What started as a small, single-race fundraiser for a local nonprofit two years ago, has evolved into a three-day, four-stage premier cycling event in the central San Joaquin Valley.
The newly christened Off The Front Omnium is scheduled for March 20-22 at various locations around the Valley.
For those unfamiliar with Off The Front, it’s a nonprofit that partners with local elementary schools to reward successful fourth graders with new bicycles, helmets and other gear in return for good grades and perfect attendance.
Second-year race director Steve Grusis beefed up the annual fundraiser ride in hopes of also creating one of the only stage races in the area.
“My vision is to make this a lead-in race for larger, more competitive stage races,” Grusis said.
“I’m hoping licensed riders will look at this as a training race for bigger events like the Tour de California and Redlands Classic.”
Nearly 130 cyclists participated in last year’s two-day, three-race event. This year, Grusis expects upward of 200, including many from out of the area.
An omnium combines different styles of races into a competition that allows riders to accrue points based on how quickly they finish.
“It’s kind of like the Tour de France,” he said. “It’s a different type of competition.”
Unlike the Tour de France, omnium participants don’t have to finish the first stage before going on to the next.
Cyclists can choose which races they want compete in, though racing in all four offers the best chance to finish on the podium.
The OTF Omnium kicks off with a 16-mile time-trial ride in Tivy Valley, just below Pine Flat Lake on March 20. It’s the longest course of the four events and showcases the eastside of the central San Joaquin Valley.
The second and third races will spotlight the rolling foothills east of Millerton Lake, with two courses designed inside the Granville Homes’ Ventana Hills community.
One race is a 1.2-mile point-to-point time trial on the newly paved Ventana Hills Road. It may sound easy at first, but the course ends with a grueling .4-mile uphill stretch to the finish. The second is a 1.9-mile circuit race that takes one full lap on the same road through the gated community.
The Omnium wraps up March 22 with a 1-mile criterium on the streets of Chowchilla. Unlike the other three races leading up to that point, the Chowchilla Criterium is completely flat and therefore allows cyclists to fly to the finish.
Registration costs vary by race. Children ages 3 to 9 years old are allowed to ride free in the circuit race March 22.
For details, visit www.otfrace.com.