The Maine Cycling Club is hosting a pair of high-profile days of racing this weekend.

AUBURN – More than 300 bicyclists will descend on Auburn this weekend to compete in more than 20 different races as part of the fifth annual Maine Cycling Club event, representing a solid growth in numbers over previous years.

“We’re fighting the fact that we’re in Maine, honestly,” said event coordinator John Grenier of Rainbow Bicycles and Fitness in Auburn. “We’re two-and-a-half hours from Boston, and we try to tell people that but they think, No, it’s got to be further than that.’ They’ll drive to Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York and never think twice about it. We have a hard sell here, but this is the fifth year for the event, and the racers that do come love it. This year, we already (as of Thursday afternoon) have 262 preregistered.”

The weekend is split in two, with the Emerson Lake Auburn Road Race scheduled for Saturday morning and the T&M Mortgage Criterium slated for Sunday, and each will feature multilevel racing for competitors ranging from beginners to the best professional cyclists in New England.

Smoothed over

The road course, a 24-mile loop that encircles Lake Auburn and Taylor Pond beginning and ending at the Auburn Land Lab on Holbrook Road, has been repaired – finally – to allow the racers to compete without the fear of falling through the cracks – literally.

“There were 4-inch deep holes,” said Grenier. “It’s easy to avoid those when you’re by yourself, but when you’re in a pack of 100 guys, and you’re the 50th guy and you’re 6 to 12 inches apart from each other, the first guy can shift around it, but the guy behind you has no chance to respond.”

But, Grenier said, the City of Auburn and the state both have been extremely helpful in pushing for the repairs in time for Saturday’s race.

“The city has really rallied behind us to make this event successful,” said Grenier. “The police department helps us with traffic, the public works department gives us the signs we need and they also went out of their way to repair some of the really bad sections of the course.”

Some of those repairs came on sections of the course that could not be rerouted. The course is different than in years past, though, which, Grenier said, should make many of the returning cyclists happy.

“There were too many hills,” said Grenier. “The guys who are really good climbers like it, but what we found is that after the first lap, the race was shattered. Guys were riding in groups of twos or threes by themselves. When that happens that early in a race, unless you happen to be in the front 20 percent of the groups, it’s not very fun.”

There is now more recovery time after some of the bigger uphill climbs, which will allow some of the better overall cyclists to stay in the race longer.

“We weren’t getting increasing numbers,” said Grenier.

Change of pace

Sunday’s races will be a drastic shift to the rigors of “stock car racing for bikes.”

“That’s basically what it is,” said Grenier. “It’s shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow through a four-corner loop. There are designated laps where there are cash prizes for the first rider to cross the line on a lap, keeps things exciting.”

Riders will use an 8/10-of-a-mile loop that uses four downtown Auburn streets and will push speeds of 30 miles per hour at their fastest. Riders will start on Court Street, facing up the hill. They will turn left on High Street, left then on Elm Street and another left on Main Street, which feed the riders back onto Court Street between the Midnight Blues Club and Gritty’s Pub.

“The crowd always loves to watch it because of the speeds and the potential for crashes, which always excites people,” said Grenier. “It’s no different than any other sport, and there’s always a crash to see.”

Some of the same riders will compete in both events, but there will likely be many different winners.

“It’s like comparing grand prix racing to stock cars,” said Grenier. “There are some drivers in one that could probably do well in the other, but they may not have any interest in it.”

Both sets of races will run rain or shine, barring any lightning.

“To the bike racers, they don’t care if it’s raining,” said Grenier. “It only matters in the equipment they bring and the clothes they wear. Anything short of 45 degrees and rain, they’re happy with it.”

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