Race draws diverse field of competitors

Bicycling goes from the ridiculous to the sublime this weekend when Monday’s Metromint Giro de San Francisco closely followstoday’s Critical Mass. Expect some crossover between the two events.

“Right now, [Giro di San Francisco] is the only major [racing] event held in San Francisco,” said Metromint marketing manager Moselle Hindle. “If Critical Mass on Friday and us on Monday increases spectators, great.”

The Tour of California began in The City during its first two years in existence, but will skip San Francisco next year, while the San Francisco Grand Prix no longer exists.

Promoters have made sure that the estimated 8,000 attending the Labor Day event that begins and ends at Levi’s Plaza (Battery and Union streets) will have plenty to do besides watch the race. An expo area — featuring cycling-related vendors — will adjoin the course, along with a large children’s area, including a bicycle obstacle course.

The real action, of course, will be on the course, which will cover five city blocks in North Beach for a total distance of three-quarters of a mile, including six turns. The Giro di San Francisco is a criterium race — racers will complete several laps of a short, twisty track in a set time period — and will include men’s and women’s divisions ranking from Category 4 and 5 (weekend enthusiasts) to the professional and almost-professional racers of Category 1.

“If you’re used to watching the Tour de France, people lollygagging through the sunflowers in France, this will be different,” said rider Laurie Simonson, a Metromint team member for four years who figures to be among the front-runners in women’s Category 3. “This is pedal to the metal from the get go. That’s what makes it exciting for the spectators.”

Simonson, who won the Dunnigan Hills Road Race on Aug. 18, says the course itself is attractive to riders and spectators.

“There’s a little bit of a climb on the backside of the course, and the last two corners before the finish are super-fast,” she said.

She expects spectators to line up on the hill section of the course, “to watch the riders in agony going up the climb,” or near the last corner of the course, “to see if anyone wipes themselves out before the finish.”

Expect each race to include least three or four primes (pronounced “preems”), which are short sprints.

“They’ll ring a cowbell and say, ‘Prime on the next lap,’” said Simonson, a San Francisco environmental lawyer by day. “The first person across wins a prize. But bike racers don’t need big prizes to sprint. They’ll sprint for a jar of peanut butter.

“The challenge is to win in front of the home crowd. That’s why this race is so popular. It’s one of the few local races with such a good turnout. Everyone invites their friends and family.”

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