TAMPA — Between this spring’s Gasparilla Criterium bike race and this fall’s 5K sponsored by the Tampa Police Department, endorphin junkies will be able to get their fix next month through another event — a duathlon combining running and biking.
The Aug. 23 Downtown Du Dash will send runners on a 5K route from the northwest corner of downtown up North Boulevard to Tampa Heights and back. The 10-mile bike race will follow a loop around four blocks bounded by Polk, Franklin and Tampa streets, and Kennedy Boulevard.
The duathlon is the latest sports event to take to the streets of downtown Tampa, which is becoming a popular venue for running and biking competitions. Beyond the streets, downtown’s parks now host weekly yoga sessions and annual dragon boat races.
“The growth and vibrancy of downtown has been incredible, and that has played a major role in our ability to bid on and host sporting events,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.
Cott Beverages, which produces private-label energy drinks, soft drinks and juices, is the main sponsor of the race. It is organized by the sports commission, which will sponsor a tailgate food festival from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. after the race ends.
To keep the duathlon racers safe, the 5K and the bike race will follow courses already laid out by the city.
And to protect against the summer heat, the race was shortened from a conventional run-bike-run duathlon by dropping the second running phase, Higgins said.
The race is also shorter in distance and will start at 6:45 a.m., about 20 minutes before sunrise.
“We’re confident that the shorter format and earlier start time will provide a safe, exciting and fun race for all the participants that choose to compete,” Higgins said.
The increase in full-time residents in and near downtown — thousands of people live there, and five residential towers are planned in the coming years — provides a ready-made audience for events like the Gasparilla Criterium, said Johnny Crosskey, the race’s marketing director.
Now in its sixth year, the criterium is a race in which cyclists pedal around a one-mile loop downtown. A key component is the thousands of cheering spectators who line the course, Crosskey said. The more people who live in the urban core, the easier it is to gather an audience, he said.
“I don’t think there are many parts of our city that feed into supporting the event in the same way,” Crosskey said.
Another bike event, the Florida State Cyclocross Championships, will use the man-made hills of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park for racing in December. It will be the race’s third time on the 1970s-era park hugging the Hillsborough River.
Even as the number of bike and foot races grows, and as the city adds bike lanes to streets in the urban core, the Tampa region remains one of the deadliest places for bikers and pedestrians. The city’s name is still attached to statistics showing this region, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, is one of the deadliest in the country for pedestrians.
Crosskey said that’s not a big issue for races, which are typically held on streets closed to traffic. But the region’s reputation can make it hard to build a broader interest in biking and running if people feel like they’re at risk doing it, he said.
The answer, Crosskey said, is to do more biking and running downtown, not less.
“The more we do stuff involving cycling, the more we have things like bike shares, the more we do to shed the image Tampa has as a place that is dangerous for cyclists,” he said.