As cyclists who commute to work know, riding through the highly trafficked areas of the Twin Cities can be intense. This week, things will be even more fast paced as the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival will be inviting both male and female pro cyclists to take to the streets and trails of Minnesota and Wisconsin for races that test endurance, speed, and precision. The event kicks off on Wednesday with the St. Paul Downtown Criterium (75 W. Fifth St., St. Paul) from 4 to 9 p.m. Racers will be able to take in skyscraper views (or ignore them completely) while making quick turns on roads both brick and asphalt. On Thursday, folks will travel to Cannon Falls (825 Cannon River Ave., Cannon Falls) for a down and dirty road race. While riders will be focusing on making good times, visitors may want to check out the nearby winery or bring a picnic to enjoy. Friday's Uptown Minneapolis Criterium (Calhoun Square, 3001 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis) from 4:30 to 9 p.m. will feature intense speeds as hordes of bikes attempt to navigate an area of town that is usually jammed with auto traffic and pedestrians. The course, which features six sharp turns, requires riders to slow down and accelerate (to speeds up to 35 m.p.h., no less) in packs without crashing into one another. Next is the Menomonie Road Race (Third Street and Main Street East, Menomonie) on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., where competitors will trek along 95- or 76-mile courses filled with plenty of hills to conquer. Finally, the festival finishes Sunday with the Stillwater Criterium (Second and Pine Streets, Stillwater) from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. This brutal race requires athletes to push their stamina to the limit as they cycle up the steep Chilkoot Hill every lap. At each leg of the event bike enthusiasts will find a sports expo with demos, vendors, and information; fun races for kids and amateurs; and more. Free. For more info, visit www.naturevalleybicyclefestival.com.
Thu., June 14, 4:30-9 p.m., 2012