The Galion CritFest maintained its stride on the streets of Uptowne Galion despite some bumps along the course Saturday.
Cycling Sports Center announced in January of its plans to bring an all day event featuring a 5K and 10K runs, bicycle races sanctioned by USA Cycling and vendors — Crits, short for criterium, are bike races consisting of several laps around a closed circuit.
The Galion bike shop, 130 Harding Way E, had initial concerns about two months ago of obtaining enough sponsorships and vendors.
But local organizations such as the Galion Historical Society and Hempy Water of Mansfield stepped up to sponsor the festival along with the Columbus-based GNC, which also among the three vendors that set up shop in the town square. Cycling Sports Center also sponsored the event.
The inaugural festival came together like an orchestra with an ensemble several parts from the organizers to the racers to the spectators. The CritFest kept the show going for more than 150 bicyclists, Cycling Sports Center Co-Owner Troy Chipka said.
“I think we had a good turnout of cyclist,” he said. “It would be nice to get more people involved.”
The festival cost about $5,000, Chipka added. He said the bike shop reached out directly to businesses, the media and other methods to get the word out.
“We did do our absolute best to get the message out,” he said.
Among the runners, cyclists and spectators were people who lived outside of Galion and Crawford County. Leah Hurt of Mansfield was among the 32 people that participated in either the 5K or 10K run. She won the 10K for the women in 52.41.
She was also 15 weeks pregnant.
“I felt good the whole time,” she said. “It’s nice to have a 10k close to home.”
Anthony Bunt of Ashland, the winner of the 10K for the men, agreed after he finished the run in 41.42.
“I thought it would be fun to try out,” he said. “I’ll be back next year if they have it.”
Ray and Christine Niles of Maple Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, brought their sons, Zach, 12, and, Ian Niles, 10, for the event.
“We try to go to all different races,” he said.
Ian won the free kids race, followed by his brother, Zach, with Gordon Ekin of Galion in third.
Ekin’s father, Brad, said his son has been bicycling for two years.
“It’s great to get the youth involved,” he said.
Even former residents of Crawford County participated. Two brothers, Chris and Neil Roseberry, from Exeter, N.H., and Cleveland, respectively, were excited when they found out the CritFest was taking place the same weekend they were visiting their parents, Jack and Dorris Roseberry of Galion. The Colonel Crawford alumni both agreed that bringing a CritFest is a great idea.
“There was never anything like this [growing up here],” Chris said. ‘These races are very common [in New Hampshire].”
And the CritFest welcomed those who never stepped foot in Galion such as Scott Herrman and his wife Julie.
But the two were more than just the CritFest’s announcers. They were educators and advocates of bike races, informing the spectators the ins and outs of the sport; entertainers with silly stunts such as Scott popping a wheelie on a bike — he then issued a wheelie challenge for a free frosty.
The Herrmans own a bike shop in Cincinnati. Bicycling was a major part of Scott’s life with his last 15 years serving as an announcer for races including international and national competitions.
“CritFest-style racing is fast; it’s dangerous; it’s high speed; it’s sharp corners,” he said. “It’s truly American.”
Scott said Galion was nice discovery for him.
“What a cool town Galion is,” he said. “It’s sort of a hidden gem [for cycling].”
The Herrman’s also served as advertisers by encouraging people to check out Eighteen-O-Three Taproom, 123 Harding Way E, and Brownella Cottage.
Some local eateries saw some new faces. Kazue Harada of Oxford was drinking coffee from the Candi Bar, 125 Harding Way E. She came to watch her boyfriend compete in the races.
Kathy Ream of Hillard and Robin Thompson of Reynoldsburg — suburbs of Columbus — were among the family members of some racers that walked down Harding Way East to check out the shops, eateries and architecture of the uptowne. Ream came to Galion with her 16-year-old son Brian, while Thompson came with her son Jacob, 18.
“I can picture when this [city] was like 150 years ago,” Thompson said, in reference to the buildings designs.
“I’m enjoying this,” Ream said. “I wish some of these stores were open.”
But some uptowne businesses had to make adjustments for the CritFest. Accommodations had to be made for Wendy’s drive-thru as cars can only exit onto the race course. Cones and stacks of hay were used to create a makeshift lane that volunteers used to direct cars onto North Union Street.
Issues were apparent throughout the CritFest including a shortage of volunteers. At Friday afternoon, Cycling Sports Center said on Facebook that it needed 10 more volunteers for the CritFest. The shortage became apparent Saturday as traffic became the main issue of the day.
“It’s been a challenge getting the cars off the course,” said Eric Barnett of Galion, a member of the Cycling Sports Center bike team and a volunteer for the CritFest. He helped out by riding with the youth during the free kids race in the morning to watch out for any cars that entered onto the course.
Despite concerns from USA cycling officials, Galion police chief Brian Saterfield and his department worked with organizers to balance the needs of the community and of the course for the races. His department had received several calls with questions about the road closures for the races and the posted “No parking” signs on several streets.
“We knew there would be headaches,” Galion Communications Director Matt Echelberry said, in regards to the general traffic situation.
Additionally, the course was not closed off to drivers heading to St. Joseph Catholic Church for a wedding.
Chipka said the traffic issue was “not great” with cars trying to get into the course. He later said it was improving as the day continued.
The first race was scheduled at 12:15 p.m. but was delayed as two cars were parked on the course. A tow truck had to removed them from the area. Cycling Sports Center co-owner Bob Chipka became the lead driver for the races, driving ahead of the pack and using his horn whenever vehicles cross onto the course. Ron Bercaw of Canton took up the rear on his motorcycle, while serving as a motor referee. He said the traffic situation was manageable by using walkie-talkies and volunteers.
“It’s been pretty good,” he said.
But some locals hope to see improvement for next year.
“This is a phenomenal event for the city of Galion,” said Chris Stone, the taproom owner. “Hopefully, the organizers will continue to have it and encourage the uptowne diligently to have more volunteers, more citizens and more businesses.”
Reach Klein at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.