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Cyclists converge for Fort Ritchie race

May 09, 2009|By CHRISTIAN WORSTELL

CASCADE -- A disc jockey blares music and shouts emphatically into the microphone. Cases of energy drinks are stacked knee-high all around. Every minute or so, an audible "whoosh" can be heard as a blur of bicycles zoom by.

It's the second annual Fort Ritchie Classic Criterium bicycle race and it took place on Saturday in Cascade.

More than 300 racers, including a handful from Washington County, took part in eight races that began in the early morning and continued until dinner time. The event, presented by the Antietam Velo Club and sponsored by Corporate Office Properties Trust, benefited the Fort Ritchie Community Center and Hagerstown BMX, not to mention the sport of cycling in the Washington County area.

"This race does a great job promoting the sport in the area," said Mark Monnett, a 1986 graduate of South Hagerstown who was one of more than 20 volunteers on hand. "We have such a variety of land around here. This area is kind of a hotbed for good, quality races. We're very lucky."

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Most racers in the field came from the Baltimore and Washington areas to compete for trophies and cash prizes on a terrain that is unique to the area.

"A lot of people from D.C. and Baltimore come here to train on the hills. They get to come somewhere where they've never raced before," said Middletown's Chris Kelley, who was busy working the registration table in the morning prior to her afternoon race.

Race promoter Joe Jefferson of Hagerstown also worked double-duty, providing entertainment as the DJ while taking breaks for warm-up rides to prepare for an afternoon race.

"Faster than a bran muffin with a prune juice chaser!" Jefferson blurted over the loudspeakers as a pack of riders whizzed by for another lap.

"Like cooking a Ballpark frank in a microwave. Something's bound to go wrong," he declared after a tire popped like a gunshot.

The races, licensed by the United States Cycling Federation and held on a 1.3-kilometer loop weaving through the 591-acre Fort Ritchie development and Lake Royer, featured both men and women in flights for youth (as young as 14) to masters (ages 60 and over) and from beginners to nationally ranked veterans.

Races lasted from 30 to 75 minutes and had anywhere from 20 to 90 cyclists in each.

One rider sported arms rich with blood and lacking in flesh, the result of an early-morning crash on a secluded section of the course.

"You'll see some crashes," said Monnett, himself a racer of more than 20 years who is a bicycle sales representative by day. "The appeal is that anyone can get started doing it. You can start by just learning to ride a bike in a straight line."

While Saturday's races were just the second annual event of its kind, Monnett's Antietam Velo Club has been organizing races since its inception in 1985.

"In our early years we were promoting one race every year," said Monnett, one of six original members of the club which now has more than 20 full-fledged riders. "In the early 90s we saw a need for more and better-organized races."

These days, the club holds a number of races each summer that includes the Tour of Washington County and the Hagerstown Challenge as well as a breast cancer awareness race at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds in October.

"Cycling is such a pure sport. It has a real culture to it," Kelley said. "If you have a race on a weekend with nice weather and there's nothing else going on, people will come."

For more information about the club, visit www.bikecvcc.com/avc.

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