SUWANEE - For the first time in Tour de Georgia history, a leg of the popular spring cycling competition will be hosted by a city in Gwinnett County.
Starting at 10 a.m. Friday, more than 120 cyclists from around the world will begin the longest - and hilliest - trek of the 600 mile race at Town Center Park in Suwanee. In what is the fifth stage of a seven-stop tour, riders will travel 133.4 miles through 10 counties on their way to Dahlonega.
The sojourn marks the Tour de Georgia's steepest challenge for riders: At the end of the six-hour race - in which speeds reach up to 25 mph and riders burn up to 10,000 calories - athletes will have climbed more than 10,000 feet over Burnt Mountain, Woody Gap and Crown Mountain.
In a prepared statement, Suwanee mayor-elect Dave Williams said the tour is a "great match" for the city.
"We're excited to share what makes Suwanee a great hometown with the cyclists and spectators of the Tour de Georgia."
The Tour de Georgia is a massive, rolling event, which spans 12 host cities and showcases the world's premiere cyclists. Fifteen teams - eight members per squad - are scheduled to compete, four of which have been invited to the granddaddy of all cycling events, the Tour de France.
The race begins Monday in Tybee Island where cyclists will ride for 71.8 miles along the coast of Georgia and into South Carolina for the first time in race history.
In another historic twist, the tour will make a stop Thursday at Road Atlanta's 2.54-mile track in Braselton for team time trials. A new addition to the tour, the stage has not been a part of a major professional cycling event in the U.S. since 1986. The trial will be run in heats, with two teams riding on the hilly, 12-turn course simultaneously. Each team's eight riders will be racing, but all team members will be given the time of the fifth person to cross the finish line.
The event concludes next Sunday in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.
More than 2.8 million people have watched the Tour de Georgia since it began in 2003, according to race officials. The tour has generated an estimated $148 million in direct economic impact.
Suwanee has several race-related events planned to observe the tour's historic presence in Gwinnett. Until Thursday, residents can experience the seven stages of the tour on the Suwanee Creek Greenway as each leg of the event is replicated on the four-mile trail.
"The Tour de Suwanee Creek Greenway provides a fun way to commemorate Suwanee's and Gwinnett County's role in this year's Tour de Georgia," city events coordinator Amy Doherty said. "We hope it will give participants just a little taste of what the tour athletes experience."
A Jimmy Buffett tribute band will play Thursday at Town Center Park. Prior to the show, 100 people will be able to compete in what city officials dub "the world's largest outdoor spin class."
On race day, spectators - more than 5,000 people are expected - will have a chance to get autographs from tour athletes before the opening gun. The planned route has cyclists passing by Level Creek Elementary School, then back to Town Center Park to McGinnis Ferry Road before crossing the Chattahoochee on their way to Dahlonega. Several roads will be closed, including:
· Buford Highway between McGinnis Ferry and Suwanee Dam roads
· Suwanee Dam from Buford Highway to Tench Road
· Brogdon Road from Suwanee Dam to Tench Road
· Tench Road from Brogdon Road to Suwanee Dam
· Peachtree Industrial Boulevard from McGinnis Ferry to Tench Road
· McGinnis Ferry Road from Buford Highway to the Chattahoochee River
No spectator parking will be available at Town Center Park on race day, according to city spokeswoman Lynne Bohlman DeWilde. Free shuttle transportation between official off-site parking locations will be provided from 7:45 a.m. to 11 a.m. Parking for individuals with disabilities will be available at Suwanee City Hall, located at 373 Buford Highway.
Two off-site parking facilities will be located at:
· Church of Jesus Christ for Latter-Day Saints, located at 4833 Suwanee Dam Road
· Shadowbrook Baptist Church, located at 4187 Suwanee Dam Road
For more information, call 770-945-8996.