Natchez to host Gran Prix in downtown area

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Weekends are famous for many laid back activities, but one of the more popular pastimes is a yard sale.

Downtown Natchez will be home to plenty of yard sales at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. They just won’t be of the clean or somber kind. Yard sales &045; otherwise known as wipeouts, spills or wrecks &045; aren’t the only reason to flood Main Street for the Mississippi Gran Prix, but they’re expected with cyclists darting around tight corners at 36 miles per hour.

&uot;(Racers are) so close to each other and going so fast that there is minimum room for error, especially when their legs start to get tired and they start to drag their feet on the pedals,&uot; said Aaron Tiffee, race organizer and owner of Natchez Bicycle Center. &uot;Depending on where you are in the pack, if you go down it might be just you or he could be the whole pack if your crammed in with a lot of racers. It can be nasty.&uot;

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More than 180 racers from as far west as Colorado to Atlantic Coast states such as Florida and Georgia descend on Natchez this evening after a long day of road racing through 77 miles in the Brookhaven area.

Racers are vying for nearly $7,000 in prize money with points being awarded at each stop during the two-day event. The Gran Prix is in its second year and is expected to replace the Natchez Bike Classic, which had been put on for the past 15 years by Curtis Moroney.

&uot;We coupled with Brookhaven last year, but it was a real low key event. We’re trying to escalate it,&uot; Tiffee said. &uot;We hope to keep going on and get bigger next year and the years after that.

&uot;Everyone who’ll compete this weekend have weekly jobs. They just compete part-time, but everything above this is considered pro or semi-pro.&uot;

Sunday’s pandemonium begins at 8:10 a.m. for the public, but the main event kicks off in the early afternoon with what are called Category 1, 2 and 3 racers.

The eighth-of-a-mile course snakes through downtown streets for a full hour with a winner being determined with an additional five laps.

&uot;Most races like Sunday’s follow a square pattern, but ours does a figure eight,&uot; Tiffee said. &uot;Curtis (Moroney) came up with that idea 15 years ago. It makes it more technical and challenging. It keeps everybody on their toes.&uot;

The start/finish line will be on Main Street between Commerce and Pearl. The players take off for the bluffs, hang a left on Wall, circle across Market and Wall and then hook a right back on to Main headed away from the Mississippi River.

A left on Pearl follows, then a right on Franklin, a right on Rankin and back to the beginning with a right again on Main.

&uot;This course has always been a favorite in the regional racing community,&uot; Tiffee said. &uot;You tend to see all the same people from each event, and they always talk about the race here. It’s a favorite among them.&uot;

Tiffee said it will be one of the larger Unites States Cycling Federation races in the southeast. The USCF is the governing body, and the points awarded over the weekend will count in its standings.

&uot;Hopefully we can get a lot of spectators out there because it’s wonderful, free entertainment,&uot; Tiffee said.