New kind of bicycle race for Roanoke coming to downtown

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ROANOKE, Va. Professional cyclists from around the country will race in downtown Roanoke this Saturday. Around 100 men and women will zoom past places like Texas Tavern and Lee Plaza for the first ever Virginia's Blue Ridge Downtown Twilight Criterium.

A "crit" is a lap race popular with American professional cyclists and fans. A few pros from our area will compete, including Bryan Lewis, a Hidden Valley and University of Virginia graduate.

"Exepect to see 80-100 guys cruising past at speeds 27-30 miles per hour," he says. "Bumping shoulders; it's definitely a little more of a contact sport than people understand."

Several streets will be closed Saturday afternoon and evening, including Jefferson Street from Church Avenue to Franklin Road from 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

"It's a small course. We'll get about 50-60 laps in," Lewis adds. "It's faster. It's carnage with all the turns. It's a different style but it's a lot of fun."

Lewis is a member of the Lupus Racing Team, which raises awareness for the chronic, autoimmune disease. The wife of the team's general manager has the condition. Lewis says he's proud to be a part of such a unique team.

"People will stop me on the side of the street and say, "Hey what's the deal?'" he says. "'My wife, my sister, my brother has lupus, this is really cool. Can we have a jersey. Can we get a t-shirt?'" And I really enjoy that."

Lewis races around the world wearing the purple and green Lupus Racing jersey but calls Roanoke home. He says the city is embracing his sport more all the time.

"There's more young people moving here, it's really a good town and a great place to be," he says. "I think this is just another step in that direction of being an outdoors, active, great place to live."

The fun starts with amateur races in the afternoon and then the pro races later at night.

For more information, visit www.vbrcrit.com. The race is sponsored by Virginia's Blue Ridge, the marketing name of the Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. Other sponsors include Roanoke Outside Foundation, Carilion Clinic and WDBJ7.