LENOX -- Organizers of the third annual Berkshire Cycling Classic, a scenic and challenging 80-mile course through 10 South County towns, are hoping a welcome break in this week's dreary weather will gear up participation in the Saturday morning event.
With mostly sunny skies and temperatures around 70 predicted, John Eustice of Sparta Cycling in New York City has appealed to area bicycling enthusiasts to take part by registering starting at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. The registration tent is adjacent to the start and finish line, on the corner of Church and Housatonic streets in downtown Lenox.
The race and recreational ride kicks off at 8 a.m., with staggered start times for different categories based on age groups.
A free Kids Fun Bike Ride around local streets begins at 10:30, co-sponsored by the Lenox Chamber of Commerce. "Roll into Lenox" offers prizes for the most creative and "coolest-sounding" bikes. Participants will gather at the Church Street Cafe parking lot, with registration opening at 10. Medal winners will be eligible for free prizes at 11 participating merchants.
Day-of-event registration for the adult ride is $80. Pre-registration was set to close Thursday night, said Eustice.
As of midweek, 125 riders had signed up, he said, far short of his anticipated 400 to 600. Last year, the same number of cyclists participated, but that was a sharp decline from the nearly 300 who traveled the hilly route in May 2012.
"Participation could spike at the last minute," Eustice said. "Everyone complains that there are no more beautiful road races. We learn as we go along."
"The Berkshire cycling community is not particularly well-represented," he said. "This is a great opportunity for cycling, recreational as well as competitive, and people should support it."
The town has asked cyclists to park at the War Memorial Field on High Street, off Housatonic Street, just east of the downtown center.
Traffic restrictions in the vicinity will be in effect from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with police controlling limited access as streets are reopened beginning at 11 a.m.
"Anything that brings people to Lenox to expose people to the businesses and the beauty of this town is a help," Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ralph Petillo said. "I'm sure there's some spillover after the race is over."
The event, which had been held on Sunday mornings for its first two years, was moved to Saturday to avoid competing with a major cycling race in New York City on Sunday.
Although six separate categories of rides had been planned to start at intervals from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., Eustice said some may be combined depending on the number of participants.
"This is a chance to jump in and support the event," Eustice declared. "It can't continue to exist if the local cycling community doesn't embrace it. The community has to get behind it, warts and all, participate, volunteer and make it better. We're putting on a nice, safe, fun event."
For the second straight year, the town contributed $5,000 toward the cycling classic through its economic development fund. Eustice said most of the up-front money will be spent on police details.
"I respect how the police have turned out," he said. Eustice also credited Cranwell Resort General Manager Carl Pratt for "keeping us going, taking the reins to keep this thing alive. We're here today because of Carl."
The goal of the race is to position the Berkshires as a prime destination for bicycling enthusiasts, Pratt told The Eagle.
The event provides "a European-style racing experience for both developing racers and recreational Cyclosportif (or Gran Fondo) riders," according to Eustice. All rider groups will be supported by escort motorcycles and wheel vans.
The 80-mile course, the only one offered this year, includes 5,059 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The route includes Stockbridge, Beartown State Forest, Tyringham, Otis, Sandisfield, New Marlborough, Sheffield, Egremont, Alford, West Stockbridge and Richmond, finishing in Lenox.
The overall time will be recorded and ranked according to men's and women's age groups.
"The long and hilly routes provide the perfect settings for those who wish to test their legs in a friendly and spirited atmosphere," Eustice said. "This event represents a chance for developing and Masters racers to experience a classic road race run. The race course is challenging yet balanced, and is designed to create exciting finishes."
Here's the Saturday schedule:
6:30 a.m.: Packet pickup and last-minute registration, Church and Housatonic streets, Lenox.
8 a.m.: 128.8 km Cyclosportif.
9 a.m.: Master 40+ and 50+ start.
9:15 a.m.: Category 4 men start.
9:30 a.m.: Category 5 Under 35 men start.
9:45 a.m.: Category 5 +35 men start.
10 a.m.: Open women Pro-4 start.
10 a.m.: Registration begins for free Kids Fun Ride.
10:30 a.m.: Kids 6-10 take their first downtown loop.
10:45: Kids 5 and under take their first downtown loop.
Noon: Finish line awards as adult age group winners arrive.
More information: www.berkshirecyclingclassic.com
Traffic and Parking Rules. . .
Traffic: The Lenox Police Department will be controlling traffic between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday. Some street closings are planned. Church Street will be closed just before 8; a portion of Main and Walker streets will be closed briefly between 10:30 and 11 during the Kids Race. All streets will reopen at 11, with police granting limited access. At certain times, vehicle access to Church and Franklin streets will be unavailable as adult race participants approach the finish line.
Parking: Race participants are asked to use the parking lot at the War Memorial Field on High Street to avoid parking congestion in downtown lots.
Source: Lenox Town Manager's Office.