The most prestigious professional cycling event -- the Tour de France -- begins today in San Sebastian, Spain. But hundreds of local cyclists will be competing closer to home.
The third annual Fort Meade Cherry Bomb Criterium begins today at 11 a.m. There are six categories of races -- senior 2/3, senior 4, masters 35-plus, junior men, women and novice/CAT 5.
The main attraction, the senior 2/3, features some of the top amateur riders in the country. The race is 30 laps around a mile-long, rectangular course surrounding the parade grounds at Fort Meade. It begins at 11 a.m. and has a $2,000 purse.
"The most exciting thing is watching the riders jockeying for position on the final sprint," said Mike Killrain, race promoter and a former rider. "There are usually 100 cyclists on a double-lane road and all are inches apart. It's like watching a race car finish with about 50 cars together at the finish line."
Killrain said crashes are common and make for an unpredictable race.
"Anything can happen. Cycling is very dangerous," Killrain said. "This course is a beautifully paved course, but with the proximity of racers, crashes are usually unavoidable. It's just part of the race."
The criterium is sanctioned by the U.S. Cycling Federation, which ranks amateurs according to experience and points. A beginner starts as a category 5 rider and accumulates points by placing in and winning races, which qualifies them for the higher categories. Category 1 riders are Olympic team riders.
The senior 4, a 25-lap race, begins at 12:30, followed by the 25-lap masters 35-plus race (over age 35) at 1:30. The junior men's race begins at 2:30, followed by the women's race at 3:30, and the novice race at 4:15
Anyone with a bike and a helmet is eligible for the five-lap novice race. Registration begins around 3 p.m., and there is an $8 entry fee.
Other events of the day include a military display of helicopters, jeeps, World War II vehicles and fireworks.
Facts and figures
What: The Fort Meade Cherry Bomb Criterium
Who: Open to male and female amateur cyclists with categories ranging from novice to seniors 2/3. All cyclists except those in the novice category must be good-standing members of the U.S. Cycling Federation.
When: Today. First race starts at 11 a.m. and last race starts at 4:15 p.m.
Where: Fort Meade. Take I-95 to route 32 East or 198 (Fort Meade). Follow into Fort Meade and take Mapes Road. Follow signs for parking and staging areas.
Registration: Entries for the novice category can be made today. For more information, contact the College Park Bicycle Club, (301) 864-2211.