The second stage of the 1991 Tour Du Pont, the richest and most prestigious cycling event in the United States, will wind through the county Saturday, ending its 136-mile trek in downtown Columbia.
Hailing from 20 countries, 126 racers -- including three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond of the United States -- will start the race in Newark, Del., pass through Lisbon at about 1:30 p.m. and cross the finish line near The Mall in Columbia at about 2:30 p.m.
"This leg will be one of the fastest on the tour," said Roger Young, a member of the 1972 and 1976 U.S. Olympic Cycling Team who visited Centennial Park on Monday to promote the 11-stage race and cyclingproducts made by Du Pont, the race's chief sponsor.
"The terrain here in Howard County is pretty flat, but there are plenty of downhill stretches the racers will capitalize on," Young said.
Spectatorscan park cars for free at Merriweather Post Pavilion, using the South Entrance Road driveway, and walk across the street.
A festival area with concession and souvenir stands will be set up at Merriweather.
Portions of Little Patuxent Parkway, as well as the other roadson the bike route, will be closed to traffic for several hours before the race.
A 30-foot projection screen at the American City Building will begin showing the event at 12:30 p.m., an hour before it enters the county.
More than 75 volunteers will serve as marshals, parking lot attendants, and concession workers, said Mike Duffy, countyspokeswoman.
County Executive Charles Ecker and Councilman Charles Feaga, R-5th, will accompany 40 Glenwood Middle School students andteacher Susan Sullivan on Eyre's Bus Service to the Carroll County border to greet the cyclists with banners the children made.
Some of Sullivan's pupils have an interest in bicycling that goes beyond membership in Glenwood's intramural cycling club.
After three western county children were killed in bicycle accidents in three years, the Glenwood students pushed for a local helmet law.
Last May, the Howard County Council adopted a law requiring youths younger than 16 to wear safety helmets when riding on public roads and pathways as of October 1990.
This is the first year Du Pont is sponsoring the cycling race. The previous two years the race was known as the Tour de Trump and passed through Baltimore, said Bob Bednar, special events manager for DuPont.
"Stage Two was initially scheduled to end in Baltimore but was rerouted through Columbia because of conflicts with Preakness Week festivities," Bednar said.
The Tour Du Pont, with cash and prizes totaling $300,000, begins tomorrow in Wilmington, Del., crosses through four states and loops back to end in Wilmington Sunday, May 19.
Four amateur national teams from the United States, Soviet Union, Canada and Germany, will compete against 14 professional teams over the 1,300-mile course.
Young, 37, demonstrating his $2,500 bicycle with state-of-the art triple-spoke wheels, said cycling "has come a long way" since the 1970s.
"I remember the days of wool-knit jerseys and steel frames," Young said.
"Now, the equipment and gear are lighter, faster, more comfortable, yet stronger," he said.
"The prize money today doesn't hurt, either," he added.