Imagine a road with the steep incline of Hill Street in Signal Hill, but with twice the distance. Now imagine riding your bicycle up that road as fast as you can without stopping, in the pouring rain, and having to do it 16 times over 140 miles in one day. Oh yeah, and the road is paved with cobblestones.
It’s downright excruciating just to think about. But anyone who has done it, at the annual Tour Flanders bicycle race in Belgium, will attest that there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when it’s over. The course hasn’t changed in more than 100 years, and probably never will. The area’s residents embrace the event, and biking fans live for it. The bikers themselves are willing to punish themselves to participate, all because of tradition. As a professional racer, Tony Cruz can attest to the allure of the history and challenge that Flanders offers. Now, the 10-year Long Beach resident is trying to bring some of that tradition to his hometown.
The first annual Long Beach Bicycle Festival begins today, the brainchild of Cruz and a host of city leaders and officials who in the past year have poured countless hours and resources into making Long Beach more bike-friendly. Everyone from Downtown Long Beach Associates and the Convention & Visitors Bureau to City Manager Pat West and of course, the LBCyclists, have been involved in organizing what Cruz hopes will blossom into a massive annual event. It’s his job to organize ideas and serve as an ambassador to the City’s efforts. He even brings in new ideas from around the world, snapping photos with his Blackberry as he travels from race to race. The unique biking infrastructures of places like China, Malaysia, France and Switzerland have served as inspiration for Long Beach’s plans.
“There are great ideas everywhere you go, and it’s my objective to bring some of that back to the city,” Cruz says. “We have a lot of people with great ideas to bring to the table.”
For his part, Cruz brings his knowledge of the racing world to the table. As a pro biker for more than a decade, he was a teammate of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer (who won the 2007 Tour of California that finished its final leg on Shoreline Drive). Now riding for BMC Racing, Cruz asked and was granted time away from the team in order to organize the Bicycle Festival. He’ll also compete in Saturday’s main event, the Men’s Professional Race through downtown that will start at 5:40pm.
It’s the perfect location, because Long Beach is awesome for racing,” he says, exciting for the chance to showcase his hometown to the biking world, and to introduce the biking world to his hometown. “I’ve always wanted to be involved in something like this.”
The race through Pine, Broadway and other downtown streets will be a first for the City, but it’s the weekend’s other events that may do the most for Long Beach’s biking future. There will be vintage bike collections on display, mockups of proposed biking infrastructure ideas, and safety demonstrations for kids. It’s a glimpse into the future of a city that is taking giant leaps to embrace the biking community, including plans to create a biking corridor to link downtown to 2nd Street and the introduction of Sharrow bike paths, which separate biking lanes from traffic lanes with a concrete island.
“I think people will start to recognize the commitment from the City, especially when most event promoters struggle to get their cities to do anything,” Cruz says, quick to point out the assistance that he’s received from people like Mark Bixby and Russ Roca, the city’s ever-present bicycling photographer and member of LBCyclists. Cruz has also enlisted the help of his sisters Sonia and Carla. Together, he and his team have helped implement bike-friendly practices with Long Beach Transit and are currently working on ideas for improvement with Cal State Long Beach.
Already, Cruz is having a profound effect on the way that biking is perceived in the city, and he’s always open to new ideas. Anything to improve Long Beach. After all, he rides here, too.
“My wife and I use a vintage French tandem that we just bought,” he says, describing his family’s recreational biking habits, which include a regular route from 2nd Street to the Belmont Pool, then north on Junipero and east on Broadway. He also owns about 12 other bikes, including a classic 1910 model that he plans to one day restore with his two sons. Determined not to let them collect dust in the garage, Tony installed ceiling hooks in the living room of his house and hangs four of the bikes there, an idea which was not met well with his wife (he did it while she was at work). “Our house looks like a bike shop right now,” he laughs.
It’s rubbing off on the younger Cruz’s. Tony’s youngest son Aiden, five, has already predicted victory in the Kids Race on Saturday. Two members of the Cruz racing clan may claim victory tomorrow, but if things continue to go the way that he and his team have planned, Long Beach’s biking community will be the real winners.
By Ryan ZumMallen, Managing Editor
Disclosure: The Long Beach Bike Festival is an advertiser of the LBPOST.com.
Overall Festival Description & Bike Race
Rock ‘n’ Race the Weekend Away
Recreational and competitive cycling is set to take over the streets of Downtown Long Beach for a two-day event, April 3-4, 2009. The inaugural Long Beach Bicycle Grand Prix festival and race will consist of anything and everything bicycle-related: from vendors to fashion shows, from fixed gear demonstrations to criterium road races. The event represents the launch of Bike Long Beach, an innovative plan to make Long Beach “the most cycling friendly urban city in the United States.” The festival is sponsored by the Downtown Long Beach Associates, the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency.
A Mingling of the Bike-centric
The festival will commence Friday afternoon around First Street in the East Village and will feature live music, delicious food, and the Wokcano Beer Garden on 1st Street. The momentum of the festivities will increase in anticipation of the competitive atmosphere that is certain to fill the air on Saturday. Over the course of the day, participants in seven categories will put rubber to the pavement, culminating in the $10,000 men’s pro twilight race Saturday evening. Attendees are invited to stick around after the men’s pro race to take in the Bikestation CYCLESTYLE Fashion Show, highlighting the hottest bike gear for 2009. Following the Fashion Show will be The Pro Awards Ceremony, which will take place on Pine Avenue from 7:30 – 8:00 p.m. The city streets will keep rocking into the evening hours with live music and an after-party on Pine. The revelry will include vendors, expo booths featuring local non-profits and advocacy groups, and delicious fare from Pine Avenue restaurants.
Ready, Set, Cycle!
The races on Saturday will run from 12:40 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. There are both men’s and women’s events for all skill levels and ages, and a featured Fire and Police competition. The 0.83-mile course in Downtown Long Beach starts and finishes at Broadway and Pine. A shorter course means high speeds, quick laps, and excellent viewing opportunities anywhere on the track for spectators. Races are permitted by USA Cycling and endorsed by California Bicycle Racing. The grand finale, the men’s pro twilight race, will feature 125 racers engaged in 40+ mph sprints on state-of-the-art bikes, in hopes of taking home a portion of the $10,000 purse.
Visit BikeLongBeach.org for complete details.
Event preview by Sander Wolff
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