NASCAR on bikes: Snake River Landing hosts ‘CycleFest’

A group of riders enters the first corner at the Snake River Landing “CycleFest 2014.” The Saturday criterium was part of the new Great Western Cycling Series. The two-day event continues this morning with a circuit race. Monte LaOrange /

“Snake River Landing CycleFest 2014” made its debut Saturday and was to continue today with a circuit race.

Salt Lake City-based RaceDay Event Management hopes to make Idaho Falls a third stop in its new Great Western Cycling Series.

A criterium race, featuring elite riders earning points toward cash prizes, got things started Saturday. A criterium — also known as a crit — is held on a short course and emphasizes speed. Racers traveled over a flat, L-shaped course about a mile in length and laid out along Snake River Parkway.

“Think of it as NASCAR on bikes,” event organizer Dirk Cowley said.

McKinsie Dunn was among the spectators Saturday. The Rexburg woman was there to cheer on her husband, Weston Dunn, who was near the front of the pack as the criterium moved into its final laps.

As her husband approached, McKinsie began clapping her hands and yelling encouragement: “Go Weston, whoo hoo!” The children joined in the demonstration of support.

“They’re pretty excited,” Dunn said.

As many as 50 elite riders were expected to participate in the two-day event. A special children’s race, held before the Saturday criterium got underway, kicked off the festivities.

Today’s 5.5-mile circuit race was expected to start at 7 a.m. The start/finish area is located on Snake River Parkway near Warm Springs Road.

For Cowley, it was a homecoming of sorts.

“Growing up in Idaho Falls and working in a local bike shop, and then later in life as a racer and event promoter, I wanted Idaho Falls to see the sport that I have come to appreciate,” he said.

Bill’s Bike and Run was one of the event sponsors.

“We are focusing on supporting and bringing high quality events to eastern Idaho and could not be more excited to see an event like this come to the area,” manager Gray Augustus said in a news release. “We have a passion for sharing the sport. Events of this caliber provide an opportunity for the local athletes to experience top quality racing and exposes the community to the joy and excitement that comes with being a spectator.”

Snake River Landing marketing manager Liza Leonard hopes the event becomes an annual affair.

“Snake River Landing was built with the active population in mind. We hope riders and their supporters enjoy the beauty of what Idaho Falls and Snake River Landing has to offer,” Leonard said in the release.