After months of deliberation between promoters, government officials and concerned residents, bicyclists from around the world are gearing up for the 15th annual Gran Prix of Gloucester.
The race will take place Saturday and Sunday, September 28 and 29. Approximately 1,500 racers are expected to convene at Gloucester’s Stage Fort Park to participate in the nationally ranked event.
It’s all for a sport known as ‘cyclocross.’ Racer Terry Cowman, 60, who will be competing again this weekend, describes cyclocross as, “a style of riding that’s somewhere between mountain and road biking. It takes place on all kinds of terrain—dirt, grass, sand, a little pavement—and includes both man made and natural barriers that make it so you have to run with your bike. It’s a ton of fun.
(Photo by Natalia Boltukhova)
But an event that features many cyclists racing across the grass of a park can do real damage to the landscape. So said the group of local residents who complained to Gloucester City Council about the condition in which Stage Fort Park was left after the event was complete.
“Back in May [when the complaint was made], I left a meeting thinking the event wasn’t going to happen in Gloucester this year,” says the Gran Prix’s Executive and Technical Director Paul Boudreau, 47. “For a couple of months, our focus was only on the venue.”
Their focus paid off. On August 27, it was confirmed that the event would continue at Gloucester’s Stage Fort Park but on the condition that the promoters take responsibility for adhering to a list of conditions drawn by the city’s Planning and Development Committee and fulfilling a secure bond. These negotiations were well received by many individuals and groups, like the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, that wanted to see the event stay local.
“We were strong supporters of having the Gran Prix of Gloucester stay in Gloucester,” says Chamber’s Senior Vice President Peter Webber. “Our CEO even wrote a letter to Gloucester City Council in public support of the event.”
The Chamber had a stake in the City Council’s decision because of the event’s substantial contribution to tourism in Cape Ann. Thousands of visitors come to Gloucester and, as the letter states, “patronize local hotels and restaurants […] nearly all of whom are Gloucester-based.”
Having participated in eight of the Gran Prix’s, Cowman believes he understands why the event draws such a crowd.
“It’s a social event and a fun time as much as it is a competition. Almost every [cyclocross] venue will have a beer tent, food vendors, bike vendors—all kinds of stuff. It’s very spectator friendly,” he said.
In addition to the increase of racers, the number of spectators has also increased dramatically since the Gran Prix’s inception.
“We started in 1999, there were only about 150 of us, and we were just a standalone event with no spectators,” says Boudreau, who has been involved with the event since its beginnings. Now, fifteen years later, the Gran Prix’s racers and spectators fill the park to capacity and attract riders from across the United States and even parts of Europe.
“In the cycling world, if you say Gloucester, people know it,” says Boudreau. “And not because it’s a town on the North Shore off of 128. They know it because of this event.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Gordon College News Service.