Festival's a free-wheeling affair

At BikeJam, weekend warriors and seasoned pros alike shift into high gear

May 28, 2006|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

Each time the cyclists raced by, Keston James leaned forward. The whoosh of the pack ruffled his shirt.

"I like how the people just fly by," the 8-year-old said. "I'd like to ride like that."

That's exactly the sort of thing Kyle Wamsley likes to hear. It wasn't too long ago that the second-year pro was in Keston's place, inspired by a training race to ride competitively. Now 26 and a member of the Colavita/Sutter Home team, Wamsley sprinted to a first-place finish yesterday in the Kelly Cup, the headline race at BikeJam 2006.

"If I can inspire a couple of kids out here to ride, I'm having a good career," he said, cooling down after taking the 40-mile race at Patterson Park for his second victory on the U.S. Cycling Federation's National Racing Calendar.

With live music, stunt shows and plenty of food arrayed around a slate of amateur and professional races, BikeJam combined the atmosphere of a neighborhood festival with the edge of an elite competition. Families from throughout the region descended on the park to watch athletes from around the country.

"The idea was to put together something that would bring people out," said David Scharff, president of Team Lateral Stress Velo, the local cycling club that hosts the annual event. "It's something cool to do in Baltimore, and it promotes the idea of riding in the city."

Visiting pros were happy to see a crowd that reached into the thousands.

"It's awesome to have all these people here," said four-time defending National Criterium Champion Tina Pic, who won the women's Kelly Cup for the Colavita/Cooking Light team yesterday. "It makes it fun."

The day began with a recreational ride through the city, with 100 amateur cyclists in colorful gear brightening the streets around the park. About 650 racers registered for nine competitive races, in categories ranging from juniors to masters and beginners to professionals.

Hilton Clarke of the Navigators Insurance Cycling Team and Alejandro Acton of the Targetraining Professional Cycling Team finished second and third to Wamsley in the men's Kelly Cup race. Jen McRae of the ConexTrain team and Theresa Cliff-Ryan of Verducci/Breakaway Racing finished second and third to Pic in the women's race.

Several racers said the milelong course, which ran along the paved pathway on the eastern side of Patterson Park, differed from more typical courses, or criteriums, which often are laid out among city blocks.

"It was really sweeping and open," Kelly Benjamin said after finishing fourth for the Cheerwine team. "There were no 90-degree turns. It was harder to get breakaways."

The women ran their 20-mile race in a single pack; the men developed a lead group and a chase group, trailed by the larger pack.

The day reminded Keston's father of his Trinidad childhood, when he would watch local clubs compete.

"I think it's fascinating," said Lester James of Baltimore. "It's something nice for the neighborhood. We are going to ride together this summer."

Keston clutched a new bike helmet. CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield had 500 free helmets for children. Volunteers from Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital were fitting the youngsters.

"An ounce of prevention is what my mother told me," said Sheldon J. Stein, the hospital's president and chief executive officer. "It's making safety a priority for the kids."

Event organizers stressed the health benefits of cycling. John Kelly, president of sponsor Kelly Benefit Strategies, said it could be argued that the United States has the best health care system in the world but that the health of the population ranks 37th.

"Cycling is a sport that promotes health and wellness," said Kelly, a member of Lateral Stress Velo, who finished eighth in the 40-plus masters race.

"All of us remember how to ride a bike," he said. "At the highest levels, it's exciting and innovative, and it's something you can do all of your life."

David Torres took up long-distance riding when he quit smoking three years ago. The security director of a hotel in Manhattan, he rode here from New York - a five-day, 216.5-mile journey, according to his handlebar-mounted odometer, with the last leg a five-hour ride from Aberdeen yesterday morning.

"This is awesome," he said, as the professional women prepared for their start. "I've never seen a bike race before."

Bringing amateurs like Torres and elite riders like Wamsley together for the same event was a goal of BikeJam, organizer Gardner Duvall said.

"We really wanted to bring together cyclists of all stripes and have a little bit of community," he said. "Racers and nonracers don't usually get together."

The women's race was the first Emily Ripple had ever seen. The 13-year-old, who came from Dundalk with her father, Richard, and her younger brother, Albert, was intrigued by what she saw.

"They've got people flying around out there."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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