Bike race zooms through town

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, April 17, 2011

Storms began to roll into Brookhaven earlier in the day, butfortunately for Mississippi Gran Prix organizers, cyclists andspectators, bicycles were the only things thundering Fridayevening.

The 10th Annual Mississippi Gran Prix zoomed through downtownFriday, once again attracting spectators, racers and visitors fromall over the south to experience the charm of HomeseekersParadise.

“It gets better every year,” said race organizer Richard Barkerof the contest. “There was a sprint to the finish, and that’s whatyou want to see.”

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About 40 cyclists competed to earn the top stop in Friday’scriterium. The contest began at 7 p.m. and bikers toured themile-long track around historic buildings during the hour-longrace.

Earning first place for the second year in a row was MatthewDavis, racing with team LaS’port out of Shreveport, La. Davis saidhe began training in February and added that this was his fourthtime to participate in Brookhaven’s criterium.

“It’s great you have this festival going on and you get somespectators out,” said Davis. “It’s great for the criterium.”

Davis was not alone in pedaling praise for the annual downtownevent.

Riders from all over expressed how much they like making thetrip to Brookhaven. Cyclists conveyed how they enjoyed the level ofcompetition, the course and atmosphere the criterium has tooffer.

“It’s a great race, well supported,” said Tria Cycling memberMichael Lackey, of Birmingham, Ala., who has been visitingBrookhaven for the past four years. “It’s one of the better eventsin the southeast.”

Barker said the hospitality displayed from the local residents,the beauty of racing downtown and the support from area officialsand the police department helped make Friday’s event somethingspecial.

“All that little stuff makes a huge difference to these guys,”said Barker.

Other Gran Prix events were held Saturday and Sunday in thecounty.

Helping to attract a larger fan base Friday and ushering in anew crowd of cycling fans, the Third Annual Mississippi Gran PrixRace Festival assisted in providing a pleasant evening for visitorsto Railroad Park.

“We had a break in the clouds. The good Lord was with us,” saidfestival organizer Joe Fleming. “I was glad with the turnout.”

Visitors to the festival met members of the Saints’ cheerleadingsquad, were able to get their faces painted, dressed up like theLincoln County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team, listened to a fewbands and enjoyed various other attractions.

“We love the atmosphere, the music’s been great,” said LeighCher Gray, of Brookhaven. “It’s great to sit on the curb, listen tothe music and enjoy the small town.”

The night even had something for children, as the firstMississippi Gran Prix Fun Run had about 70 participants, 12 andunder, race downtown. Run co-organizer Mendez Vaughn hopes tocontinue and expand the event next year.

“They were really fired up,” she said. “They all seemed to havea great time.”