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For bike racers, third time through Gainesville is deja vu again

POSTED: June 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Cyclists make their way up Green Street on Sunday afternoon during Stage 6 of the Tour of Atlanta in downtown Gainesville. The Tour of Atlanta is a stage race that showcases Atlanta's various terrain. Stage 7 begins this morning in downtown Buford.

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For the third time this spring, professional cyclists sped through Gainesville hunched over aerodynamic bikes traveling at top speeds of 40 mph.

The Gainesville square was the site of a one-hour professional criterium Sunday, the sixth leg of the first ever Georgia Cup series’ Tour of Atlanta. About 500 amateur and professional riders are competing in the five-day race for a total of $15,000 in cash prizes.

Cyclists kicked off the seven-stage tour Thursday with sprints in Buford. An evening circuit race was held Friday in Duluth, and team time trials and road races were Saturday in Monroe.

The Tour of Atlanta culminates today with another criterium in Buford.

Gainesville police Officer Pam Mitchell said the race unfolded smoothly despite a few crashes. She said no rider seemed to be injured seriously.

Mitchell said portions of Washington, West Academy, Spring and Green streets were blocked off for the race Sunday morning and were reopened by early evening. She estimated that roughly 200 spectators came to watch the race around the square.

Blanche Ettinger, an owner of Inman Perk Coffee, which opened its new location on the square Friday, said coffee sales soared Sunday as a result of purchases made by racers and spectators.

Georgia Cup race coordinator James Lowe said the tour is the largest pro/am race in the country.

Lowe and cyclists alike said Gainesville is a consistently gracious host to racers.

Christian Leask of Atlanta, who has been racing for 10 years, competed in one of the amateur races Sunday afternoon and also participated in the Tour de Georgia that whirled through Gainesville in late April.

"Gainesville is a great place to come and race a bicycle because the town welcomes us warmly and the terrain is great — it’s beautiful," Leask said. "It’s a great location. It’s close to the interstate and state borders."

Leask said he met cyclists at the race who were from all over the Southeast, as well as Texas and Missouri.

The seven categories of races allowed amateur junior riders as well as amateur and professional female and male cyclists to turn sharp corners around the square from noon to about 7 p.m.

"The lap is one kilometer, and it’s a big perfect rectangle," Leask said. "You’re timed an hour, and it’s a game of going just as fast as you can and trying to do as little as possible."

Todd Wilson, an amateur Tour of Atlanta racer from Macon, said the Georgia Cup race is one of the few series that invites youth cyclists to participate.

"There are very limited opportunities for kids in cycling," Wilson said. "But there are some opportunities for kids in the Georgia Cup series."

Wilson’s 5-year-old son, Brent Wilson, sported a racing number alongside his father and came in second place out of the four kids who competed in a drag race down Spring Street. Todd Wilson’s other son, Bryce Wilson, is 13 years old and served as a member of the pit crew ready to assist cyclists in the event of a crash or mechanical malfunction.

Bryce Wilson said he is looking forward to getting out of the pit and getting onto the road to begin cycling training Tuesday.

Todd Wilson said that cycling is a growing sport, and involving children in the sport will feed its future.

"Especially with the Tour de Georgia being an annual (event), I think you’ll start seeing more kids training. I think we’re just starting to see what’s going to happen with youth cyclists."

Ashley Forgay helped coordinate the racing series and said the Georgia Cup always tries to include children’s races up to age 18.

"We’re focused on trying to promote a healthy lifestyle ... and cycling is a way to do that," Forgay said. "It’s taking that step from being a kid rider on your Schwinn to being a racer and competing. We’re not just encouraging these kids to cycle, we’re providing them opportunities to compete."

Forgay said about 30 kids from age 3 to 18 competed Sunday for a chance to be invited to Colorado Springs, Colo., for a USA Cycling training camp.

Professional cyclists who led the race Sunday included Oscar Henao of Clinica Union, Frank Travieso of Toshibo Santo and John Murphy of Health Net. Murphy is based in Athens and was the overall leader of the Tour of Atlanta going into the Gainesville criterium.



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