Bicyclists speed along to kick off first of several races during Tour of Washington County

June 15, 2012|By DON AINES |
  • Cyclists competing in the Kickoff Classic Criterium make their way along S. Potomac Street Friday evening.
By Ric Dugan

Dozens of bicyclists — some speeding along within inches of each other — blew past spectators and diners on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown Friday evening in a series of races kicking off the three-day Tour of Washington County.

In the first race, riders pedaled the 0.8-mile loop through downtown streets, the more experienced competitors pulling away from the pack as the number of laps ticked off.

William King and Keline Keefer, both of Hagerstown, watched the racers whiz by. He just started racing this year for Team Integrity out of Charles Town, W.Va., and two of his teammates — Bryan Stottlemyer and Matthew Bunting — were in the opening event.

“It’s Category 3 and Category 4, so you’ve got some guys with a lot more experience than others,” King said, referring to the intermediate and beginner entrants.

“Hagerstown needs to put on more of these events,” he said.

Friday night’s event, known as a criterium, was the second year for downtown evening races as part of the tour, Race Director Joe Jefferson said. More than 200 riders were signed up to compete in the races.

Jefferson said the other races for the evening featured the Masters competition for racers 45 years and older; Elite Women; and Pro Men. Another 400 would be participating in the other races over the weekend, he said.

“There’s very few evening races on the East Coast,” City Councilman Lewis Metzner said.

He said the downtown race could become one of the premier events of its type.

“The out-of-state riders are far more in number than the Maryland riders,” Metzner said.

Many of those would be making use of area hotels during the competition, he said.

Racers came from El Salvador, Boulder, Colo., and most of East Coast states, Jefferson said.

“This is an exciting day for Washington County; this begins the Tour of Washington County, which is the only multiday stage bike event in all of Maryland,” said Tom Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, a major sponsor of the event.

Other major sponsors include the Antietam Velo Club and SRAM, a bicycle components manufacturer.

“You’ve got the perfect night for it .... It’s exciting,” said Karen Sharer, who was watching the race with her grandson, Hunter Sadler.

It brought some life into a downtown that needs it, she said.

Antietam Velo Club and the convention bureau also sponsored a team, AVC/Team Hagerstown-Washington County Tourism, Riford said.

Not everyone was riding an expensive racing bike, however.    

Jim Baker of Williamsport was pedaling along comfortably during the pre-race parade of bikes on an 1885 52-inch Columbia High-Wheeler.

“It’s all original except the rubber on the pedals” and the solid rubber tires, Baker said.

His wife, Ann Lemen Baker, said it once belonged to her father, and riding the contraption can be tricky.

“If you press too hard (on the brake) you do what they call a ‘head-over,’” she said.

Considering the rider is sitting so high on the cycle, it would be quite a fall to the pavement.

Hagerstown has made a effort to make itself more bicycle-friendly, Metzner said, citing the Bicycle Advisory Committee formed about three years ago.

Events like the one downtown are “an example of what citizens committees can do for our community,” he said.

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