Their lives revolve around cycling

July 06, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

Michael White is addicted to bicycle races and has the scars to prove it.

A long scar on his right elbow was the badge he earned in a race in Fitchburg, Mass., last year. Near it is a wide ugly scrape.

"I got that in Altoona, Pa., two years ago," he said.

A small scar on his right hand was left when he fell and another bicyclist ran over it.

"I race every weekend, said White, 35, of Burke, Va., an accountant by profession.

White was one of more than 275 bicyclists who competed Saturday, the first day in the Hagerstown Trust/Clif Bar 2-day Challenge. The race was to resume Sunday at 8:30 a.m. at the Hagerstown Community College campus.

On Saturday it made a seven-tenths of a mile loop through Hamilton Lane, Forest Drive, Prospect Avenue, Oak Hill Avenue and Charles Street. The number of laps varied in the eight races held. The longest was 40 laps.


Hagerstown Police cruisers and yellow police tape blocked the race route to vehicular traffic.

"It's addictive. There's speed, danger and pride," White said. "I've been doing it for four years. I race every weekend."

It isn't the most lucrative sport. The top money in Saturday's competition was $250, medals and a winner's jersey.

"They ride for the love of the sport," said Paul Behrends, 69, of Annapolis.

Behrends started racing when he was 50. Now he's an official race referee and was the only one on board Saturday.

"The average speed is 22 to 23 miles per hour. It doesn't sound fast until you try to make a bike go that fast," he said.

Races are run by categories according to age, ability and experience, Behrends said.

The weekend competition is sponsored by the Antietam Velo Club, a local cycling club.

The competitors race in five categories according to age and ability, with 1 being the top.

Competitions Saturday included men's entry level, beginners, regional and national, women's entry and intermediate, 30- and 40-year olds and a group of racers 50 and older.

There were no serious accidents Saturday.

"We had a few skinned knees and cuts, but no one was sent to the hospital," Behrends said.

Races come three ways - street racing like this weekend's, point-to- point races and time trials, Behrends said. Street racing takes no special training, he said.

Sami Fournier, 35, of Washington has been racing for five years. She races about 30 times a year.

"There's two races every weekend in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania," she said.

Fournier said Hagerstown is a good place for bicycle racing.

"It's always a relief to come here and get away from the city," she said. "I like the small-town feel of Hagerstown. There's a lot of support here."

Norm and Judy Johnson of Lexington, Ky., were sitting in camp chairs in the shade along Prospect Avenue not far from the finish line. It was their first time in Hagerstown and their first race.

They came to watch their son, Mark, 31, of Washington compete.

"He just got into it a couple of months ago," Norm Johnson said. "It looks like a good activity, a lot of fun, exercise, sun and social life."

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