By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — It was a celebration of all things cycling in Goshen Friday evening as hundreds of riders and thousands of spectators packed Goshen’s downtown for day one of the First Fridays I Love Goshen Criterium and Bike Festival.
The third year for the popular First Friday’s race, this year’s event was actually expanded to two days — Friday and Saturday — in an effort to accommodate the growing popularity and word of mouth associated with the annual cycling event.
“The races actually started out two years ago with just four races on one day,” said Downtown Goshen Inc. Director and event coordinator Gina Leichty. “This year we’ve tripled the event in size, so we’ve got a full weekend of activities. We have 12 total events that are happening, rides for kids, a bicycle parade, as well as several competitive races. We’ve got top level competitors coming from eight different states, so it should be really fun for both the riders and the spectators to come and check it out.”
In addition to the growing popularity of the event, Leichty also pointed to the growing popularity of cycling in general in the Goshen area as another reason behind the push to expand the annual race.
“A couple years ago Goshen was designated as a Bicycle Friendly community, and it’s one of only 190 communities in the United States to have that designation,” Leichty said. “So biking is really important to the local community, and so the decision to have a race originally was an outgrowth of just that interest that local people have and wanting to bring something like this as a real showpiece to Goshen.”
And apparently the decision worked, as last year’s criterium ended up drawing about 200 riders and more than 10,000 spectators to Goshen’s downtown.
“We like to do things well when we do something, and we ended up doing it so well that we had more riders than we really had capacity for last year,” Leichty said. “It was recommended to us that we consider expanding, creating more opportunities for junior riders as well as women riders. So we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of preregistered women riders this year, and we’re really excited about that.”
Ali Oesch, a competitive cyclist from South Bend, is one of a growing number of women competing in the event for the first time this year.
“I’m racing with our race team, Spin Zone,” Oesch said. “Spin Zone is actually the first all women’s race team in the area. We’ll probably have about seven or eight ladies on the field, so we’ll probably be the biggest presence. So I’m really excited.”
In addition to the cycling races, Friday’s festival also offered up a whimsical bike parade for attendees as well as an extensive Vendor Expo on East Washington Street. Included among the many offerings available to attendees at the Expo was the annual Taste of Goshen sponsored by the Goshen Community Relations Commission.
Julia Gautsche, a Goshen City Council member and member of the Community Relations Commission, said she always enjoys the Taste of Goshen event and its ability to introduce local residents to the diversity that is the Goshen community.
“The Taste of Goshen takes the place of the Diversity Day that we did a couple years ago,” Gautsche said. “The last couple of years we’ve collaborated with First Fridays just to encourage diversity and to show people the diversity that’s in Goshen, and of course how good it tastes. So we’ve got dishes here from Palestine, India, Korea, Spain, Puerto Rico, Amish pies and cookies... and it’s all made by people from the Goshen community.”
Also generating some significant interest during Friday’s expo was a beer garden fundraiser sponsored by the Goshen Firefighters Local 1443.
According to Goshen firefighter Corey Wortinger, while plans are to have the beer garden out at every First Fridays event for community fundraising purposes, Friday’s beer garden fundraiser held particular significance due to its connection with one of their own, Scott Thomas, a 29-year-old Goshen firefighter recently diagnosed with brain cancer.
“Scott has a young daughter and one on the way, so we’re trying to do a fundraiser to raise some money to help pay some medical bills,” Wortinger said. “He’s going to have a long road ahead of him, and we’re just trying to do what we can to help him out and make it as easy for his family as possible.”
Referencing the high number of attendees that typically swarm the downtown area during the cycling event coupled with the fact that most downtown streets are closed off for most of the day to accommodate the races, Leichty was quick to give a big shout out to the downtown Goshen merchants Friday evening for their flexibility and understanding over the course of the festival weekend.
“By holding the races right on Main Street, it does add some inconvenience for the downtown merchants, so we’re really grateful to them for being flexible, because we do know it impacts their business during the day while we’re setting up,” Leichty said. “But we also hope that the thousands of people it brings to the downtown introduces new people to their stores and overall has a positive benefit for the community.”