GLOUCESTER — After months of deliberation among promoters, city officials and residents on all sides, cyclists from around the world are gearing up for the 15th annual Gran Prix of Gloucester.
The cyclocross racing is set or Saturday and Sunday, with up to 1,500 racers expected to converge on Gloucester’s Stage Fort Park to participate in what has become a nationally and now globally recognized cycling event.
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,” Cowman said. “It’s a ton of fun.”
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. And they drew backing from City Councilors like Greg Verga, Joe Ciolino and Bob Whynott.
“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.”
That focus has paid off.
On Aug. 27, the council’s approval 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 council’s Planning and Development Committee and fulfilling a secure bond. But the 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,” said the Chamber’s Senior Vice President Peter Webber, adding that Chamber CEO Robert Heidt crafted a letter to Gloucester City Council as a show of 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, 15 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 128. They know it because of this event.”
Dave Hicks, a member of the Class of 2014, is a fellow with the Gordon College News Service Fellow.