MERCED -- The city of Merced next weekend is holding the 20th annual Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic presented by Mercy Medical Center.
If the name didn't tip you off, there are a lot of people involved in this event.
The four-day cycling event has become a community tradition, pulling in a dozen major financial sponsors, scores of local vendors and roughly 700 volunteers, according to organizers.
It's one of the most economically and culturally significant events in the area, said Doug Fluetsch, the Merced native who started the races in 2003 at the request of the city.
"Originally it was my way to stay involved with the sport," said the former semipro cyclist. "Now it's really more about Merced as a community. There's a large value in what the race does for Merced."
In financial terms, the event brings in about $400,000 of economic activity, according to city officials.
"The Merco Cycling Classic is one of the largest events we have in the county, and it's one of the largest races in California," said Karen Baker, development associate for Merced City Visitors Services.
With about 1,500 racers, family and support staff coming into Merced for the event, it's a big boost for local businesses, Baker explained.
Sean Williams, general manager for the Holiday Inn Express in Merced, couldn't agree more.
"It's always a busy weekend for us," he said. We're fortunate to have one of the key teams staying with us."
Boosting cycling interest
The racers come pretty well equipped, so Kevin's Bikes doesn't sell a lot of gear over the event weekend, said owner Kevin McCarthy. However, it gets the community interested in the sport, which is good for business.
"It gets the public excited about cycling," he said. "Even a month afterwards, people come in and they mention it. I think it gets people thinking about it. People get so see some equipment that they normally wouldn't see."
The event runs from Thursday through Sunday afternoon. Racers compete for $20,000 in cash prizes. The rider at the end of the four days with the best cumulative time from all events is the winner. The top 20 racers receive prize money.
Meanwhile, the races raise the city's cultural profile, Baker said. "It's brought a lot of media attention nationally and international. It puts Merced on the map."
For many years, the event was recognized on USA Cycling's prestigious National Racing Calendar, Fluetsch said. Because of prize money requirements, the Merco Classic no longer is on the calendar, but the event's reputation has been well-established.
"A typically national-level bike race lasts five to seven years," he said. "This race is one of a handful, maybe six or seven of its kind, that have lasted this long."
The event draws riders from around the world, Fluetsch said. This year, racers are coming from France, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.
On Saturday, the races are accompanied by the United Way Community Fun Fair. Held in and around Courthouse Park, the event turns into a community festival, with a variety of activities and dozens of local vender booths.
"It makes it a real hometown fair," said Mary Bigelow, director of resource development for the United Way and one of the lead organizers for the event. "It's a destination."
Activities include bounce houses, slides and a climbing wall. For the adults, there's live music and a beer garden, sponsored this year by the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
At the same time, local businesses get exposure, with more than 60 vendors expected to participate this year.