Second annual Belmont Criterium race event opens to amateur cyclists

Each year, Belmont resident Matthew Spargo enters 15 to 20 amateur bicycle races scattered around the Carolinas, but he doesn’t have far to go for the next event.

On Sunday, he’ll be among the hundreds of cyclists in the second annual Belmont Criterium, which has added amateur races.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to show my family and friends what racing is all about,” said Spargo, 34, who is a member of the Modry Evergreen Racing team, sponsored by Charlotte Pediatric Dentistry. “I’m excited.”

Assistant Belmont City Manager Adrian Miller said last year’s inaugural Criterium attracted thousands of fans “even through it was 54 degrees and overcast.”

Sunday’s forecast is for sunny skies and a high of 80.

Miller said the race was moved from May to April so it could tie in with two other bike events in Charlotte – the Dilworth Criterium on Saturday morning at Latta Park and the Novant Health Invitational Criterium that evening in uptown Charlotte.

“There are multiple opportunities to race and watch,” Miller said. “These are three great venues and they’re all different.”

Sponsored by the Downtown Merchants Association and Carolinas HealthCare System, the Belmont Criterium is part of the National Criterium Calendar and sanctioned by USA Cycling.

The course is two-thirds of a mile long. Races begin and end at Belmont City Hall on North Main Street.

Amateur races run from noon until 4:45 p.m., and Miller said there will be about 300 participants.

At 4:50 p.m., 55 elementary school children on bikes will race down Main Street.

The women’s professional race starts at 5:15 p.m. and the men’s professional event at 6:15 p.m.

Miller said 200 professional cyclists are coming from all over the U.S. and such countries as Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand.

Several downtown restaurants that aren’t normally open on Sunday plan to operate on race day, Miller said. The Criterium is free, and no tickets are required.

Miller said April is North Carolina Beer Month, and several breweries from around the state will be selling food and beer at the race.

At last year’s race, people were tailgating, and “it was a party atmosphere,” Miller said, “like a steeplechase or a NASCAR race.”

Parking can be a challenge, but Miller said several churches are making their parking lots available, and the city is running a downtown shuttle from the shopping center at North Main Street and Wilkinson Boulevard.

Spargo is looking forward to his first Criterium on the streets of Belmont. But he knows it won’t be like a leisurely Sunday afternoon ride.

Hitting speeds up to 25 and 30 mph, he’ll be on the lookout for manholes and crosswalks while executing lots of turns.

“I’ll be on edge,” Spargo said, “and watching the guy in front of me.”

For more information, go to www.belmontcrit.org.