NoDa Grand Prix brings cycling to arts district

Mark Barnette and his wife, Nichole, came to NoDa on Sunday to grab a burger and maybe a beer. They ended up spending hours cheering for bicycle racers they didn’t know in a sport they don’t follow.

Charlotte’s arts district was converted into a bicycle race course, with pro and semi-pro racers, as well as weekend warriors, vying for cash prizes at the NoDa Grand Prix. In true NoDA fashion, the winner of one lap in the afternoon received a gift certificate from Cabo Fish Taco.

“We just came out here to get a snack and enjoy the day,” Mark Barnette said. “Now we’ve been here for four hours. We’re taking bets on who’s going to finish the next lap first – the guy in the yellow jersey or the guy in the black-and-white jersey.”

More than 500 people in jerseys were expected to take to the course by the final race at dusk, said Chris Wooten, who called the NoDa Grand Prix one of the largest criteriums, or “crits,” in the Southeast. The course was a 0.8-mile counter-clockwise loop that included the main drag on North Davidson Street and residential neighborhoods.

He and a cycling enthusiast friend came up with the idea while having a beer in NoDa after a ride.

The money the criterium raises goes to charity, and the street closings have so far not been a hassle for businesses, he said, which make lots of money from racers and spectators who stop in for a bite.

Merchants also tried to capitalize. All the restaurants along North Davidson Street were open on Sunday and mostly teeming with customers. A woman sold jewelry to spectators. Down the street, a man sold homemade ice pops.

Wooten said neighbors don’t mind the spectacle either, although organizers closed part of six streets starting at dawn.

“It’s not too often you have bicyclists riding through your front yard.”