By LIBBY CLUETT
PALO PINTO COUNTY – The Iris Stagner Memorial Stage Race takes place this weekend, with around 350 racing bicyclists expected to descend upon Palo Pinto County.
On Saturday, the race happens in Mineral Wells with a Criterium around the Baker Hotel. Part of the race will travel along East Hubbard Street, also known as U.S. Highway 180 East. The two northernmost lanes of East Hubbard, from N.E. 6th Avenue to N.E. 1st Avenue, will be blocked off from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“[The criterium] is fun to come and watch, because there's lots of action. It's like NASCAR on two wheels,” said Race Organizer Andy Hollinger.
Also on Saturday, cyclists will ride a time trial, beginning at the intersection of State Highway 337 and U.S. 180 West. Cyclists will head north on SH 337, traveling one at a time, for about 7 miles, then return to the start.
Drivers are advised to take caution when traveling these routes.
“Riders should be on or near the shoulder; please give them extra space when passing,” Hollinger said.
There are a total of three stages to the Iris Stagner Memorial Stage Race, which is sponsored by Team Bicycles Inc. and the Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce. The race is named after the late Palo Pinto County employee and avid cyclist and racer Iris Stagner.
Stagner was just a few miles into a training ride on Sept. 17, 2013, when she was hit from behind by the driver of a pickup truck while crossing the Brazos River bridge on U.S. Highway 180, just west of Mineral Wells.
“She was instrumental in bringing racing to Palo Pinto County and was on the board of Bike Texas with me,” said Hollinger. “She was a wonderful person as a cyclist and person. We miss her tremendously. This race was named in her honor.”
Hollinger said there has been bicycle racing in the county for at least 10 years. He noted that this is the fourth year Team Bicycles Inc. has conducted a local stage race.
On Sunday, the race will stage at the Graford High School gymnasium. They will get a slow rolling start along Division St. and begin racing once they turn south on SH 337 to SH 254, where they will turn west. The race route continues onto SH 16 North, and travels to SH 337, and makes a second or (in a few cases) third loop.
Racers are expected in the Graford area, including the race route, between 7 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Drivers are asked to take alternate routes or be patient with the race.
Sunday's race will be aided by 15 law enforcement officers, mostly from the Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Office, and at least one constable, to help ensure the safety of riders.
Officers will provide rolling enclosures for the racers along the Graford race route. The enclosure includes a sheriff's vehicle leading and one following the race heats.
If encountering a rolling enclosure from behind on any leg of the race, drivers must wait and will not be allowed to pass.
Any motorist who approaches a rolling enclosure traveling toward them, mainly on SH 254, is asked to pull over to the side of the road and stop; the group will pass quickly.
According to a PPCSO spokesperson, in the years they have been assisting with the race, there has been minimal conflict with traffic and minimal interruption to local residents.
For more information on the Iris Stagner Memorial Stage Race, visit www.teambicyclesinc.org/MWTT09.htm.