When Tom Zirbel took second place in the 2011 Univest Grand Prix, he had a special cheering section from Doylestown in the crowd.
Kim Rainey and Scott Nichols opened their Doylestown home to Zirbel as part of a host family program for cyclists participating in the professional bike race, which had been held in the Souderton area through last year.
Now, as the race becomes the Thompson Bucks County Classic, on a course from New Hope to Doylestown, organizers hope to strengthen and increase participation in the host family program in future years.
The goal of the program is to help racers keep their costs low.
"There are wealthy teams, with fancy schmany stuff, and I guess they stay in hotels," Rainey said recently. "But there are a lot of guys who just have regular jobs but try to do this racing, and it really helps if they can get housing."
Rainey said she and Nichols have hosted cyclists three times over the years. So when they got an email from Team Mengoni, whom they had hosted in the past, they were more than happy to open their doors again.
When Univest decided to stop sponsoring the Grand Prix in the Souderton area, race organizer and Bucks County native John Eustice worked with Doylestown and other Central Bucks town leaders to try to create a new race.
They found a lead sponsor in the Thompson Organization and won approval from municipalities from New Hope to Doylestown to plot a new course.
With all of that work to do, organizing host families for the racers didn't get as much attention this year, Rainey said. She worked with Amy Walker at Eustice's Sparta Cycling to try to find 40 to 60 beds for cyclists coming to town this weekend for the inaugural Bucks County Classic.
Eustice told Doylestown Patch on Tuesday that host families still are needed for this weekend.
"They won’t steal the silverware, are accustomed to being good guests, tend to send postcards and stay in touch afterwards," Eustice said in an email sent out through Doylestown's D-mail system. "Families with kids really love it. This program had a strong effect on keeping the race in Souderton for almost a decade and a half."
In future years, organizers probably will be shooting for about 120 beds, Rainey said.
Hosting the racers isn't much different than hosting other houseguests.
"We just provide them with a clean bed and a shower," Rainey said. "On Saturday, we'll give them breakfast, and they'll go off to the long race from New Hope to Doylestown. After the race, they usually come back to the house and clean up and rest. Sometimes we do dinner.
"They stay over, and you give them breakfast on Sunday. And then they race the (Doylestown) Criterium, and they usually blow out of town after that."
A member of the Central Bucks Bicycle Club, Rainey said meeting cycling pros from around the country and across the world is one of the best parts of hosting.
"Meeting them and getting to hear their stories is fun," she said. "When you watch the race, and you see them coming, and you’re cheering and cheering, and they’ll come over afterward and say, 'We could hear you cheering and it kept us going,' that's pretty great."
Anyone interested in hosting a cyclist is asked to email Amy Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.