PLEASANTON -- A running and bicycle riding festival this Sunday, that was created as a tribute to a Blackhawk athlete with Lou Gehrig's disease, could establish Pleasanton's downtown as a stage for amateur and pro racing.
Few Bay Area cities have been eager or willing to block off downtown streets for several hours for a loop course for racers.
The all-day Safeway Fast and Furious Festival, however, was a surprising hit in its debut in Pleasanton last summer when it attracted some 1,200 racers on foot and bike and some 4,000 to 5,000 spectators. Admission is free.
Organizers say they expect bigger crowds this year with bigger racing names, bigger race purses, and more exhibits, entertainment, food and
The first of 17 races starts at 8 a.m. Sunday with a 5-kilometer fun run and walk and ends in the evening with pro men and women bicycle races with a combined purse of $10,000.
"We wanted to provide something unique with top Northern California riders racing on a course moving at speeds at 40 mph," said Chris McCrary of Danville, a co-founder of the festival. "We are trying to showcase cycling and fitness events and also what downtown Pleasanton has to offer."
Main Street and three other blocks will be closed to form a nearly mile-long course.
Spectators will get to see the racers up close several times as the competitors complete laps.
This is in contrast to races like
"There is a very festive mood when you get to see the racers that close, and all the people are lined up on the barricades," said Pamela Ott, Pleasanton's economic development director. "It creates a wonderful energy."
Ott said city officials expected a few hundred people to attend last year's inaugural event, and were surprised by the much larger turnout.
While it's too early to say if the city will embrace the festival as a permanent event, Ott said. "They're off to a good start."
McCrary and his friend Kevin Magna of San Ramon started the sports festival as a medical research fundraiser and tribute to their friend Pete Zucker of Blackhawk, who has Lou Gehrig's disease.
The three buddies trained and competed together for years in bicycle, running and triathlon races before Zucker was diagnosed in 2010 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which progressively destroys muscle control. It has no known cure.
Zucker, who regularly did training rides up Mount Diablo and qualified to compete in the half triathlon national championships, can no longer move his arms or legs or speak.
Zucker can still smile, though, as shown when he appeared for a photograph with his two friends near the Pleasanton arch that will serve as the end of all festival races.
A portion of the festival proceeds will go to the ALS Foundation.
"We wanted to do something for Pete and increase awareness of the need for more research into this fatal disease," McCrary said. "There are no ALS survivors. There is no one like a Lance Armstrong to write and speak about what's like to beat the disease."
Zucker plans to attend the festival in his wheelchair as long as he is up for the outing Sunday, said his wife Monica, who met Pete in college when they both trained for triathlons.
McCrary and Magna each have T-shirts declaring the festival is "For Pete's Sake."
"We're not trying to make a million dollars," McCrary said, "We're trying for an event that can get the community excited about health and fitness, and helping with a good cause."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff
The running, cycling and fitness festival will be held from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday in downtown Pleasanton with races starting on Main Street.
Admission is free. Spectators are encouraged to watch events from sidewalks and visit exhibits and listen to music.
For information: visit www.fastandfuriouspleasanton.com/
Events include a 5-kilometer fun run and walk at 8 a.m., a mile run at 9:30 a.m. with $2,000 in prize money, a BMX bike demonstration at 10:30 a.m., a women's pro bike race at 5:20 p.m., and a men's pro bike race at 6:30 p.m.
Main Street and other downtown streets will be closed from 2 a.m. to as late as midnight Sunday.