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Race offers blood, sweat and gears

July 11, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- They ride their bicycles the way an intrepid sea captain rides a storm -- eyes fixed on the horizon.

The head seldom turns, except to monitor a rival's pursuit or to note an opening in a cobweb of wheels.

They are part jockey, part thoroughbred, moving at a steady clip, their muscles rippling as they ride into the curves.

You can hear the cyclical speed and smell the odor of burnt rubber, especially when a rider goes skidding across the pavement.

But the race waits for no one. Fall and you get back up, shredded knees and all.

Blood, sweat and gears. This is bicycle racing.

The color and excitement of the sport came to the streets of Hagerstown on Saturday, as 300 cyclists from the mid-Atlantic region competed for cash, medals and bragging rights.

The event was the Hagerstown Cycling Challenge, a criterium or short-course race featuring multiple laps at high speeds.

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The Antietam Velo Club/Team Hagerstown-Washington County served as promoters of the event. Sponsors included the City of Hagerstown and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The race route -- nine-tenths of a mile in length -- was a loop around portions of Woodland Way, West Hillcrest Road, The Terrace, Prospect Avenue, Forest Drive and Park Lane in the city's North End.

The competition consisted of eight races staged for various skill and age levels.

The cycling challenge has been a summer tradition in Hagerstown for more than 20 years, said Joe Jefferson, a member of the Antietam Velo Club.

This year's course was a new design that maintained some of the characteristics of past courses, but also offered some new obstacles, Jefferson said.

The course contained a sweeping 180-degree turn, a left-right combination turn, followed by a right-left combination and a finishing straightaway that was long and wide open.

"This race is far and above one of the best locations out there," Jefferson said. "A lot of bigger cities cannot accommodate an event like this. Hagerstown has been very gracious and hospitable in allowing us to host this competition each year."

Jefferson said the location is popular with cyclists, who enjoy racing through neighborhoods rather than business parks.

"It's also a great opportunity for residents," he said. "They can sit on their front porch with a cup of coffee and watch some of the top athletes in the region -- elite riders -- compete. There aren't many sports that do that. And it's free."

Allie Michaels was among the spectators who stood along the race route watching the spandex-clad cyclists test their physical and mental limits.

"It's quite a sight," the Hagerstown woman said. "It's kind of breathtaking how easy they make it look, but how fast they're really going and, with one wrong move, how dangerous the sport can be."

Each year, a portion of the challenge's proceeds benefits a local charity, Jefferson said. This year's recipient is the Hagerstown Ballers Basketball Association.

"We're thrilled to be part of today's race," said Gene Dotson, a coach and vice president of the organization. "We're a nonprofit group and, with today's economy, any money is greatly appreciated."

Dotson described the group as a "traveling basketball team that helps expose kids to different levels of competition and different experiences."

The association has two teams -- 14 years and under and 15 years and under.

More information on the association is available at the group's web site at leaguelineup.com/hagerstownbasketball8.

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