The American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania presented by Highmark Healthy High Five is a 450-mile, six-day bicycle race that begins in Philadelphia and ends at Point State Park.
The South Side will be the site for the finish line of the fifth stage of the prestigious six-stage international race that runs from June 24-29.
Rick Belloli, the executive director of the South Side Local Development Company, went over some of the particulars of the race at the most recent South Side Community Council meeting May 19 at the Brashear Center on Sarah Street.
The race, referred to as an "espoir," is a Tour de France-style competition featuring the world's top cyclists who are under age 25. The winner receives $150,000 as riders from nine international teams and 11 American teams, including the Pennsylvania Lightning, vie for prize money and prestige. Each team has six riders who will be biking in stages of sprints on city streets, speedy rides through rolling farmland and grueling climbs up the scenic Blue Mountains.
The riders are up-and-coming competitors at the beginning of their professional careers who aspire to the level of Lance Armstrong.
The tour begins with time trials at the Ben Franklin Parkway and Eakins Oval in Philadelphia. The Highmark Foundation, which promotes healthy lifestyles in children and adolescents, will have Highmark Fine Line Festivals in both cities and in towns along the route. The free events will include music and wellness clinics.
The tour is sanctioned by the International Cycling Union and USA Cycling. It will be televised on the cable network Versus (a network recently discovered by Pittsburgh Penguins fans because of its coverage of the NHL playoffs) as it moves through Downingtown, Camp Hill, Carlisle, Bedford, Latrobe and Ligonier before arriving in South Side on Saturday, June 28.
The race is one of the signature events of Pittsburgh 250, the commission marking the yearlong celebration of the city's 250th birthday. It also marks the 250th anniversary of Bedford and Ligonier, founded as forts and supply depots when the state was being explored during the 1700s.
Because the South Side-based American Eagles Outfitters is the principle sponsor of the race, the fifth stage of the race will be completed next to the company's corporate headquarters on Hot Metal Street. The riders will arrive in Pittsburgh and ride through Lawrenceville and Oakland before arriving in South Side at approximately 3 p.m. via the Hot Metal Bridge.
The riders will loop through the South Side before returning to Hot Metal Street and the South Side Works area to complete the stage. Mr. Belloli said it has not yet been fully determined what streets the riders will travel on in the South Side, but it is hoped that the course will extend at least as far as 18th Street and Carson Street where the parking lot at that intersection will have "family friendly" activities taking place. Mr. Belloli is hoping that the South Side portion of the course covers as much of the neighborhood as possible to showcase the best assets of the community.
Tens of thousands of visitors are expected to visit the South Side that day because of the bike race. Mr. Belloli said that family-related activities will take place throughout the community from noon to 6 p.m. that day.
A fireworks show and concert are slated to take place in conjunction with the Pittsburgh 250 theme and its signature race at the South Side Works that evening. However, Mr. Belloli emphasized that the day's activity of fun will wrap up at approximately 6 p.m.
"We don't want this [bike-race-related events] to turn into something we don't want it to be," said Mr. Belloli, implying that this event is not being geared toward the bar-scene crowd which the South Side has become known for under good and bad connotations.
"What will this mean to the South Side?" asked Mr. Belloli. "It is hard to tell."
However, he believes that a well-run event in a family-atmosphere will put the neighborhood and the city in a positive light among the thousands of visitors (from throughout the United State and the world) who are coming to Pittsburgh for the first time.
The race concludes the following day (Sunday, June 29) with the competitors riding 35 laps of a designated course throughout the downtown Pittsburgh streets before finishing at Point State Park which is expected to open after a $30 million, two-year renovation project.