Cyclists from across the country gather in St. Louis this weekend for the 29th annual Gateway Cup cycling races. The popular, four-day event takes place in four St. Louis neighborhoods – Lafayette Square, Benton Park, The Hill and St. Louis Hills – and attracts anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 fans per day.
The Gateway Cup has long been an attraction for top-level cyclists. But this year the race gained additional prestige because it has been added to the U.S.A. Cycling National Criterium Calendar (NCC), the premier series of 20 professional criterium races.
Inclusion on the NCC means internationally ranked professional cyclists are allowed to take part in the race.
“It’s kind of like the NFL,” said Mike Weiss, owner of Big Shark Bicycle Company and one of the race organizers. “The NFL cannot play against an NCAA team; they can’t play a stadium football team. The NFL plays in NFL games. And that’s what we’re producing. Some of the teams that are going to be racing, according to the rules of the sport, they’re only allowed to race in professional races.”
Criterium races are a distinct kind of competition. The race courses are one-mile laps that cyclists ride for a set period of time. The biker that goes the farthest in that time wins.
“It’s kind of like NASCAR on bike,” Weiss said. “Rather than racing something that’s as a boring oval, we’re racing shorter course with multiple laps. Typically, a professional race will be a total of 30 to 40 miles traveled in about 75 minutes. The pros are going to average between 30 and 40 miles an hour which is fairly fast given how tight some of the courses are.”
And watching the cyclists travel at those speeds, whirling around tight corners, is part of the event’s appeal. According to Weiss, the races’ locations add to the Gateway Cup’s charm.
“It’s an opportunity to take these four exceptional areas and build pro race stadium in that venue. Taking a sport that is awesome held anywhere and giving it some St. Louis flavor,” Weiss said.
Each day, there are multiple criterium races for various levels of cyclists; amateur races for men and women of all ages as well as the professional categories.
Weiss said 150 of the nation’s top professional cyclists are participating. Riders compete for $70,000 in prize money and the event’s first three days will be live-streamed online.