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Gran Prix bicycle race set for weekend

After a two-year hiatus, the Mississippi Gran Prix cycling races are returning to Brookhaven this weekend.

Race Director Richard Barker is excited about the return of the event. “This will be the 14th year we have done this. We missed last  year from a funding standpoint,” Barker said.

The racing begins Friday night in downtown Brookhaven and will move into Lincoln County throughout Sunday afternoon. Several roads will be closed from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday:

• South Whitworth Avenue from the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce to Trustmark Bank.

• West Cherokee Street from Trustmark to Farm Bureau.

• South Church Street from Farm Bureau to West Chippewa Street.

• West Chippewa to South Jackson Street.

• South Jackson to West Chickasaw Street.

• West Chickasaw to the Chamber of Commerce.

Some 125 riders from around the southern region are expected to compete for prizes from the $12,000 purse in a variety of categories. “We have a team coming form Charlotte, North Carolina, and we also get people from Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana,” Barker said.

The featured event on Friday starts at 7 p.m. It will consist of a 60-minute test of endurance through the streets of downtown Brookhaven. Some 50 riders are expected for that race with speeds reaching 40 mph.

“It’s NASCAR on two wheels,” said Barker. “These guys will be flying. What’s really fun to watch is just how good their bike-handling skills are. It is fast and potentially dangerous but it’s something to see.”

The opening event was moved downtown to pique people’s interests in bike racing.

“The venue downtown is just incredible,” said Barker. “With the town lit up, these are the type of things that draw people throughout the region to this event.”

What makes the Mississippi Gran Prix different than most races on the Louisiana-Mississippi Bicycle Racing Association circuit is that it’s a stage race, meaning in addition to cash prizes in the individual races, the top riders are competing for an overall prize based on how they fare in a series of four races over the three days.

The current races include the Friday night race downtown, a 78-mile road race on Saturday morning, a 3-mile time trial on Saturday afternoon and a 90-minute circuit race on Sunday.

“Four different races, at four different venues,” said Barker. “They are great sites. The city of Brookhaven, Co-Lin and the folks at Lake Lincoln State Park have been good to us. I’ve raced all throughout the South and we have the best venues to race in.”

As soon as the racing ends downtown Friday night, the live music begins with the first concert in the Brookhaven Summer Concert Series.