By Celia Belmonte
FAIR HAVEN – The borough is gearing up for Sunday’s fourth annual Tour de Fair Haven as more than 400 of the nation’s top cyclists are set to fly through the town’s signature streets.
“There is definitely a bicycling flair to the town,” Fair Haven Parks and Recreation Director Charlie Hoffman said. “It is great opportunity to see top quality cycling.”
Borough residents will not only get a chance to witness star cyclists square off head-to-head, but new this year, they will also be able to battle it out, neighbor against neighbor, friend versus friend, with the implementation of new spectator contests.
A $100 gift card, which can be used at any Fair Haven store or restaurant, will be awarded to the family with the best home decorations.
“There are no instructions or guidelines,” Councilwoman Susan Sorensen said. “We appreciate and understand if you live along the race route that it can be an inconvenience so we want to do something that people can have fun with.”
Decorations will be judged on how participants not only show hometown spirit, with Fair Haven celebrating its centennial this year, but also how much they have gotten involved in the race itself.
“People can go with a centennial theme or a cycling theme,” said Christine Burke Eskwitt of Full Circle Communications, which is handling public relations for the race.
The prize will be awarded to a home decorated along the race route, which has been reconfigured for the 2012 competition.
“The route has been changed into a quick circle,” Hoffmann said.
As in past years, the race will start and finish at the Fair Haven Fire Department on River Road. However, this year, cyclists will then make a right onto Fair Haven Road, turn onto Third Street, and continue onto Hance Road past Knollwood Elementary School before turning right back onto River Road.
“Every 4 or 5 minutes the racers will whiz by pretty quickly,” Hoffmann said. “So this route is a little more viewer friendly.”
Another $100 gift card will be awarded for hosting the best tailgate. The borough is welcoming tailgaters to gather at the Youth Center fields, located behind police headquarters.
“Because the route has changed, people who used to have lawn parties will not be able to see the race from their houses anymore,” Sorensen said. “We added the tailgate at the Youth Center to allow them the same opportunity.”
In addition, Coastal Décor, an interior design studio and gift shop based in Fair Haven, will donate cowbells while supplies last to spectators cheering on the cyclists as they speed past.
Also new this year will be an exhibit and demonstration of American antique high-wheel bicycles from the New Jersey Wheelmen collection.
The New Jersey Wheelmen is the state’s chapter of a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving American bicycling heritage, encouraging cycling as part of modern-day activity, and promoting the riding and restoration of cycles manufactured prior to 1918.
The collection of restored bicycles will be on display at the Fair Haven Fire Department beginning around 11:30 a.m. Dressed in period cycling gear, riders from the New Jersey Wheelmen will put on a show for spectators. People from the crowd will also be able to take an 1884 Rudge Rotary tandem tricycle from England for a spin.
“Because of the centennial, we thought it would be an appropriate flavor to add to the race,” Sorensen said.
Along with a commitment to drawing top cyclists, including a number of current and former U.S. National Champions, Tour de Fair Haven organizers are dedicated to making it a fun, family-oriented day for the community. The kids’ race, one of the event’s most anticipated activities, is slated to start at noon.
“We have had about 100 kids each of the last few years,” Hoffmann said. “It is usually really loud and there are a lot of people watching. The kids love riding under the big finishing banner.”
In partnership with The Foundation of Fair Haven, the event is sponsored by USA Cycling Federation (USCF) affiliate Cycles54, ForeFront, Inc., Saker ShopRites, and Circle BMW. With the support of these local businesses, the event will help fund new bike safety programs for residents.
“The borough of Fair Haven is adopting a ‘Complete Streets’ policy with the overall vision of creating dedicated cycling lanes that would start at the grammar school,” Sorensen said.
The race also will benefit the Fair Haven Centennial Celebration, which includes a yearlong calendar of special events to mark the town’s 100th birthday.
“Fair Haven is having one heck of a year,” Sorensen said. “Between our centennial and having an Olympian [Connor Jaeger] in our town, the whole year has been amazing. To me, you can’t ask for more in an all-American hometown than Fair Haven.”