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Tales from the peloton, May 2, 2007

Success in the SouthEast

The close competition in the Roswell criterium's sprint
Photo ©: Trish Albert
(Click for larger image)

With three rounds of the eight-round SouthEast Criterium Series run and won, Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins sat down with the series' masterminds to discuss its success.

Swagger's Ravi Rajcoomar and Gene Dixon have been producing and managing America's premiered cycling events for over 20 years. Amongst those is the highly ranked San Francisco Grand Prix, Tour de Georgia, and the former USPro Championship event held in Philadelphia. They have spent the last two years focused on building the South East Criterium Series to become the eight-race points event that it is today.

"Our vision at Swagger is to produce crits across the country because we believe it's the historic US style of racing," Rajcoomar said. "Our future is focused on that: big money, big crowds and just plain 'rock and roll' style entertainment."

"Our future is focused on that: big money, big crowds and just plain 'rock and roll' style entertainment."

-Rajcoomar explains the atmosphere they are aiming for

Last year marked the inaugural year of the SouthEast Crit Series, were fans saw a battle between America's top professional men and women's teams in a series of six races, beginning in Georgia with Athens, and Roswell, heading into South Carolina's Walterboro, Greenwood, and Spartanburg before finishing in Alabama's Anniston. This year the race has increased its schedule to include two more events in Beaufort, South Carolina and ending in Decatur, Alabama.

Rajcoomar has been dedicated to improving the community's involvement with cycling while providing an electrifying series for the professional teams in North America to compete in. "It was really successful last year and great for promoting national level racing while getting the communities involved," Rajcoomar said. "The series had been a big hit but what really made it successful was the ability to put all the races back to back in close locations and it's in a great time of year on the national calendar.

A large break got away
Photo ©: Trish Albert
(Click for larger image)

"Logistic, travel and the ability for everyone to be able to race are perfect," he added. "We included two more races and had a lot more interest from other communities in the area to host races but eight was our maximum for this year."

Some 27 professional men and 15 pro women's teams are pre-registered for the opportunity to win the overall title this year. The series fits perfect into the calendar, beginning a week after the Tour de Georgia. It's no surprise that professional teams are able to send a complete and fresh team of riders to the series because American racing is at an all time high. "The majority of the riders competing here are not the same because there's a strong depth amongst teams now to have two separate teams," explained Rajcoomar. "One for stage racing and one for criterium racing. The criterium riders are the ones who come here."

The teams are encouraged to compete in all eight events for the overall title and purse but because the series is based on points they have the option selecting certain races over others. Among the 27 teams representing the pro men's field are last year's overall winner Toyota-Untied, Health Net, Colavita/Sutter Home, Kodak-Sierra Nevada and local the favourite Jittery Joe's. New additions to the series include Priority Health, Rite Aid, BMC, Kelley Benefits and AEG-Toshiba. The pro women's field includes Cheerwine, Colavita/Sutter Home, Aaron's, TargetTraining, Kenda-Tire and Advil-ChapStick.

The Twilight

Tina Pic (Colavita)
Photo ©: Trish Albert
(Click for larger image)

The history of the series opening Athens Twilight criterium has drawn crowds of over 40,000 people for 28 years. The race is held on the most popular four corners in the downtown area and is the biggest spring event in the city of the college town. "Cycling is a big sport and big event in Athens," Rajcoomar said. "It promotes college students to come out and cycling has become community driven - Athens Twilight is the Daytona 500 of what we do."

The race is held after dark to provide an unforgettable atmosphere known to riders from all over the world. It's prestige has been used as a starting point for riders to launch themselves onto professional teams. "We are really excited to have had some of the best racers ranging from Roberto Gagiolli, Trent Klasna, Gord Fraser and Tony Cruz over the past 20 years of champions," Rajcoomar said. "Anyone who is anyone in US racing has gone on to bigger things after racing Athens Twilight. It has been a race where most of our great US riders have competed in and has become home to many pro riders."

The lively city sits nestled inside rolling country roads and is called home for two professional teams: Jittery Joe's and AEG-Toshiba-JetNetwork. Rajcoomar attributes the growth of cycling to the Athens Twilight event in a direct correlation. "We view Athens as the new Boulder," he said. "A lot of it goes back to this event, Gene Dixon owned a bike store for 25 years and started the Twilight. Since then Jittery Joes and now AEG have become our local teams."

"We want people to come here and enjoy the cycling supportive life style, the riding is great, rolling hills, mountains an hour away, a fun community, everyone knows your name here if you are a bike riders," Rajcoomar explained. "There were 250 people on our local ride last week and about 30 percent were from the professional peloton, because there is a lot of racing in the South East."

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