Big names, big wheels rolling into town for criterium

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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May promises to be an epic month for cycling in Auburn and it all begins on May Day. A couple of legends on two wheels will join some of the top talent on one wheel next Sunday at the Sutter Auburn Faith Foundation Criterium in Downtown Auburn. The Masters field will feature “Fast” Freddie Rodriguez, one of the top American cyclists of the 1990s, along with Team Specialized teammate Larry Nolan. The criterium will also showcase unicycles. The race will serve as the U.S. National Unicycle Championship and race director Jim Northey expects around a dozen one-wheelers to hit the streets of Auburn. “It will be quite a spectacle,” Northey said. The event is the first in a series of cycling events on Auburn’s streets. On May 14 the Gold Country Century and Stage 3 Celebration will take place, setting the stage for the main event on three days later. Many of the top cyclists in the world will be in town for the start of Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California on May 17. In his prime, Rodriguez was a regular at the top tours in the world. He had a stage podium finish at the Tour de France and a stage win at the prestigious Giro d’ Italia. He was also a three-time U.S. Pro Champion. Rodriguez is now serving as a coach and mentor for the Team Specialized junior team — made up of elite riders ages 14 to 18 from all over the U.S. Nolan will also be a name to watch. He was the UCI Masters World Champion last year and is also involved as a coach with Team Specialized. Northey said he expects around 10 cyclists from Team Specialized to compete. “They’re trying to develop them into top racers,” Northey said. “They’re bringing in some of the top juniors in the nation. One day one of these people could be a Lance Armstrong.” The event, formerly called the Auburn Criterium, is in its third year of existence and will follow the same course as previous years. The race will start on Lincoln Way, heading east. The riders will follow Lincoln onto Highway 49 before taking a quick right at Borland Ave. and looping back toward downtown. Northey teamed up with the Sutter Auburn Faith Foundation earlier this year. He will give a portion of the proceeds from the event to the organization. “I wanted to keep the money in the community and donate it to the hospice program,” Northey said. In the criterium, the riders will compete to see who can complete the most laps within the time allotted. The pro men will ride for one hour, beginners will ride for 30 minutes and there are several categories in between. The unicyclists will run for 25 minutes. See the Journal later this week for more information on the criterium route and street closures on the day of the race.