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Zoom! Cyclists torpedo through Gainesville

Tour de Georgia brings hundreds of spectators and fans to town

POSTED: May 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Gainesville proved to be a gracious host to the third leg of the sixth annual Tour de Georgia on Wednesday.

Cylists zoomed across the finish line on Prior Street to the delight of hundreds of national and international spectators.

Nearly 120 world-class riders set out from Washington at 11 a.m. Wednesday and traveled 108.2 miles to Gainesville’s City Park. Team High Road rider Greg Henderson of New Zealand crossed the finish line first, shortly before 3 p.m.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Hall County native, served as chairman of the Tour. He attended the race as well as the festivities prior to the event, including a children’s 500-meter bike race.

"I couldn’t be more pleased with Gainesville," Cagle said. "It’s really special for me to be able to be the chair of the tour this year and bring it (here). It’s a great economic engine for our community, but it’s also a way that we can really reach across an international audience and demonstrate the things that we can do."

Many spectators picnicked on a grassy knoll near the finish line and watched live video of the race on a giant screen. Others strolled through about a dozen booths set up near the Gainesville Civic Center while tunes from Lawrenceville band Shades of Grey wafted through the park.

Scott Ogle was the man holding the 25-pound camera on his shoulder that fed video to the crowd at City Park.

He filmed the race from aboard an oversized motorcycle that sped ahead of riders as they twisted through Elbert, Franklin and Banks counties before crossing into Hall County.

He said the motorcade reached a top speed of 47 miles per hour at one point as cyclists pedaled behind.

"At some points there were probably 1,000 school kids on the roadsides," Ogle said. "A lot of times schools come out and cheer (the riders) on."

As the film crew relayed the action to online and local viewers, serious cycling fans huddled near the finish line anticipating a glimpse of their favorite riders.

Andy Rosthal, a Charlotte, N.C., businessman and cyclist for 25 years, took the day off work to come watch his first world-class cycling finish.

"I’ve never seen world-class cyclists up close before. Usually you can only see them on TV," Rosthal said. "When you ride like I do, to see these riders, it’s a real treat because you know what riding entails and what the training involves.

"These guys are going 28 mph over 100 miles. They’re really booking it. It’s incredible," he said.

Dan Henderson, also in town from Charlotte for the race, said he was looking forward to a wild finish.

"It’s really dangerous at the finish line," he said. "Their handlebars will be flying all over the place, and they’ll be shoulder to shoulder."

Amy Schmid of Dawson County brought her two kids and neighbor to the race after pulling them out of school at 11:30 a.m. She has attended the race each year it has taken place in Gainesville, with Gainesville hosting a stage finish in 2003 and a stage start in 2005.

"It’s a very fun event for the whole family," she said. "We watch cycling and keep up with all the cyclists ... It’s an educational event for the kids."

Her father-in-law, Frederic Schmid, 75, came all the way from Waco, Texas. He is a two-time masters world champion mountain biker, his second title coming in 2003 at age 70.

"It’s fun now, but the downhill sprints are going to be scary," he said. "It’s going to be exciting. I’m pulling for George Hincapie. He’s been my favorite for a number of years."

A group of female students from Lanier Tech were on hand giving out free blood pressure tests along with fruit and water to spectators. They said they came out to receive school credit, but were having a good time.

Bill McKenzie of Tampa, Fla., said he drove up to see the race because he didn’t have the cable channel at home that airs it. He said he wanted to see the type of bikes and equipment the racers use.

Standing at the last corner before the finish line, Joel Riley said watching the cyclists was worth the drive from Nashville, Tenn.

Riley, wearing a backpack filled with Tour de Georgia promotional items, said he rides recreationally, and enjoys the chance to watch a race of this caliber.

"This is the one we go to most often, because it’s the closest professional-quality race," he said. "I think this is my fourth time. It’s a pretty big draw — it’s one of the biggest races in the states."

Today, the 15 cycling teams will take part in 10-mile team time trials at Road Atlanta.

The 600-mile event traverses the state and kicked off Monday on Tybee Island. The Tour de Georgia concludes Sunday at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.



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