SF Grand Prix Returns

...and so does your chance to ride the course!

After a wildly successful kickoff last year, professional bicycle racing sprints back to the Bay Area September 14 and 15. This year offers even more opportunities to get caught up in the bicycling frenzy! For those of us who make up with biking enthusiasm what we lack in speed, there will be two professional races to watch, as well as two group rides and a huge bike party organized by the SFBC.

Saturday, September 14:
SFBC Ride to the Women's Pro Race
The action starts Satuday with a 27-mile ride from San Francisco to San Rafael to watch the San Rafael Cycling Classic, one of the highest profile professional women's bike races of the year. The SFBC ride starts at 9:30am in front of McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park. We'll accommodate various riding speeds and plan to arrive at the race site in time to eat lunch or watch some of the other bike race events prior to the women's race at 1pm. After the race, people can either ride back to SF or take the Larkspur Ferry.

Sunday, September 15:
Great San Francisco Bike Ride
On Sunday the SFBC will host its second annual Great SF Bike Ride, a pre-race ride open to cyclists of all ages and abilities, starting at Justin Herman Plaza at Market and the Embarcadero. Riders will enjoy the closed streets of the five-mile circuit of the Grand Prix racecourse. Imagine racing the course on your own bike, then watching the pros do it later that same day (for 109 miles!).

Last year's Great SF Bike Ride drew more than 800 riders and rave reviews, and this year promises to be even better. The ride begins at 7am. We STRONGLY encourage people to pre-register online at www.sfbike.org. Pre-registration is $15 for riders under 18 and $20 for riders 18 and up; registration on the day of the ride is $25 for all ages. The registration tables will be open from 6:15 until 6:45am on the morning of the ride. All riders must be registered by 6:45am. Riders receive an official race bag and other treats.

Sunday, September 15:
San Francisco Grand Prix
The 2002 San Francisco Grand Prix, presented by BMC Software, will again bring three-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, his U.S. Postal Service team, and an international field of over 120 of the world's best professional cyclists to the streets of San Francisco. The race is one of ten official events on the 2002 Pro Cycling Tour.

The Grand Prix starts at 8:30am at Justin Herman Plaza at Market and Embarcadero and charts a 109-mile course that winds through North Beach, along Fisherman's Wharf, and the Marina. Halfway through the 10-mile circuit, the flatlands along the bay give way to the grueling climb up Fillmore Street. Once the riders reach the top of the steep three-block climb, they will race through Russian Hill, back through North Beach via the punishing Taylor Street climb, and back to the Embarcadero. Check out www.sfgrandprix.com for race details.

Stop by the Bike Expo at Justin Herman Plaza between 8am and 3pm on race day for cool samples and deals on bike gear.

The SFBC will offer free valet bike parking at multiple locations along the route, so come by bike and park in style.

Sunday, September 15:
Great San Francisco Bike Party
You know the SFBC knows how to throw a party. So top off your weekend of bike riding and race watching at the SFBC's Great SF Bike Party following the Grand Prix race, from 3pm to 5pm at Lavash Mediterranean Bistro, 4 Embarcadero Center, Street level. Enjoy music and fun-and great drink specials if you volunteer! Free valet bike parking provided.

Volunteers Needed! What better way to experience the thrill of the Grand Prix than to work behind the scenes with the SFBC! We need lots of volunteer help to make the weekend a success:

Major Taylor: The Fastest Man Alive by David Kimberling

As cycling enthusiasts celebrate the return of the SF Grand PRix in September, we thought it fitting to remember one of the country's greatest--yet least celebrated--bicycle racers. Step back in time with us...

It's Thursday, August 10, 1899. Bicycle racing is bigger than baseball and here at the Queens Park Track in Montreal, the band has just struck up the Star Spangled Banner. A crowd numbering almost 12,000 is cheering wildly as a twenty-year-old African American man rides the victory lap. He is Major Taylor, the new "world cycling champion" and the fastest man alive.

Marshall Wallace Taylor was ten years old when his boon companion, a wealthy white boy, gave him a bicycle. Taylor landed a job riding tricks in front of a bike store. He performed in a military uniform that earned him the moniker Major Taylor. Former bike-racing star "Birdie" Munger took a shine to young Major, hired him as a valet, and introduced him to the budding sport of bicycle racing. Right from the start Taylor showed extraordinary prowess, winning many races.

But it soon became clear that America was not ready for a black athlete in any sport. Many times after lengthy train rides to southern meets, Taylor would be denied entry to the track. Restaurants refused him service and hotels turned him away, leaving him no recourse but to get back on the train for home. When officials did allow him to race, the event was fraught with danger. Though few in number, some competitors resented racing a black man, and often a victory for Taylor would be occasioned by a post-race visit to his locker room by those with thuggish intent. Nevertheless, he persevered and in a few years rose to the top echelon of American cycling.

In 1901 he raced in Europe where he defeated national champions in England, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, and Denmark. Europe loved Major Taylor, showing him curiosity and acceptance. He also raced and won extensively in Australia. When the Major returned home, he found that new racing regulations (thinly veiled racism) made it impossible to compete effectively enough to make a living in the American circuit. For three years he didn't race, instead spending time at home with his wife and daughter in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1909 Major Taylor came out of semi-retirement with another European contract, and after a grueling season retired for good because, despite his clean living ways (Taylor was a strict teetotaler who never raced on Sundays), he was getting old for the sport and losing his edge. It was 1910 and he was 32.

To learn more about this extraordinary athlete who dominated the leading world sport of his time for fifteen years read Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer by Andrew Ritchie, still in print and also available at the library.