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(Spokes)persons for the sport

Bicycle racers like a blur as they race through city's North End for prizes and raise money for nonprofits

Bicycle racers like a blur as they race through city's North End for prizes and raise money for nonprofits

July 08, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN-It was a moment both frenzied and poetic.

Twenty riders leaned over the handlebars of their high-tech bikes, their bodies nearly parallel to the ground.

Heading into a curve, they defied gravity, swooping into the straightaway as though catapulted by an invisible force.

And when they flew past in a colorful row, their wheels a gleaming blur, it was an image to behold.

This is the world of bicycle racing - a mix of speed, courage and raw athleticism. And on Saturday, it came to the north end of Hagerstown.

About 230 bicyclists from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware competed in the Hagerstown Cycling Challenge, one of five Washington County races promoted this year by the Antietam Velo Club/Team Hagerstown-Washington County.

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of the race, said Joe Jefferson, a member of the locally based club and co-promoter, with Tim Lung, of the event.

Saturday's competition featured six races, which were staged at different times for different skill and age levels. Racers competed for cash and merchandise prizes.

The challenge began and ended at the intersection of Woodland Way and West Hillcrest Road. Racers followed a roughly 0.7-mile course that led, in part, down Park Lane, The Terrace and West Irvin Avenue.

The event was designed to showcase the city of Hagerstown, Jefferson said.

It also was a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County, Fountaindale Elementary School and the Memorial Recreation Center.

Jefferson said holding a cycling race in a neighborhood is a unique experience for racers and residents.

"With any other sport, you have to pay to watch athletes do their craft," he said. "With today's event, residents can sit in their front yard with a cup of coffee and watch top athletes fly by."

Jefferson said he was bit by the cycling bug in 1984, when he got his first job at a local bicycle shop.

"I've been racing or training ever since," he said.

Jefferson said cycling can become addictive, and likens it to "NASCAR on wheels."

"It's fun to be a participant, but it's also fun to be a spectator," he said. "It's a sport that continues to grow.

"The great thing about cycling is you can get involved at any level. We have guys who are 60 or 70 years of age, and they're still out their competing. So don't be intimidated."

Among the people cheering on the racers was Ray Clark of Frederick, Md. A member of the Antietam Velo Club, an injury prevented him from participating in Saturday's race.

"But I wanted to come out and pull for my fellow team members," he said.

A bicycle racer for about 20 years, Clark said it was hard to watch from the sidelines.

"But I'm still having fun," he said. "It's a pleasure to be here to show my support."

Barry Hornbaker walked from his home a block away to watch the Cycling Challenge with his son, Michael, 7.

"We thought this would be a fun Saturday activity," Hornbaker said. "To see something like this up close - it's quite a spectacle."

Denise Keyser of Hagerstown found a shady spot to watch the race with her daughter, Anna, 10.

"We don't know anyone in the race," Keyser said. "But we're still enjoying the whole atmosphere. It's definitely something different to do on a Saturday."

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