WEST CHESTER – With hundreds of national and international participants now descending on Chester County, this area will become the epicenter for short course, criterium-style bicycle racing over the course of the next 10 days.
A total of nine races will be staged in downtown communities throughout the county through July 13 and all are free of charge. The Ninth Annual Iron Hill Twilight Criterium, which takes place Saturday on the streets of West Chester, is expected to draw crowds approaching 20,000 and is the marquee event. And the traveling eight-race Chesco Grand Prix series was added to the mix a year ago, and will once again bring racing from Malvern to Oxford, Phoenixville to Parkesburg. The inaugural race series in 2012 drew 1,500 cyclists from 15 states, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, and drew over 10,000 spectators.
“You will see the riders every 30-40 seconds, and when you have 150 guys going 35 miles per hour, the wave of air they push is just unbelievable,” said Mark Yoder, president of the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the Iron Hill race.
“Cycling races are perfect for shining the spotlight on local downtown communities,” added Chesco Grand Prix Director Crosby Wood. “(These races) will again bring top level athletes into town for family-friendly, healthy lifestyle events which feature not only exciting racing, but an opportunity to promote the community and its local merchants.”
The action kicked off Thursday with the Chesco Road Race, held on a challenging 13-mile circuit that wound through West Marlborough Township. The only non-criterium race of the Chesco Grand Prix series, it will crown the Pennsylvania State Road Race champions.
A two-day reprieve from the CGP series will then commence to make way for the Twilight Criterium, which has grown exponentially since debuting in 2005 and now draws more spectators to West Chester than all but two annual events, according to Yoder: the Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade and the Restaurant Festival. An estimated 3,000 people showed up for the first Twilight Criterium, and just six years later it topped out at nearly 20,000.
“It’s doubled in size a number of times over the years,” said race spokesman Jay Gundel.