More than 100 professional cyclists are converging on Beaufort this week for the sixth annual Beaufort Memorial Cycling Classic.
Their short stay will include being welcomed into residents' homes and fielding such important questions from children as, "How do you like wearing tights?" according to Donald Veitch, who coordinates the race for Lowcountry Velo.
The women's race starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday and will be followed by the men's event.
It's the third race in the USA Crits Southeast series that started Saturday in Athens, Ga. Teams compete seven times in nine days, each time in a different city.
The racers, who can pedal more than 40 mph, follow a route through downtown Beaufort along Scott, Craven, Bay and Newcastle streets. Men take 75 laps and women go 50 laps.
Beaufort Memorial Hospital sponsors the race and will give free helmets to children who participate in the kids' race at 5 p.m. on the same course the professionals use.
Here are five things you might not know about the race:
Pro cyclists aren't the most highly paid athletes. Most will make about $10,000 a year, Veitch said, so when they come to Beaufort, residents volunteer to house them.
"People are really welcoming," he said, with some families hosting the same cyclists each year.
Those cowbells are part of Crits culture. Veitch said it is a tradition from Europe, where people ring bells as cyclists ride by. Beaufort residents picked up on the tradition fast, clanging cowbells since year one, he said.
The course is set up in about two hours. Although only about six-tenths of a mile are cordoned off, setup requires stringing two tractor-trailer loads of fence. The city's roads cannot be closed until 4 p.m., Veitch said, so crews, including 10 Marines who volunteered last year, get cracking by 4:01 p.m. and work fast. Gene Dixon, who owns Swagger, a racing production company in Athens, brings the staging material, lights, fence and timing equipment to all the races in the series. Veitch said it's like watching a circus big-top being set up
Public speaking is part of the racers' duties. Two teams will take a break from race preparations to stop by Beaufort Academy and talk to students about what they do.
The educational appearances are annual events, usually at two to four schools, Veitch said. Diet, training and the thrill of racing are often discussed, and students can ask questions.
This year's race is a little "greener." A fully electric Nissan Leaf will lead racers around the course. Hilton Head Nissan is sponsoring the car, which is the first of its kind at the dealership, according to a news release. The car can go 100 miles on one charge, which means it should last through both the 45-mile men's race and the 30-mile women's event.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.
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