Curious and serious watch criterium through Belmont

Downtown Belmont transformed into a bicycle road course on Sunday for the second running of the Belmont Criterium, which organizers hope will bring attention to the small city just west of Charlotte and to healthy lifestyles.

In all, 300 cyclists participated in the criterium, which included eight races and doled out $15,000 in prize money.

Racers on bikes whizzed around the two-thirds-mile track at 20 to 25 mph as an audience of avid cyclists and curious onlookers watched.

“We’ve been promoting healthy living and active lifestyles,” said Assistant City Manager Adrian Miller. “This is a way of promoting our own message.”

Organizers scheduled Belmont’s Criterium a day after two other criteriums in Charlotte, attracting elite cyclists and weekend warriors who could save on cycling costs and still compete for prize money and points in the criterium circuit.

The Hampton Inn in Belmont was full of cyclists from Ukraine, New Zealand and Italy, Miller said.

Victoria Haney, 18, and her 15-year-old sister, Madeleine, traveled from Asheville to compete in Charlotte and Belmont. Victoria took third place at a race a day earlier in Charlotte.

“What most people don’t know is how much strategy is involved,” Victoria Haney said. “You have to go in with a strategy. Some people are better at sprinting. They’ll try to get away. ... I’m better at climbing, but I can also go out on a breakaway.”

The criterium also sought to draw attention to healthy lifestyles. Nurses from local practices gave blood pressure screenings and pre-diabetes checks to attendees. Volunteer doctors were on call to take questions from spectators about common ailments and sports injuries.