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Cyclists to do circles around Martinsburg

July 15, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Organizers are expecting 90 to 120 professional and semi-professional bicyclists to participate in the Martinsburg Grand Prix Criterium bike race on Wednesday evening.

They're hoping many more local people will take part in the event, either riding in the two amateur races or cheering the passing cyclists, who will circle an eight-block area of downtown Martinsburg, said Kim Reid, co-chair of the Martinsburg Grand Prix Criterium committee.

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The criterium race is the first of four legs of the Tour West Virginia Race, which has stops in Beckley and Huntington, W.Va., and finishes in Charleston, W.Va., Reid said.

Organizers hope Martinsburg will become an annual stop in the race, which they see as both a tourism tool and a quality-of-life enticement to get people to move to the area, he said.

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The city is building a name for cycling, having successfully hosted the Kmart Classic and Olympic trials in recent years, he said.

The hope is to build public participation in the Martinsburg Grand Prix Criterium year to year, said Reid, who would like to see Americans warm up to cycling as they have to soccer.

"Soccer is like cycling 10 years ago," he said.

Amateur cyclists young and old are invited to participate in races scheduled before the semi-professionals and professionals hit the asphalt, Reid said.

It's free, he said. All they have to do is show up around 5 p.m. with a bicycle and helmet, sign up and sign a responsibility waiver form.

With all four races, the event will last about four hours, Reid said. It was set in the evening to draw people downtown after the business day ends and traffic thins.

People are encouraged to come downtown, set up chairs along the route and picnic during the races, he said.

"We're trying to create a festival-like atmosphere, sort of like you'd see in Europe," Reid said.

Spectators should bring bells, horns and other noisemakers to cheer the racers European-style, he said.

The roughly 3/4-mile course starts and ends on South Queen Street, circling town by way of Burke Street, Maple Avenue and Stephen Street, Reid said.

Police will close the course to traffic during the event, which starts at 5:45 p.m. with sprint races for kids. Amateur adults can try their skill in a 10-mile race starting at 6 p.m.

Semi-professionals, licensed at levels 3 or 4, will race 20 miles starting at 6:30 p.m. The professional men's race starts at 7:30 p.m.

The pros will circle the course 60 times at about 35 mph, Reid said. Though a lot of big-name professional cyclists will be opting for the more famous Tour de France, which is going on at the same time, the professional race will feature former Olympians and other high-caliber cyclists, he said.

"It will look like NASCAR on bicycles. They'll be moving quickly. If one guy goes down, he could take 20," Reid said.

Professionals and semi-professionals are racing for cash prizes, he said.

Top finishers in the kid sprints will win bicycle helmets donated by a local business, Reid said. One lucky child whose name is drawn from all entrants' names will win a donated bicycle.

For information, call the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-304-264-8801.

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