Criterium races, also known as crits, are high-intensity bicycle races that take place on short, closed-loop courses. These races are not only thrilling to watch, but they can also significantly impact the local economy. From increased tourism to higher sales for local businesses, criterium races bring revenue and excitement to their host communities. In this listicle, we’ll explore some well-known criterium races around the United States and a few of the reasons they’re becoming more popular each year.
The KwikTrip Tour of America’s Dairyland, or ToAD, is the nation’s longest-running competitive road cycling series. The series was started in 2009 and celebrated its 14th year of racing back in June. The criterium race series is held for 11 consecutive days across 11 different communities in Southeast Wisconsin starting in mid-June. Around eight to ten races are held each day of the event for the different age groups and categories of racers. Each race day typically starts around 11:00 a.m., with the final race wrapping up around 8:15 p.m. This year, the ToAD will start in Janesville on June 15 before traveling to East Troy, Grafton, Manitowoc, De Pere, West Allis, Mount Pleasant, Milwaukee, Shorewood, and Wauwatosa.
Cyclists who are up for a challenge can register to race every day of the 11-day event, which is called the “Holy Cow.” Signing up for the “Holy Cow” allows you to register for 11 races for the price of 10 and gets you the limited edition 2023 ToAD Holy Cow belt buckle.
Economic Impact: Students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse studied this race for a project and found that the Tour of America’s Dairyland brought in $1.7 million in economic impact over the course of the event.
Image courtesy of Tour of America’s Dairyland by Mitchell Vincent
The Athens Orthopedic Clinic Twilight Criterium is a cycling race in downtown Athens, GA, that started in 1980. This criterium is the first stop of the American Criterium Cup, a series of ten criterium races across the country. You don’t need to be a pro cyclist to participate in this event–you don’t even need to be a cyclist! The event takes place on a Friday and Saturday in April every year. The festivities begin on Friday with the bike expo, food court, and beer garden opening at noon, which remains open until 9:00 p.m. The Athens Twilight Criterium is one of the most iconic cycling races of its kind in the U.S. and attracts cyclists and spectators from all over the world!
The event features live music, plenty of food and drinks, and non-stop entertainment. There are kids’ criterium races, meet and greets with the pro cyclists, BMX exhibitions, open mic dance parties, a 5K run, a 50 km group ride, a 100 km group ride, and several award ceremonies crammed into the two-day event.
Image courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash
The second stop of the American Criterium Cup is the Sunny King Criterium. The race started in 2002, along with the Noble Street Festival that accompanies it. Both events take place on the same day and in the exact location. Some featured race categories are the junior men’s and women’s races, men’s and women’s amateur races, men’s masters races, and a family youth fun race for three to eight-year-olds. The race course in downtown Anniston has plenty of screaming fans and local businesses surrounding it, but there is also live music, a KidZone, and food trucks nearby that are brought in as part of the Noble Street Festival. Downtown Anniston comes to life on the day of these two events, which this year was held on May 6.
Every year, the Noble Street Festival and Sunny King Criterium bring more and more spectators to downtown Anniston. Because of the popularity of the events, the Noble Street Festival continues to spread out to more streets to support the number of spectators. These events are estimated to attract 10,000 people to the downtown area on the day they are held. You must pay a registration fee to participate, but the races are free to watch. Part of the registration fee is donated to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life chapter of Calhoun County, and since 2002, the Sunny King Criterium has raised over $130,000.
Image courtesy of Em Neems Photography via Adobe Stock
The Redlands Bicycle Classic started in 1985 after a serendipitous event in which the mayor of Redlands and a local cycling enthusiast both met with the city manager to organize a bike race within 24 hours of each other. Mayor Carole Beswick and Peter Brandt met to discuss their idea to host a bike race to bring people to the area and revitalize the downtown. They settled on Memorial Day weekend for their first race and decided to make it a three-day stage race instead of the typical one-day race. In 1985, there weren’t any large hotels in the area for the racers to stay in, so a host family program was started for riders to stay in the home of a Redlands resident. Today, there are enough hotels in the area to accommodate people, but a host family program still exists to provide lodging for nearly 300 riders every year.
The Redlands Bicycle Classic features five stage races spread across five days. Each of the stages has a men’s race and a women’s race. In addition to the stage races, there are charity rides, public races, two BMX shows, live music, the Redlands Mile Fun Run, a cornhole tournament, a community ride, and seven criterium races.
Image courtesy of Bruce Herwig and Redlands Bicycle Classic
The Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic is the oldest race on this list and is held every year in Harlem, New York. The race was started in 1973 by David Walker, a New York Police Department community affairs detective. Walker intended to bring the neighborhood together for a fun event since most of the community was still shaken up from the riots that took place in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. There was a park at the corner of East 120th Street and Madison Avenue that had been renamed Marcus Garvey Park in 1973 that Walker found to be the perfect place to center the race around. This year, the Marcus Garvey Park and the Harlem Skyscraper Criterium celebrate their 51st year together (although the park had a different name before this time).
The race is held on Father’s Day every year and features nine races for the different categories, USA Cycling’s Search for Speed Clinic, and plenty of local businesses and food vendors to choose from. The 2022 event attracted more than 460 racers from across the globe to compete and raise money for Team Unity. This non-profit organization provides programs and services to address New Yorkers’ food insecurity, homelessness, and other challenges.
Image courtesy of Yomex Owo via Unsplash
Criterium races make for an excellent centerpiece for a community event. Whether you are a cycling fan or not, the short course format makes for an exciting race where spectators can get a glimpse of the action every couple of minutes as the competitors continually circle the track. And, although a lot of work goes into putting on these races, it can be relatively easy for a city to host them. Many of the races are single-day events and only a few blocks of downtown need to be closed for the course. Closing off a small area of downtown for around 12 hours is a small price to pay for an event that attracts visitors to the area and brings the community together for a day of fun and excitement.