NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- A bike race that attracts professional and amateur bicyclists to the area has received approval from the Select Board to return in 2013, but organizers have opted to eliminate a downtown race and replace it with a longer circuit race.
Jim Marshall, an organizer behind the Tour of the Dragons race appeared before the Select Board this week to seek approval for the race next year. Surveys completed by participants at this year's race provided excellent feedback, he said.
"The 2012 Tour of the Dragons was a resounding success," Marshall said. "We received very positive responses across the board."
Still, Marshall said the downtown criterium, a fast-paced, short course, was seen by some businesses as a hindrance. As a result, that part of the race has been replaced, he said.
"Even with all the positive feedback, we recognize that not all of the businesses, especially in the downtown area, realized an immediate benefit from the event. Although, the long-term benefits are considerable," Marshall said.
The portions of Main Street that were closed likely made it difficult for some downtown businesses to see their usual weekend foot traffic, according to Marshall. Removing the criterium should eliminate any negative impact, he said.
Instead, a 16-mile loop through Bennington and Shaftsbury has been added. Riders will do multiple laps on low-density, residential roads, Marshall said. The course will begin at the Mount Anthony Union Middle School before continuing on Houghton Lane, Route 7A and into Shaftsbury, he said. About 50 percent of the course will be on back roads in Shaftsbury. That will be held on May 4.
Two other races that make up the weekend event will remain the same. A time trial that takes place mainly on South Stream Road will be held on May 4. Then, a 62-mile course that begins and ends in Manchester and passes through area towns will be held the following day.
The Select Board gave unanimous approval to organizers to use town roads for the race. Town officials praised the event and the changes that will be made for 2013 event.
"It seems to address all the issues that we had downtown," board member Greg Van Houten said. "I think it's a nice adjustment."
Select Board Vice Chairwoman Sharyn Brush noted the cooperation between race organizers and merchants. "It's nice that everybody could work together and find a solution for this," Brush said.
Meanwhile, Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd said eliminating the criterium is cheaper for organizers and easier on town staff that help.
"There will be a lot less that we have to do to handle both of these races than we did with the downtown criterium. So, it's going to reduce the cost to the bicycling folks because they actually paid for the police and highway help, but it's also going to put less pressure on our staff to get out there and handle this. So, we're pretty happy with the changes. I think we're ready for this event to take place," Hurd said.
Marshall said the survey indicated that about 90 percent of the racers at this year's event were from out of state. It attracted about 400 racers and 1,500 spectators. The race is now the third largest stage race in New England, according to Marshall.
The race has proven to be "a shot in the arm economically," too, Marshall said. More than 90 percent of the racers stayed overnight in local hotels and motels. More than 40 percent stayed for two nights. And, 79 percent indicated they intend to return to the area for non-race related activities, he said.