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Gran Prix cyclists pedal for children’s hospital funds

Brookhaven’s yearly bicycle race is headed in a newdirection.

The Seventh Annual Mississippi Gran Prix, a series of bike racesbeginning Friday in and around Brookhaven, will no longer be justabout pedaling and prize money.

The goal of the race this year, and in years to follow, will beabout raising funds for the fight against children’s cancer. Theevent’s sponsor, The Human Performance Center, has joined up withthe Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson to use theraces as a vehicle to raise funds for the hospital.

“What we wanted to do this year was team our race up with thehospital and make both of them really big,” said Human PerformanceCenter Chief Executive Officer Richard Barker, the Mississippi GranPrix promoter. “The race is a really big deal on its own, thehospital is a really big deal on its own and we want them tocontinue to grow together. Together, everybody gets more.”

For the 2008 installment of the race, the goal is to raisebetween $75,000 and $100,000 for the hospital to put towardrenovating a space for a pediatric emergency room. Barker saidBlair E. Batson Hospital for Children intends to develop up to fourentrances, separate from its regular emergency room, that wouldlead directly into the pediatric center.

“It will take around $100,000 to renovate one entrance, and ourgoal is to help pay for one of them,” Barker said.

There are several fundraising methods at play in the bike race.The bulk of the money raised for the hospital will come from largerrace sponsorships and donations, while race entry fees and localsponsorships will go toward the $12,000 in pay-outs to thedifferent race winners. The top team will receive a $5,000prize.

Barker is anticipating no difficulties in raising the targetedfunds, as the Mississippi Gran Prix has a history of success.

Barker said the race is the largest one of its kind in terms ofparticipants and pay-outs anywhere in the South. Barker said is innormal to see Brookhaven filled with cyclists from as far as Texasor Maryland, and even the Puerto Rican national team has appearedbefore.

The event is expected to be even larger this year.

“This year we have created a team atmosphere,” he said. “Inyears past, we’ve had one or two people on teams here and there andfielded about 50 riders. This year, we need at least five membersper team, and it looks like it’s going to take us up to around 80riders. It’s a pretty neat little system, and it’s allowed us theopportunity to raise money for the hospital.”

Barker believes the Mississippi Gran Prix’s new charitable endswill draw larger crowds this year, especially to the first race onFriday night, the Bank of Brookhaven Downtown Criterium. Oncefamilies and their children are there, Barker said, the racers willdo the rest.

“It’s going to be incredible – 75 to 80 guys goingelbow-to-elbow at 36 miles per hour,” Barker envisioned. “It couldbe tight down there. It’s going to be fast, fast, fast.”

Barker said the reason the Friday night downtown race wascreated was to allow the public to see it up close.

“We’ve been working for years to get people downtown on Fridaynight to really see what bike racing is,” he said. “We feel goodabout the opportunity for kids to get to see the race.”

The Bank of Brookhaven Downtown Criterium, which begins at 7p.m., will be a closed circuit track of almost one mile in length,beginning and ending at the corner of East Cherokee Street andSouth Railroad Avenue.

At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, the Denbury Resources Road Race willbegin at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and feature three laps around the25.5 mile circuit, which extends far out into the county. The totallength of the race is slightly more than 75 miles.

Saturday afternoon at 5 o’clock, the three-mile PhysiotherapyAssociates Time Trial will be held on Nola Road near Union HallBaptist Church.

Concluding the event on Sunday will be the Human Performance Co.Circuit Race, beginning at 7 a.m. at Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege.

The Mississippi Gran Prix is an amateur cycling race that servesas a part of the Louisiana-Mississippi Bike Racing Association.