Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic brings cycling race excitement back to the city's downtown districts 

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Chad Hodges has some advice for fans who might be new to the world of observing cycling races: Find an inside corner to watch, listen to and feel the cyclists as they zoom past.

“You’ve got 100 cyclists coming by you at 30 miles per hour,” he said. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Hodges is founder and race director of the Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic, a multiday, family-friendly racing event that brings competitive cycling to the city’s downtown districts. The event is in its sixth year and returns to OKC Friday-Sunday.

All races are free for onlookers, but the payout is substantial for the more than 1,000 professional and amateur racers expected to compete for more than $45,000 in cash prizes at the three-day, closed-circuit-style event.

Fans and racers

The festivities kick off 5:30 p.m. Friday in Midtown with a course that takes riders through the popular H&8th Night Market food truck street festival. Races continue throughout the evening, and Hodges expects thousands of night market festivalgoers to take in the action.

“A lot of those people have probably never seen a bike race,” he said. “Then they see it and they want to come back Saturday and Sunday.”

The Pro-Am moves to Film Row Saturday. A new and improved Gran Fondo course will offer distances of 100, 60 and 40 miles for participants with varying levels of experience. Racers from all three routes merge for the final 16 miles on Film Row. Races begin for all courses at 8 a.m., and each course includes dedicated rest stops and helpful track markings.

The inaugural OKC Pro-Am Downtown Mile begins 11 a.m. during a break in the bike events. The running event presented in partnership with Red Coyote Running and Fitness features a one-mile course with separate divisions for competitive and amateur runners.

At 7 p.m. Saturday night, Elemental Coffee Roasters hosts its second annual Pro-Am latte competition, in which professional cyclists compete to pour the best latte with coaching from Elemental baristas. The public is invited to watch pro cyclers take on a challenge that is outside their element.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Hodges said. “We did it last year for the first time, and we’ve seen a ton of interest this year. Just about every pro team that’s coming will have at least one person participating.”

Automobile Alley concludes Pro-Am on Sunday. Races begin at 8 a.m. and last through early evening.

When Hodges launched the Pro-Am in 2012, it was a one-day Automobile Alley event. The race has seen consistent growth each year, building to its current sprawling, three-day, multiple-site event. Its growth can be best attributed to word of mouth and the natural excitement that comes from watching skilled pro cyclists.

“It’s one thing to be watching from across the parking lot,” Hodges said. “It’s another thing to be right there when they’re rolling by and you can hear them talking to each other.”

City spectacle

Hodges is also team manager for DNA Racing and Team Arapahoe Resources. He works with a core group of about three people and a wide array of volunteers to organize Pro-Am each year. He said his reward for the work is participating in each of the day’s races.

When he started Pro-Am in 2012, one of Hodges’ initial ideas was to highlight Oklahoma City districts through a premier racing event.

“Really, we just wanted to do something cool for Oklahoma City,” he said. “There wasn’t an event that would take you downtown to race. Most of the time if you are in a race, really anywhere, they’re often held in industrial areas, neighborhoods, parks. We wanted to do something that would showcase the downtown districts.”

Instead of taking out-of-town racers around old warehouses and industrial areas, he wanted them to see the many things OKC has become.

Hodges said the event draws professional riders from across the country. This year, an Australian team will participate. The number of registered pro cyclists increases by about 25 percent each year.

Another of Hodges goals was to bring an event that showcased active living.

“Anything we can do to promote a healthy lifestyle, the better for us,” Hodges said. “Cycling obviously does that.”

He has noticed cycling culture become more popular across the city in recent years. Organizations like Bike to Work Central Oklahoma promote an annual Bike to Work Day. Bike lanes are being more clearly defined and added to various streets throughout the metro.

“It won’t happen overnight, but it used to be you’d sit in the coffee shop and see one or two people riding bikes,” he said. “Now, you can sit in here and over the course of an hour see half a dozen.”

Top draw

There are a few similar cycling events in the region that compare to Pro-Am, but not many. Tulsa Tough attracts a large following each June. Hodges said the Gateway Cup in St. Louis and Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas, are similar.

“On a regional level, I would say we’re one of three premier races, which is pretty great,” he said. “Even on a national level, as far as events I’ve personally been to, our venues are as good or better than any of them.”

One of the things Hodges hopes to add to the event going forward is a livestreaming option online. Many other large races offer such a feature, and Hodges said it can be like a form of advertising within the cycling community.

“A lot of people tune into that,” he said. “It’s a way for people who weren’t able to attend the event to log on and watch the event and see the city. It’s a great way to showcase your city to people who were thinking about coming but didn’t.”

Still, Hodges said he is already very proud of the event as it stands today. He feels the race is on the cusp of a larger, national breakthrough if it could land the kind of corporate support that some other premier races have been fortunate enough to land.

“There’s very few things the Pro-Am is missing to be the heavy hitter,” he said. “We’re missing that one big sponsor saying, ‘Hey, we want to invest in the event [for] three years and help you grow it.’”

Visit okcpac.com.

Print headline: Life cycle, Popular Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic returns to highlight downtown districts. 

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