long as Minnesota’s races.
The best-case scenario is that the Grand Prix this year will roll out a more compact schedule than has been its custom. No more rural races to towns such as Cannon Falls, Minn., and just one bike party (June 13 at the Best Western Capitol Ridge in St. Paul, with riders in attendance). Friday night is the 36-lap Uptown Stage (a .9-mile course with six turns around the heart of the neighborhood). Saturday’s 65-mile stage is set to be a 6-mile swooping lap around the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side. On Sunday, riders are supposed to be in downtown Stillwater for another 6-mile course (and laps worth 62 miles) through the hills and streets above and next to the St. Croix River.
Hale said he hopes for 300 riders, split between men and women. The women’s field has significant potential. The North Star races are one of the few to award international points under the Union Cycliste Internationale, which gives riders points for world championships and the Olympics.
“We’re just going to be working hard,” Hale said, “hoping everything comes together in time.”
According to numerous reports, the family of Kelly Catlin, the Olympic track cyclist from Minnesota who died by suicide this month at 23, has donated her brain to Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank. The family hopes for answers that could explain behavioral changes that could have contributed to her death.
Catlin, who grew up in Arden Hills, crashed several times while training over the winter. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, won an Olympic silver medal, and helped the U.S. team win three consecutive world titles in pursuit between 2016 and 2018. She won bronze in the individual pursuit at the track cycling world championships in 2017 and 2018. (Catlin has raced at the North Star Grand Prix, too.)
Also, USA Cycling, the national organization, has established the Kelly Catlin Fund to benefit the Minnesota Cycling Center and young women’s track development. Donations can be made through the organization’s website.
Tony Brown is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. His column appears twice a month. Reach him at email@example.com. Read archived columns at startribune.com/bikeguy.