Gran Prix organizers race ready

Published 5:00 am Monday, March 30, 2009

Once again, cyclists from all over the nation are coming toBrookhaven to compete against each other, and once again, it willbe the children of Mississippi who ultimately benefit.

The Mississippi Gran Prix, now in its eighth year, will pedaloff to a three-day weekend on Friday, April 17, as a predicted 300bicyclists will gather in Brookhaven for an event designed topromote fitness, show off Brookhaven and raise money for the BlairE. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson.

Richard Barker, owner of Brookhaven’s Human Performance Centerand co-founder of the race, said the 2009 event will follow thesame path as last year’s, seeking to raise up to $100,000 for theconstruction of a children’s emergency room at Blair E. Batson.Last year, with rain dampening the event and canceling one race,the gran prix was able to furnish the hospital with $30,000, hesaid. This year, with more cyclists competing and more payout tothe winners, Barker and the racers will try again.

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“The bigger it gets, the more money is put into it and the moremoney it raises,” he said of the race. “It’s gonna be tough justbecause of the economy, but so far, we’re doing well on support forthe race and we feel like we should be able to get there. We’re waybigger than we’ve ever been, and we’re looking forward to giving[Blair E. Batson] another good donation.”

Barker said Mississippi Gran Prix organizers chose Blair E.Batson as the race’s benefactor last year because of its closelocation and long reach.

“We wanted a local charity – however, we had riders from allover the southeastern U.S. coming in to ride,” he said. “We feltlike Blair E. Batson was as local as possible and still reached outto other groups.”

Also like last year, Brandon’s Colby Barrett, an 11-year-oldcancer survivor, will serve as the race’s guest of honor. Areception for Barrett will begin Friday, April 17, at 4 p.m. atJust Kiddin’ of Brookhaven, followed by a festival at the Haventhat will feature food and give-aways. The festival’s admission is$10, and tickets will be available at the Bank of Brookhaven, JustKiddin’, Janie’s Pastry Shop, the Human Performance Center, T.H.Perkins’, Mr. Charley’s Fun Jumps and the Brookhaven-Lincoln CountyChamber of Commerce.

Once the people are fed, gifted and entertained, the races willbegin.

Mississippi Gran Prix co-founder and cyclist Frank Moak saidapproximately 300 cyclists will likely attend the event, one of themost highly-regarded races in the South.

“Right here in the South East, there’s nothing else,” he said.”We drew from 13 states last year, as far away as Arizona andConnecticut. Most of the riders will come from the states aroundus, but it pulls in more, and every year it seems to be gettingbigger. We’ll get a few who are traveling through, see the race andkind of schedule into their travels.”

Moak said he and other serious cyclists compete in 40-50 racesper year, touring a national circuit of races that includes thegran prix.

The races will begin Friday evening with the Bank of BrookhavenDowntown Criterium – widely regarded as the gran prix’s mainattraction – a closed-circuit race that will loop one mile arounddowntown.

Saturday morning, the race will move into the county with a roadrace that begins at Heuck’s Retreat Baptist Church, loops throughWesson and comes back. The road race will consist of three, 25-milelaps.

The race’s time trial event will be held Saturday afternoon,when a timed four-mile race will start at Union Hall Baptist Churchon Nola Road. The event concludes Sunday morning with aclose-circuit race around the campus of Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege in Wesson.

Close to $20,000 in prize money will be awarded to theindividual and group winners in several categories once the scoresfrom all four events are tallied, Moak said.

With cyclists, onlookers and Blair E. Batson all gaining fromthe Mississippi Gran Prix, Brookhaven itself will also be countedamong the weekend’s winners.

“The Mississippi Gran Prix is one of the finer events ourcommunity plays host to during the year,” said Brookhaven-LincolnCounty Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President CliffBrumfield. “Naturally, this gives our local business owners anopportunity to showcase their goods and services to a number oftravelers participating in the race, as well as those who come asspectators.”

For more information on the Mississippi Gran Prix, interestedpeople may call the Human Performance Center at (601) 833-1084.