Sunny King

The 22nd Annual Sunny King Criterium: Holding Court as “King of All CRITS”

Article By Abby Parks

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In its 22nd year, the Sunny King Criterium will electrify the streets of downtown Anniston, Alabama on Saturday, April 13 from 11 am till 7 pm. The SKC is a nationally ranked premier racing event featuring timed races for both professional cyclists and amateurs alike. With a reputation as being one of the best criterium races in the Southeast, the Sunny King Criterium attracts national and international racing teams and individuals to compete for titles and thousands of dollars in cash prizes. In conjunction with Anniston’s Noble Street Festival, an event that adds to the overall allure of the day-long slate of races with live entertainment, sumptuous street food, vendors, and kids events, the SKC promises an exciting and memorable time for race fans and families alike. 

The Sunny King Criterium Joins the USA CRITS

The biggest news for this year’s Sunny King Criterium is the addition of the USA CRITS to its titles, setting it up to attract even more professional cycling teams. The USA CRITS hosts criteriums that feature challenging cycling courses in historic downtown hubs across the U.S. that draw professional cyclists from all over the world to compete for thousands of spectators annually. This spring marks the USA CRITS 16th criterium, and the Sunny King Criterium has now joined its ranks as the USA CRITS premier kickoff race for their spring series. The USA CRITS WILL include a total of four competitions that will take place from April 13 through May 25:


  • Sunny King Criterium – April 13 in Anniston, Alabama
  •  SystemSpartanburg Regional Healthcare Criterium – April 26 in Spartanburg, South Carolina
  • Athens Orthopedic Clinic Twilight Criterium – April 27 in Athens, Georgia
  • Winston-Salem Cycling Classic – May 25 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina


When asked about the addition of the Sunny King Criterium to their spring series, Thad Fischer, the director of the USA CRITS, was complimentary, stating, “We like to have strong events involved, and SKC, this will be their 22nd year. They’ve always had a fantastic event, a really strong organizing committee, and very well-supported by the community, so that’s where we like our events to be.”

Marilyn Hill, who has served for 10 years as the Race Director for the Sunny King Criterium, shared, “USA CRITS is supporting us by way of bringing us athletes and marketing for the whole series, and then Sunny King Criterium is the start of that for the first time. We decided to go the USA CRITS route and give it a try to see how we fare and we’re really happy because we have a full men’s field and our women’s field is on the way to being well attended. It’s a big year.”

 Thad Fischer expressed that the USA CRITS will impact the Sunny King Classic by way of attracting more pro racing teams to Anniston. USA CRITS invites 12 male and 12 female teams to compete in their overall series. Beyond that, another 10 or more teams that can’t necessarily compete in the entire spring series, but pick and choose events, are also expected to compete in the SKC. That, coupled with Sunny King’s continued efforts to recruit riders from the Southeast and beyond, equates to even more numbers as far as participants and spectators. 

In looking forward to the SKC’s addition to the USA CRITS slate of races, Fisher added, “One of the things that helps Anniston stand out is their record, their years, their pedigree. There’s been a lot of notable winners there. From the pro categories, certainly, it’s on the bucket list to win the race in Anniston.”

Features of the Sunny King Criterium

The Sunny King Criterium holds a total of four titles in 2024: the Alabama State Criterium, the Collegiate College Championships, the USA CRITS Professional Opener, and a full slate of amateur and master categories. There will be a total of 21 events awarding a variety of titles in multiple categories, with an estimated 20 to 30 teams competing for them.


The Anniston course is a fully fenced course roughly .72 miles long that features four corners, all left turns, with an uphill finish. SKC Race Director Marilyn Hill discussed how a given team works strategically to win an overall event. “There are various things the teams will go for, and of course, the last lap is critical, and each team, depending on how the race has gone, how many riders have used up their energy for various things, then they’ll position their very best rider–their sprinter–for the very last lap.”


We asked Hill about what unique challenges the SKC course offers to amateur and professional cyclists alike. She explained,  “An uphill finish is always challenging because it’s a long drag to the finish. Riders are always surprised with how long of a sprint it is if you start from just coming out of turn 4, and it makes for an exciting finish. You see people neck-and-neck at the hill, but really it’s who can hang on and do the final kick because there’s a little bit of an undulation coming up the road on 11th.”


The Men’s Pro races are 75 minutes long, while the Women’s Pro races last 60 minutes, with the cash prize for the overall winner of each being $8,000. The Men’s and Women’s Collegiate competitions, Masters for 40+ and 50+, College Categories, and other categories will award medals and other cash prizes. The racing schedule will start with the Men’s Category 4/5 at 8 am cst and run all the way to the evening, with the final Men’s Pro race starting at 6:15 pm.  

Pro Team Spotlight: Women’s Goldman Sachs ETF

We got a chance to chat with Tish Kelly, the owner of Flamingo Racing and team Goldman Sachs ETF, a women’s pro cycling team composed of racers from the U.S., Canada, South America, and Europe. The team, founded in 2016, has changed names a few times based on their chief sponsor, but their excellence in cycling, coupled with their drive and determination to dominate in cycling competitions nationwide and beyond, has remained steadfast.


In their 9th season, Goldman Sachs ETF Racing has competed in the Sunny King Criterium 7 to 8 times. In 2019, the team placed third on the podium and came in second place in 2021. They typically take part in the Piedmont race the following Sunday in a show of support for the entire 2-day event. The SKC is one of their favorites to compete in, and Kelly added, “Marilyn [Hill] does a great job and is an awesome promoter.”


Among the cycling team’s multiple members is Canadian Olympic gold medalist Ivanie Blondin, the current world champion in speed skating.  Kelly referred to her, as well as Canadian cyclist Jenna Nestman, as two of their multiple “locomotives” who won’t be able to make it to the SKC as they will be competing in other events such as the World Cup. 


Three members of this D1 team are registered to compete in the Sunny King Criterium: Ali Lecraw (U.S.), Aubrey Drummond (U.S.), and Justine Thomas (Can). Kelly talked about how the team members are often strangers until they come together to for training and expressed how well these seasoned cyclists work together when competing head-to-head against other professional female teams. “It really matters when you put the right group of girls together. In training camp, they’re so happy. They like each other and want to do well together. It’s a team effort.”


Campbell is also very pleased that the USA CRITS has put their spring series squarely in the Southeast this year. In the past, some of the criteriums were spaced out in different parts of the country, making it difficult for her team to compete in all the races. “It’s more cost-effective as they don’t have to travel all over the country.”

How To Watch the Sunny King Criterium

The Sunny King Criterium takes place in historic downtown Anniston, Alabama, and is highly attended by residents of Calhoun County, as well as visitors from all over Alabama and outside the state. The Noble Street Festival offers in-person festival-goers food, beverages, and many additional activities to enjoy throughout the day.


On Sunday, April 17, the Sumatanga Time Trial and Road Race will offer racing categories for amateur cyclists as well as a final day of competitions for the Southeastern Collegiate Conference Cycling Championships. 


If you are unable to attend the races, don’t fret. One special feature of the Sunny King Criterium is that it is broadcast by livestream on race day from 12 pm est to 9 pm.


With less than a week until the big racing day, the atmosphere around Anniston is alive with excitement. Marilyn Hill reminded us of the SKC’s stellar reputation in the U.S. and beyond: “We hold court as the ‘King of all CRITS.’”


Make plans to be part of the Sunny King Criterium this Saturday, April 13, in Anniston, Alabama. For more information or to register, visit Anniston Cycling.

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