The Alabama Cycling Classic provides a unique spotlight for the rising stars of cycling this year, the juniors. Of the 21 multi-lap races on Saturday at the Sunny King Criterium, 10 are focused on juniors. The youngest age group is 9-10 for both boys and girls, and go up to the 17-18 age group. On Sunday, this year offers new junior categories for boys in the Piedmont Road Race, for boys in 13-14 and 15-16 age groups.
“The young men and women at this year’s Alabama Cycling Classic could become the elite cyclists to cheer in the pro races in the next decade,” said Marilyn Cullinane, owner of Start Smart Cycling, which manages the Alabama Cycling Classic. “The races continue to attract the best cyclists from across the United States, who come for a taste of Southern hospitality and a big pay day. We are proud to provide high-quality races for juniors, and a really cool vibe in Calhoun County with all the festivities.”
Two of the top development programs in the Southeast for junior cyclists plan to return to Anniston for the two-day event – FC Velo Juniors team and Mission Devo Cycling team.
FC Velo Juniors, racing in new blue, black and gray kits, has a roster of riders ranging from ages six to 18 from two states (Ga. and Tenn.). The team is operated under Promoting An Active Adolescent Lifestyle (PAALS), a section 501(c)(3) organization. Last year they had 11 podiums in junior races at the Sunny King Crit, six for boys and five for girls. Members of FC Velo Juniors have won nine National Championships and 89 National Championship medals in these disciplines.
“While the accolades are great, we strive to teach our members about the value of hard work, self-lessness and loyalty to the team,” said team director Kelli Rogan. “Seven of our graduates have re-ceived college scholarships. We are proud that many of them come back as mentors and leaders in our program.”
The Mission Devo Cycling Team, based in Atlanta as a 501(c)(3) organization, is comprised of 32 young adults in four states ranging from eight to 18 years of age. Their members come from all backgrounds and participate in road, track, and cyclocross disciplines. In 2018, Mission Devo Cycling achieved 130 podiums, with two of these top placings coming in the men’s 13-14 division of the Sunny King Criterium. The team had a total of seven Top 10 finishes in Anniston last year.
Part of the mission statement of Mission Devo Cycling is that “we can influence kids, across all demographics, to discover the joy of cycling and the healthy lifestyle that follows.” Support this season will come from Tyler Perry Studios. Look for these juniors in new racing red and black kits, emblazoned with “Tyler Perry Studios” on the front.
“A lot of our kids are from the East Point and College Park areas of metro Atlanta, and with Tyler’s production studio in East Point it was a natural fit. We are absolutely committed to bringing more diversity to cycling, especially racing, and Tyler’s support is so important on many levels,” said Greg
Latham, manager of the team and a USA Cycling certified coach. “As you know, racing can be very expensive, logistically difficult, and the learning curve is steep… so we work to create a process that’s fun, accessible, and rewarding.”
Look for these teams and many other juniors at the Sunny King Criterium, and new junior races at the Piedmont Road Race.
Children don’t have to be part of an organized team to participate on race day in Anniston. Returning for 2019 will be the Mad Dash, a one-kilometer foot race, and the YMCA Kids Bicycle Race, for elementary school children under the age of 12. NEABA and the Kiwanis Club of Anniston are also supporting the bicycle race for area children. And some of the pro cyclists serve as ambassadors on race day to make sure children cross the finish line.
“The YMCA has been actively involved for so many years. It is great for us to reach out and work with community events like this since the YMCA is more than just a gym,” said Maggie Burn Owens, President and CEO of the YMCA of Calhoun County. “We love being part of the children’s races, as it gets children outside, gets them moving. They learn how to get fit and healthy using a bicycle.”
Organizers of the YMCA Kids Bicycle Races hope to motivate children to enjoy riding bicycles and, perhaps, inspire them to try racing. The races are short sprints for the youngest age groups. Fifth and sixth graders get ride a bit longer. All participants must bring their own bicycles and helmets (required). Advance check-in will be held at Classic on Noble on race day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for participants to receive T-shirts and race numbers.
This year free registration for the YMCA Kids Bicycle Races is being offered to hundreds of children in Calhoun County, thanks to a December community program. Members of Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association, the Anniston Kiwanis Club and Key Clubs at area high schools joined forces to help assemble 260 youth bicycles that were purchased by Martin’s Family Clothing. Along with new helmets, these new bicycles were provided to children in need, ages five to 13, the week before Christmas. For all these children in Calhoun County, they are invited to use their bicycles in this year’s YMCA Kids Bicycle Races, free of charge.
“The City of Anniston dedicates resources to the Sunny King Criterium to cultivate more health and wellness initiatives locally with a focus on cycling and running. With a renewed footprint for the Noble Street Festival this year, and a strong philanthropic cycling network in the Anniston community, we are pleased that the event is still going strong,” said Jay Johnson, City Manager for Anniston.
“We are very motivated by the traction we are seeing through work by the Kiwanis Club, YMCA of Calhoun County, Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association, and our events operations team for growing the youth events this April. One of the initiatives of our Parks and Recreation Department is to foster more outside activities for our Anniston youth,” added Johnson.