By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Cycling returns to the Elvis Fest this morning for the first time since 2003 as Riding with the King hits the streets of his hometown.
“A lot of people are excited to have this back on the calendar,” said one of the race organizers, Joel Westmoreland. He estimates that 80 to 120 riders from around the area and region could be in the field.
“We’ll know for sure when they get here,” he said.
Circuit racing on a 3.1-mile course through downtown will begin at 10:20 a.m. and continue with several divisions of competition through early afternoon. The races will begin at All Saints Episcopal Church at 608 Jefferson St.
A four-mile time trial on a course in Sherman begins at 2:30 p.m.
On Sunday, a criterium through downtown will be staged, starting at 9:20 a.m. and continuing until early afternoon. The races will begin at the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association office at 108 South Broadway St.
Walkup registration is available before each race. The deadline for the time trial is noon today, with signup at All Saints.
The return of the Riding with the King event has attracted several professional cycling teams, Westmoreland said, including Team AeroCat from Atlanta, the Herring Gas team from Brookhaven and the Marx-Bernsdorf team from Memphis.
Several local riders will be in the field, including national road racing age group champion Debbie Milne. “We’re expecting a very good women’s field,” Westmoreland said.
The circuit course is filled with twists and turns and includes a demanding climb near Carver School. The course passes on both sides of Church Street School.
“Just about anyplace on the course will have a good view, but especially Church Street School and anywhere on Highland Circle,” Westmoreland said.
The return of the cycling event was good news for the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It’s bringing in people who are going to travel here, stay in our hotel rooms and eat in our restaurants,” said Tupelo CVB executive director Neal McCoy. “Having it this weekend also gives the cyclists an opportunity to see Tupelo and have things for them to do they wouldn’t see any other weekend.”
Race organizers were quick to praise the efforts of the Tupelo Police in helping to organize the street event.
“They’ve been great to work with,” Westmoreland said. “The roads won’t be closed, so all we ask is that people be very careful when the cyclists are on the course.”
Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522