AUBURN – Over 300 cyclists are expected to compete this weekend, rain or shine, in the Emerson Toyota Lake Auburn Road Race and T&M Mortgage Great Falls Criterium. But organizers are hoping to increase that number to 500 some day, and they’ve made some changes to the road race to attract more competitors to the Maine Cycling Club event for its sixth year.

“We changed it so the whole race is in Auburn, and we also made it a little less challenging,” said event coordinator John Grenier of Rainbow Bicycles and Fitness in Auburn. “We want it to be challenging, but not so hard that if a rider doesn’t do well, he doesn’t come back.”

“Everybody loved the course, but a lot of people would say ‘Well, that race is just beyond my capabilities,’ and they wouldn’t come back the following year,” he added.

Those who come back this year for Saturday’s road race will be riding a new, 11.5 mile circuit around Taylor Pond that starts on Perkins Ridge Rd. at Wallingford Orchards and traverses West Auburn, Hotel, Stevens Mills and Garfield roads before returning to Perkins Ridge and Wallinford’s for the finish. The old loop was 24 miles and encircled Taylor Pond and Lake Auburn.

“It has a little bit of everything – some good, hard climbs, some good rolling terrain and a nice, flat finish that everybody has a chance at,” Grenier said. “It’s still going to be one of the hardest races in New England. We just tried to lessen some of the climbs.”

Racers will be competing in 10 different categories, with distances ranging from 23 to 58 miles.

The first race will start at 9 a.m. Grenier recommends finding a spot near Perkins Ridge and West Auburn roads or near the apple orchards. Food will be available near the start/finish area.

The difficulty of the course tends to separate the winners from the also-rans in road racing. If you’re looking for a little faster-paced racing with a little more strategy and more potential for crashes, Sunday’s criterium may be more to your liking.

“The criterium is like a stock car race. It’s like the Daytona 500. The draft is everything. You’re only doing 70 percent of the work of the guy in front if you’re drafting” Grenier said. “You have a certain number of matches to burn in a race and it’s all about having a few matches for the finish.”

Riders have a pit area to change wheels in the event of a flat tire or collect themselves after a crash before getting back into the race.

“It’s pretty exciting. It’s four going through a corner at the same time at 35-40 MPH,” Grenier said. “We’ve got an announcer telling people what’s going on and there are certain laps with cash prizes for the first guy across, so that keeps the whole race exciting.”

The starters gun for Sunday’s criterium will fire at 8:30 a.m., commencing the first of nine races ranging from 15 to 35 laps. The 8/10-of-a-mile loop is the same as last year, from Court St. to High St. to Elm St. to Main St. back onto Court.

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