Come September, cycling fans will have a new professional bike race to flock to - the Bucks County Classic, which organizers hope will become one of the largest events hosted in the county each year.
The Bucks County Classic will plot a course through some of the most beautiful countryside and towns Bucks has to offer: Doylestown and New Hope boroughs and Plumstead, Buckingham and Solebury townships.
The new race, which will debut this September, grew out of the ashes of the now-defunct Grand Prix. For years, that event comprised a Saturday professional race in Souderton in Montgomery County, near Lansdale, and a Sunday circuit race around Doylestown.
When it ended last year, officials started getting ideas.
"We very quickly came to the conclusion that Bucks County might be the best place for the Saturday event," Doylestown Borough manager John Davis told Doylestown Patch on Monday. "That would make it easier to seek sponsorship and work with all kinds companies and organizations in Central Bucks to create what could be one of the handful of signature events that take place in Bucks County year in and year out."
The Univest Grand Prix began in 1998 as an international, amateur-only, bicycle road race based out of Souderton. It expanded to include a second day event in Doylestown in 2003.
Held the same weekend as the Doylestown Arts Fest, the Sunday bike race around downtown Doylestown had become an important element of the borough's calendar.
So when Univest Corp. announced in November 2011 that it would end its 14-year sponsorship of the races, race organizer John Eustice started talking to Davis about ways to keep the Doylestown race alive.
They floated the idea of moving the Saturday race to Bucks County, where winding country roads and covered bridges would provide an idyllic backdrop an international-caliber professional race.
First, they had to persuade the five municipalites to work together to host the race. Davis worked that angle, talking to elected officials and staff at each municipality.
"We were just received with open arms, particularly in Plumstead, where the bulk of the cross country race will take place," Davis said. "They were overjoyed with the prospect of having it. I think it’s a great thing for the municipalities in the region to work together on an event like this."
Then they had to woo sponsors to support the race financially. Eustice, with connections in the cycling world and years of creating and promoting high profile races, spearheaded that work.
The inaugural Bucks County Classic will be Sept. 15 and 16, 2012, the same weekend as Doylestown's Arts Fest.
The race will kick off Saturday morning in New Hope with "a lot of pomp and circumstance," Davis said.
Racers will then move out into Solebury and up into the Carversville area, Davis said. After they’ve completed a number of circuits through the countryside, they'll head down through Buckingham and finish at the monument in Doylestown – which is where the Sunday race will start, the next day, Davis said.
The Univest Grand Prix was one of seven UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) races on the U.S. racing calendar, and organizers expect the Bucks County Classic to gain the same prominence.
"It will be one of five or six sanctioned races in the U.S.," Davis said. "It will bring cyclists and people who follow the sport to Bucks County. We think it’s going to fill B&B’s, bring people in to shop and expose them to all we have to offer.
"When we started planning this, we pulled out the Bucks County visitors' guide," he continued. "There’s a single page with the county’s most significant events throughout the calendar year. We felt from the get go that we had an event that would fit very well there - and we’ll have the Bucks County Classic on that page next year."