If you go

What: Ideal Market & Twin Peaks Mall Criterium Series

When: Thursday nights starting at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Twin Peaks Mall, Longmont

More info: http://on.fb.me/15JHYqy

The heat waves rose up from the parking lot in front of what used to be Sears at the Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont as cyclists warmed up for some mid-week racing last week.

Smack dab in the middle of town, the Thursday night Ideal Market & Twin Peaks Mall Criterium Series drew some curious passersby and rubbernecking from drivers heading to Hobby Lobby, which loomed in the background around the course's first turn.

Organizers have been running the series in Gunbarrel for the past three years, but this year, race organizer Barry Lee of Sanitas Sports moved it to the low-traffic Longmont mall.

By moving the course, Lee said, the race is more interesting for participants, and Sanitas Sports was able to partner with nonprofit cycling organization Bike Longmont and Whole Foods, which will be one of the mall's new tenants as it undergoes redevelopment.

Officials with NewMark Merrill Mountain States, the mall's owner, say they plan to open the "new" Longmont mall, Village at the Peaks, by 2014.

Meanwhile, it made sense to repurpose the somewhat vacant mall for cyclists, said NewMark Merrill Mountain States regional property manager Luke McFetridge.

"We're in the unfortunate position of a primarily vacant mall," said McFetridge, who turned out to watch last week's crit. "But what that did is create a lot of opportunities to do stuff in the community that you might not be able to do in a traditional, fully occupied mall setting."

McFetridge said the company even made some improvements to the "course" -- the mall's parking lot -- to make it more bike friendly, such as taking care of some potholes and rearranging some of the parking lot's landscaping.

McFetridge said the company plans to give a nod to bikes when the redeveloped mall opens by including bike rental or bike repair stations inside or nearby.

Pro draw

On a scorching Thursday evening in June, race organizer Lee tried to lure new riders to the crit with the promise of meeting or racing with Tom Zirbel, 2013 time trial national champion and Boulder resident.

Zirbel lined up at the back of the peloton for the men's pro race, and someone from the middle shouted to congratulate him on the national title. The peloton burst into applause, which prompted Zirbel to pull his stars-and-stripes jersey out from his pocket and joke that he could wear it if they wanted. He put it back in his pocket, choosing to don his Team Optum jersey instead.

Zirbel was kept from the top stop on the podium that night by Boulder cyclist Chuck Coyle, but the two joked about the "podiums," which were actually a paint bucket, a five-gallon water container and a toolbox.

In an attempt to get more women into racing, race organizer Lee has made it free for category 4 racers; cat 1, 2, and 3 women pay just $5.

It's a strategy that seems to be working, too.

"I see women here that I don't normally see on the weekends," said cat 4 racer Michelle Mjoen, of Berthoud.

The series also has some unique primes -- cycling speak for mid-race mini prizes. Davis Wilkey, a 16-year-old Boulder Junior Cycling racer, said when he competed at the series last year, he won his first prime ever. It was a pear.

"It's really competitive, but it's not over the top," he said of the series. "And it's a great group of people racing every week. The primes are awesome because it's usually fresh fruit or something like that."

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.