Pedaling even in puddles

March 6, 2010 

After 16 years of planning the MERCO Credit Union Cycling Classic's Downtown Grand Prix, an unfavorable weather report for today's race doesn't cause race founder Doug Fluetsch to even bat an eye.

Rain or shine, the show must go on.

And it will.

"Long ago I learned to just prepare for rain, no matter what," Fluetsch said. "It makes the set up and take down miserable, but no matter what, the race will happen."

It's going to take more than a little rain to keep 2,000 cyclists from descending upon the streets of Merced for what has become the unofficial kickoff to the U.S. cycling season.

The action gets underway today with the juniors race for 15- to 18-year-olds, starting at 7:30 a.m. at Courthouse Park. The Downtown Grand Prix consists of eight races, concluding with the men's elite pro race at 2:30 p.m.

The riders race around a 0.8-mile course for anywhere from 20 to 40 miles. The course provides hairpin turns, big crashes and wild sprints to the finish.

Rain could add a whole new element.

"The rain just makes it a mess," said Atwater teacher and Third Pillar team rider Charlotte Hart. "You're already packed in like sardines with 50 riders around you, taking sharp turns at full speed. If it's really wet, it'll be like an ice rink out there.

"You don't know what to expect because for most of us it's the first race of the season. People may take the weather into account and go a little easier.

"If they push it, however, the number of crashes could double."

The races aren't the only part of the Downtown Grand Prix that will carry on rain or shine. Fluetsch has increased the number of bounce houses to eight, there will be a rock climbing wall for the first time and the usual assortment of food and community booths will be available.

The only thing in jeopardy of the rain is the live band.

"We take as much pride in making this a first-rate community event as we do in putting on a professional race," Fluetsch said. "This is a truly unique experience for the people in Merced and over the years they've really embraced it.

"We have a top-notch lineup once again and those that turn out should be given an excellent show."

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