Shore's Sea Gull Century lures 4,000 bicyclists

October 09, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Eastern Shore Bureau of The Sun

SALISBURY -- Blood trickled from his left knee and he had what looked like tiny tire tracks on his forehead. But a spill from his bicycle wasn't enough to take James Langebeck out of yesterday's Sea Gull Century, an annual ride so popular among cyclists that it has become the de rigueur pedaling event in the state.

The 22-year Blacksburg, Va., man declined offers by medics to bandage his injury -- a couple other riders had run over him after he tried to brake -- and rejoined the more than 4,000 other bicycle enthusiasts who had come here from around the country and Canada.

Yesterday's perfect weather, combined with plenty of food and 100 mostly flat miles of spectacular autumn scenery, made the event the largest in its brief six-year history.

Back for his third Sea Gull Century, Chuck Dodson of Pasadena said bicycling in the tour offers more than other forms of exercise.

"I used to jog a lot," said the Mass Transit Administration bus driver. "But it's much easier talking to ladies this way."

Cait Harrington, a 65-year-old cyclist from Honey Brook, Pa., said she learned of the Sea Gull Century from friends in her bicycle club.

"This is more relaxing," she said at one of the rest stops. "This is better than our hill rides."

Started in 1989 as a training ride for 68 Salisbury State University students and school employees, the tour attracted about 3,500 riders after Bicycling magazine picked it as one of the 10 best centuries in the country.

Proceeds from this year's ride will be used to buy bicycle helmets for elementary school students, said Joseph K. Gilbert, the university executive vice president and the tour organizer.

Although it is not a race, the most serious riders -- called "hammerheads" -- strive to finish the course first. For those not up to a full 100-mile trek, a 63-mile metric century course was available.

Yesterday's fastest cyclist in the full course was Sylvan Chaix, a 36-year-old Frenchman living in Baltimore who crossed the finish line in just over four hours. Seconds behind him were friends Mark Kanter and Richard Anderson.

"It was great," said a perspiring Mr. Chaix, who said his time would have been better had he not stopped to help a rider in his group who had two flat tires.

"Everything was fine and we respected all the stop signs and followed all the rules," he added. Bicyclists, who are called "spokeheads" by area residents not fond of the annual invasion of two-wheelers, have come under criticism for obstructing motor vehicle traffic.

Yesterday Maryland State Park rangers complained that many of the cyclists came across the narrow bridge to Assateague Island in packs and failed to obey single-file rules.

"We try to educate our riders, but when you have this many together, there's a lot of enthusiasm," said Mr. Gilbert. "The attitude is that we outnumber the cars finally."

Mr. Gilbert said his organization will try to solve the bridge problems with the rangers. If the tour is not given permission to ride to Assateague next year, he said, an alternative route on the Lower Eastern Shore will be selected.

"That's the beauty of this area," he said. "There are lots of places we can take the riders." He said he expected more riders to come to Salisbury for the 1995 event.

Tour officials, who monitored the course with mobile telephones, reported no serious accidents. Last year, a 52-year-old Anne Arundel County man was killed after he apparently pedaled past a stop sign and struck a moving vehicle. His is the only fatality in the tour's six-year history.

A major attraction of the course, which winds its way past farm fields and through forests to the Atlantic Ocean shore and back to Salisbury, is its scenic beauty.

Yet the rural features occasionally provide the unexpected. One year a deer tried to -- across the road, but struck and knocked down a female bicyclist.

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