Picture this: 126 international cyclists in a made-for-television event, cruising through suburban Maryland communities on a Saturday afternoon and sprinting wildly to a finish line in front of a shopping mall.
Only in Columbia.
The Tour Du Pont announced its revised race plans for Maryland yesterday, scheduling a Newark, Del.,-to-Columbia, 136-mile race May 11. The finish line will be marked at Little Patuxent Highway, in front of the Columbia Mall.
"We think it's the perfect place for the finish," Columbia Association president Pat Kennedy said. "All of the city will be there waiting to see who wins."
The Tour Du Pont, to be held May 9-19, will draw an elite field of 18 professional and amateur teams in a 1,300-mile stage race that begins and ends in Wilmington, Del. The race, in its third year, was called the Tour de Trump when it was backed by Donald Trump.
Among the top competitors expected at this year's race are three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, former Tour de Trump winner Dag-Otto Lauritzen of Norway and Steven Bauer of Canada.
Noticeably absent from the Tour Du Pont itinerary is Baltimore, which was a host city during the first two years of the event. City officials balked at staging a portion of the race this year because of conflicts with the Preakness celebration.
"Our time frame put us in the teeth of the Preakness," said Dave Williams, the Tour Du Pont's course director. "We would have stretched Baltimore services thin."
After initially scheduling a stage race finish and a nighttime criterium for Baltimore's Inner Harbor, race officials were forced to modify their schedule and seek an alternative finish site in Maryland. A criterium was added in Richmond, Va., and Columbia was selected for a Maryland finish after inquiries were made with Annapolis, College Park and Frederick officials.
For this 130-mile stage, a detour was drawn around Baltimore. The racers will pass through Rising Sun, Port Deposit, Conowingo, Butler, Reisterstown and Glenelg, before sprinting into Columbia.
"The roads and the beauty of Howard County struck me," Williams said. "As we got closer to Columbia, I realized we had found a perfect finish."
But Williams doesn't discount returning to Baltimore in the future.
"There is an opportunity for both Columbia and Baltimore to be involved in the event," Williams said. "To say no to Baltimore would probably cost me my job."