Imagine a race course filled with high speeds and sharp turns galore, with competitors sometimes inches apart as they jockey for position. While it might sound like the Talladega Superspeedway, it’s actually the streets of Birmingham’s Pepper Place for the second annual Birmingham Hammerfest Fueled by BOLT24 this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 14-15.
The free event will feature 20 USA CRITS D1 professional cycling teams from across the country that will race through the Pepper Place District on Saturday. Merriam-Webster defines a criterium as “a bicycle race of a specified number of laps on a closed course over public roads closed to normal traffic.”
Hammerfest Event Director Carrie Coleman has a more colorful description:
“They’re kind of the NASCAR of cycling,” she said. “They go extremely fast, especially the pros. They’ll go north of 30 miles an hour and they’ll put on a show.”
All of this will happen on a course that’s just two blocks long and one block wide.
“As a spectator, you’re seeing them fly by every minute or so. There’s not a lot of lull. They’re flying by you,” Coleman said.
The pro women’s D1 pro race will kick off at 6:10 p.m. Saturday; the men will follow at 7:35 p.m. For those who can’t make it to Pepper Place, USACRITS.tv will livestream those pro races. Starting at 10:50 a.m., there will be plenty of races with amateurs, juniors and hand cyclists leading up to the D1 races.
There also will be a St. Pawtrick’s Day parade and dog zone, food trucks, a beer garden and more. The family-friendly Hammer Time will happen at 4:05 p.m. Saturday and offers kids the chance to ride their scooters or bikes on the closed course in the Lil’ Shamrock ride.
The first Hammerfest took place St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 2019, which had been the plan for 2020 and this year. COVID-19 changed those plans, canceling last year’s event and postponing this year’s until August.
Saturday’s hand cyclist race at 5:20 p.m., sponsored by Alabama Power, is the result of Hammerfest’s first partnership between the Alabama Sports Council and the Lakeshore Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is “to encourage and provide opportunities for people with disability to live a healthy lifestyle through activity, research, advocacy and health promotion.” The foundation’s Homewood facility hosts nearly 100 aquatic, fitness and recreation programs, 20 research projects, 14 local, national and global advocacy initiatives, and 12 competitive sports and serves as an Olympic and Paralympic training site.
“What better way to expand this event than partnering with an internationally renowned organization such as Lakeshore,” Coleman said in a news release announcing the partnership. “We wholeheartedly support their mission to provide opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities to be active and look forward to providing funds for that mission and becoming more inclusive.”
Outgoing Lakeshore President and CEO Jeff Underwood said, “We are excited to join with Alabama Sports Council in expanding the scope of Hammerfest to include a hand cycle division and in creating a more accessible event. This is a great opportunity to introduce Birmingham to the exciting sport of Para cycling, or hand cycling, and to ensure that more people have access to recreational and sporting opportunities.”
Sunday’s Hammer Rides offer the opportunity for amateur riders to help the Lakeshore Foundation at the same time they get to ride with the pros. The free 30- and 60-mile supported rides begin and end at Cahaba Brewing Company and are led by USA CRITS D1 teams and former world tour pro Frankie Andreu. The rides begin at 8 a.m. and are for all level of cyclists, who become a fundraiser for Lakeshore Foundation when they register. There are five levels of fundraising with incentives for each level.
Registration for races and the Hammer Rides closes Friday at 9 a.m. For more information about Hammerfest, click here.