Erica Allar

Erica Allar celebrates as she crosses the finish line during the 2012 Sunny King Criterium women's pro race.

Rally Cycling’s Erica Allar, the 2017 USA citerium champion, will highlight the field for this year’s Sunny King Criterum.

The Sunny King anchors the annual Noble Street Festival and kicks off the Alabama Cycling Classic weekend, set for April 7-8. The weekend’s races also include the Sunday Piedmont Road Race.

The Alabama Cycling Classic kicks off USA Cycling’s 2018 Pro Road Tour, which Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association president Tom Nelson likened to the top minor-league rung in professional baseball. It’s just under Union Cycliste Internationale.

“UCI, which is Tour de France, would be like, in baseball, the big leagues,” Nelson said during Thursday’s promotional news conference at Anniston City Hall. “The Pro Tour is like Triple-A. It’s a high level.

“We’ve had multiple riders that have raced in the Sunny King that have gone on to the world tour and competed in the Tour de France.”

The Sunny King Criterium encompasses 21 amateur and pro races to be run on a downtown Anniston course April 7. Allar, a Sunny King regular, finished second in the 2017 women’s pro criterium.

She’s expected to bring Rally teammate Megan Heath, a 19-year-old from Alpharetta, Ga., who is considered a rising star in the women’s field.

UnitedHeathcare Pro Cycling is expected to send “a solid women’s team” for the Sunny King, according to Peloton Sports, Inc., spokesperson Jackie Tyson. The expected field includes defending champion Lauren Hall.

Defending men’s pro crit champion John Murphy is racing in Europe, but his team, Holowesko-Citadel, is expected to send six riders.

Project Echelon Racing, from Wisconsin, will bring an up-and-comer to watch in reigning NCAA Division II champion Evan Hartig.

Nelson said he hopes fans will stick around for the pro races, the final two races of the day.

“So often, we have people come, and they’ll watch during the day, and they may leave by the time the men’s pro goes off at 7:30,” he said. “That race is phenomenal, just to sit there and feel the rush of the wind when they come by at about 40 miles an hour, it’s awesome.”

Nelson called the analogy of “NASCAR on two wheels” an “understatement.”

“I call it Formula One on two wheels,” he said. “It’s a much tighter course; very, very exciting.”

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.

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