CEDAR CITY – On Monday morning, beneath a partially cloudy sky, a field of 55 of the best female cyclists lined up for the start of the first ever Cedar City Grand Prix – a professional women’s criterium race – to showcase women’s cycling on a grand stage.
Held in conjunction with stage one of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah – one of the nation’s toughest cycling stage races – the Cedar City Grand Prix utilized the same start and finish line as the men but, while the men headed to the mountains for some high altitude climbing, the women put on a grand show of road racing skill on a course designed for speed.
The 1.2K, four-corner course saw cyclists riding for 60 minutes straight at speeds of 25-35 mph and passing the start/finish line every two-and-a-half minutes.
“It was a really aggressive race,” second place finisher Samantha Schneider, said, “it was really fast.”
This marks the second year of Cedar City hosting a Tour of Utah stage but while the start and finish are right on Cedar’s Main Street, most of the action takes place in the surrounding mountains. The Cedar City Grand Prix was created in response to the lag time between the men’s start and finish to entertain attending cycling fans and showcase women’s cycling, race public relations manager Nicky Wangsgard said.
“I felt there was a need and there was an opportunity,” Wangsgard said, “ I heard that there was lag time while the men were racing … and I proposed that we hold a women’s race to entertain the community … and they said yes.”
A former cyclist herself, Wangsgard said the biggest challenge after getting the go-ahead for the race was attracting the athletes needed to participate.
But Wangsgard came through, attracting a high caliber field of racers that included current national criterium champion, Alison Powers, who would go on to win the race.
High winds and altitude proved to be tricky for many of the riders and the field of 55 was soon whittled down as several racers dropped out within the first 20 minutes of riding.
Priscilla Calderon and her team came to Cedar City from Orange County, California, and struggled with the high altitude and winds.
“If you’re from LA, like our team is, the altitude takes effect like 10 minutes into the race,” Calderon said, “the course is very wide open, very safe, but from turn four to turn one you have a gnarly head wind.”
Calderon only completed about seven laps but said she would come back again given the opportunity and was especially grateful for the exposure this race was giving to women’s cycling in general, she said.
Depsite her strong finish, Schneider also struggled with the wind.
“It was pretty windy out so the finish was slightly uphill with a headwind so it made for a tough race,” Schneider said, “but it was super fun, it was great racing, a lot of fun to be here.”
Perhaps one of the biggest stars of the race was the setting itself as both riders and spectators alike sang the praises of Cedar City, touting its beauty and especially the friendliness of its residents.
Elizabeth Woodward, a recent transplant from California, said one of the reasons she made Cedar her permanent home was because of the way the city comes out and supports events like these races.
“I have not been disappointed with the community effort in everything they do here,” Woodward said, “it’s been fantastic.”
Schneider was quick to point out the friendly nature of the people in Cedar as well.
“I wish we could stay longer,” Schneider said, “the whole city has been very welcoming to us.”
For Calderon, coming from Los Angeles, the warm greetings and slower pace of the the residents in Cedar City came as a surprise, she said, and she couldn’t believe they would make time to talk to her and ask her about the race.
The race ended with a mad dash sprint to a photo finish with Tina Pic coming in third, Schneider in second and Powers with the win.
Overall, the Cedar City Grand Prix provided a sneak peak at the talent and prowess of women’s cycling that Wangsgard hopes to make an annual event, she said.
Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
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