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R.I. District looks ahead to Criterium

Dispatch/Argus File Photo

The Quad Cities Criterium bicycle race has been a Memorial Day weekend tradition for 31 years. This year, there will be seven races, with two new categories added -- the Juniors competition and the 50-plus men's race.

ROCK ISLAND -- A little sunshine may be what the Quad Cities Criterium bicycle race needs to grow and flourish in Rock Island's Arts and Entertainment District.

When the Criterium moved to downtown Rock Island after a long and memorable run in Moline's Olde Towne district, race officials were hoping the move would help take the already-successful event to a higher level.

Instead, Memorial Day of 1997 was marred by persistent rain and cold, windy conditions that kept many spectators away from the course.

However, look for the Quad Cities Criterium to bounce back in '98, with a little help from Mother Nature.

``The response from last year was very positive,'' race director Terry Burke said. ``The only negative, of course, was the rain, which we can't control. There is a lot of potential for the race in downtown Rock Island.''

Dan Carmody, executive director of Renaissance Rock Island, feels the Criterium is the perfect start to the District's summer activities, of which there are plenty to be enjoyed.

``We look at the Criterium as a jump start for our summer events, with the Rock Island Argus Gran Prix (karting race) closing things out on Labor Day weekend,'' he said. ``We're all real excited about the impact the Criterium brings to the District, and we're looking forward to it very much.''

The 32nd annual Criterium will be May 25. There will be seven races, with two new categories added for 1998 -- the Juniors competition and the 50-plus men's race.

Early attendance estimates for the '98 Criterium are optimistic. Anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 spectators are expected to line downtown Rock Island streets to take in the racing action.

The length of the course will be three-quarters of a mile, but the configuration will be changed to what Mr. Burke describes as an ``hourglass-shaped course.''

Last year, the Criterium followed the course laid out for the Gran Prix kart races.

``With the course the way it is now, going through the heart of the District, you'll get a lot of spectators able to see the race from the various business establishments,'' Mr. Burke said.

The Quad Cities Criterium received another boost when it was added to the Heartland Criterium series, along with Muscatine's Melon City Criterium and Burlington's Snake Alley Criterium. Other races on the Heartland circuit are in Champaign, Danville, Kankakee, Crete, and Lafayette, Ind.

``The Heartland Criterium series is a points series that runs from mid-May through the end of June,'' Mr. Burke said. ``The racers are competing for points. That should make (the QC Criterium) even more noticeable to Midwest racers.''

The Quad Cities Criterium will continue to offer top-caliber amateur and professional bicyclists, a day of fun and activities for the family and, weather permitting, a great early summer atmosphere.

``It's definitely one of the highlights of the summer for Rock Island's District,'' said Jeff Bradley, 36, of Davenport, a former professional rider who competed in eight Criteriums. ``The potential is there and the course is nice. You can see the races much better.

``With the course there in Rock Island, you get more of the sensation of speed. In the past, the crowds have been enthusiastic, everyone's had a good time and everyone enjoyed the races. The athletes love that. The Criterium is one of the biggest events of Memorial Day weekend.''

-- By Terry Duckett (January 22, 1998)

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