The goal was to create something unique in downtown Fresno that would attract runners and cyclists from throughout the state.
With a month to go, the Eye-Q California Classic Weekend appears to be doing just that.
Composed of four events over two days, the California Classic Weekend on May 21-22 combines a century ride, a half marathon, a criterium and a kids marathon.
"For each event I wanted to do something you don't normally see – here in Fresno or anywhere else," said Mike Herman, the Classic's director and chief financial officer of Eye-Q Vision Care.
It all starts with the Fresno Classic Century, a 100-mile bike ride through Fresno and the surrounding foothills. (Shorter 62- and 35-mile rides are also offered.)
Not only does the ride start and finish downtown at Chukchansi Park, but it also makes use of Highway 168. The freeway will be closed to vehicular traffic from McKinley Avenue to Shepherd Avenue on the morning of the event – a distance of 10 miles.
To make that happen, Herman had to jump through numerous hoops placed in front of him by Caltrans and other government agencies, including a $5 million insurance bond, traffic controls, guaranteed law enforcement presence and various permits and resolutions from Fresno, Clovis and Fresno County.
"I'm told this is the first time a California freeway has been closed for a bike ride," Herman said.
The Fresno Classic Half Marathon also starts and finishes at Chukchansi Park and tours downtown Fresno before passing through Chaffee Zoo and the Tower District.
After entering Chaffee Zoo via Belmont Avenue, runners will make their way past kangaroos, alligators, giraffes and orangutans. If that's not wild enough, zoo director Scott Barton said a few animals, probably owls, hawks and llamas, will be taken out of their enclosures and brought closer to the course. (The zoo is closed the day of the race.)
"I don't think many zoos do this, and we might be the only one," Barton said. "It's kind of a cool concept."
Kyle Cirrincione, manager of Sierra Running Company in Fresno, said buzz about the race is building.
"People are excited about having another half marathon in Fresno and getting to run in an area of town that they normally wouldn't run through," Cirrincione said.
The Fresno Classic Twilight Criterium will start and finish in front of City Hall as riders race around a 0.86-mile course through the streets of downtown Fresno. Local cycling teams as well as some of the top amateur teams from throughout the state are expected to attend.
The Fresno Classic Kids Marathon isn't a 26.2-mile race. Rather, first- through eighth-graders will complete only the final mile after running the first 25.2 in shorter increments prior to the event.
Advance registration for the California Classic Weekend has gone so well that Herman expects both the century and half marathon to sell out by the second week of May. He said 52% of those who have registered are from outside of Fresno.
"I'm sensing excitement and a little bit of disbelief," Herman said. "I get half a dozen emails a day from people who can't believe we're closing a freeway or running through the zoo."