The Sul Fiume Crit Festival was alive Saturday with the sound of cowbells and clapping as an exuberant crowd cheered determined bikers around a challenging course.

These were not the pro racers completing a stage of the Cascade Cycling Classic but a new kind of athlete — built perfectly for strider bikes, which have no pedals.

“I finished it!” declared one of the competitors, 4-year-old Lola Tenty, after completing five laps on the strider adventure course set up by the CCC organizers. She had taken a break to erect a block tower with her brother Hank and parents Han and Amy.

That was just part of the lively scene at the Sul Fiume Crit — part serious cycling event, part summertime celebration on two wheels — held near The Pavilion.

The event is touted by organizers as the crown jewel for the revamped Cascade Cycling Classic, an opportunity for young cycling fans to test their skills and get interested in competitive racing, and for families to participate in easygoing activities.

“She just really got into her bike last year so when we heard about this event, we jumped on it. We knew she would love it,” said Han Tenty, beaming at his daughter as she wrapped a sticker around the tail of a toy dinosaur.

“She was a little bit down that it was on grass. She wanted to go faster. She said she wanted to race with the pros,” he said with a laugh.

The new CCC format, with a focus shifted toward youth cycling activities, is the brainchild of Bart Bowen, a former pro cyclist who runs a sports performance studio in Bend. The new venue by The Pavilion gave the organizers more space to hold events for families compared to the previous downtown location.

“We wanted to give everyone a chance, just like the pros,” said Bowen, 52, the executive director of the CCC Youth Foundation.

“Getting more young people involved will build the grassroots needed for the sport.”

The name Sul Fiume Crit refers to Bowen’s location of choice, close to the Deschutes River and the Old Mill area. Sul Fiume means “on the river” in Italian and “crit,” short for criterium, is a type of bike race consisting of several laps around a closed circuit.

Live music provided a soundtrack for the races, a beer garden and a handful of bike vendors.

“It’s more family friendly than it has ever been,” said Karsten Hagen, regional sales manager for Giant Bicycles. “It is better for the general public than it was before. Downtown, it was harder to see what was going on.”

In addition to the festivities around The Pavilion, the day featured several long-distance bike rides for members of the community. Recreational riders pedaled as far as Redmond on a 54-mile circuit. Another group traveled on gravel roads, and there was a 6.4-mile family ride along the Haul Road Trail to Loge Entrada.

“We wanted to go on the family bike ride. We rode up to the Loge Entrada, and everyone brought their kids out. It was great. About 20 people did the ride,” said Stefan Hermannsson while watching his 3-year-old daughter Maddalena on the strider course.

But the focus of the event was squarely on the youth, as Bowen has a long-term goal of building a new generation of racers amid a declining number of road races. The day featured middle and high school kids competing in a retro RPM Grand Prix, a single-speed bike race, with four-person relay teams.

“There are limited opportunities for juniors to start the sport. They get into it through friends or family, but there are barriers for those who are not connected. There are cost barriers such as buying a bike and race entry fees. We are trying to address those barriers,” Bowen said.

The strider bike adventure course and other races for youth were free Saturday.

“There’s no cost. They can just come and try it out. Hopefully one or two of them will catch the bug and want a little bit more,” Bowen said.

The event almost did not happen. In 2017, the CCC’s previous organizers pulled out of the event — which had been the longest-run elite road bicycle stage race in the United States — due to concerns over funding and traffic conflicts.

Bowen stepped in to save the event but called off the 2018 race due to time constraints, marking the first time the event was canceled since its inception in 1979.

“This is the year to try to get the momentum back behind the event,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback so far so that gives us energy to push forward.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, mkohn@bendbulletin.com

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