By Karen Gardner, Guest Blogger.
Two weeks after Gage Hecht won two races at the USA Cycling Amateur Road U23 National Championships in Washington County last July, he won the first stage of the Colorado Classic, a major cycling event that attracts pro racers from around the world.
Cyclists of this caliber will be coming to Hagerstown and Washington County from June 19-23, as the county prepares to host the 2019 USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships.
Racers ages 11 to 23, along with some of the area’s best regional racers, will experience the challenging, scenic Washington County roads. Challenging because of hills and twisting roads. Scenic because of the quaint settings, ranging from the expansive farmland near Boonsboro and Clear Spring to the historic downtown of Hagerstown. Spectators will get to see youngsters, many of them future stars of the sport, ride their bikes at speeds averaging upwards of 25 to 30 mph.
Cycling isn’t new to Washington County. Most of the major roads in the county have wide shoulders, specifically engineered back in the 1970s to give cyclists a wide berth from passing motorists. Ever since then, cyclists from surrounding areas have come here to ride, lured not only by the scenery and the cycling lanes, but also the lower traffic volumes.
It’s these same qualities that drew the organizers of USA Cycling to choose Hagerstown and Washington County as the venue for the 2018 and 2019 championships, over more experienced venues like San Diego and Los Angeles. The USA Cycling Amateur Championships crown the champions of the future, the men and women who in five to 10 years may ride in the Tour de France, the Olympics and other major cycling events.
The race not only puts Hagerstown on the map for hundreds of cyclists and their families, it’s also an economic boost to Washington County. Dan Spedden, President of the Hagerstown and Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said last year’s event brought $1.4 million into Washington County, and Sports Destinations Magazine estimated that number to be $2.6 million.
Be sure to come out and cheer for the riders, who appreciate all the local support they can get. Last year’s championship event brought in over 650 of these athletes, most ages 23 and under, with dreams of podiums and jerseys. This year, as last, cyclists will compete in three events, the time trial, road race and criterium.
A time trial measures a cyclist’s speed against the clock. This year’s time trial is set for Thursday, June 20, starting at 7:30 a.m., in Boonsboro. Riders start one minute apart, and the distances they ride range from 11 to 30 kilometers. That’s about 6.8 to 18.6 miles, and the riders will dig deep into their physical reserves, pedaling all-out. Cycling uses kilometers because of its European roots. The time trial course, down Md. 67 through Pleasant Valley, offered riders spectacular views of farmland, forested areas and mountains.
At the Clear Spring road race course on June 21 and 22, starting each day at 7 a.m., riders will traverse an equally scenic, hilly course in the foothills west of Hagerstown. They will roll by cornfields, wheat fields, 19th century farmhouses, placid ponds, orchards and gardens brimming with summer produce. The U23 men will race the farthest, at 162 kilometers, or 100.6 miles. The 17-18 year old women will pedal 80 kilometers, or 50 miles. Many of these same competitors will have already raced the time trial on June 20.
For this year’s June 23 criterium, riders grouped tightly together will traverse an eight-block course in downtown Hagerstown at speeds that approach 30 mph. This year’s June 23 criterium begins at 8 a.m. Races are timed, and last from 20 minutes to one hour and 15 minutes.
The Washington County location was chosen over San Diego and Las Vegas, both of which are experienced at hosting major cycling events. USA Cycling was pleased with the local support, Spedden said. At the downtown criterium last July, spectators grouped together and lined nearly the entire eight-block course several people deep.
Many of the 672 cyclists who competed in 2018 traveled with their families, staying in local hotels, Airbnb’s, bed and breakfasts and campgrounds. Families also had a chance to take in the area’s other popular destinations, including Antietam National Battlefield, the C&O Canal National Historical Park and the famed Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. This year, an equal or higher number of cyclists are expected to visit Hagerstown and Washington County, along with their families.
You can meet some of the cyclists and organizers at the Big Cork Vineyards Big Bike BBQ Event, 4236 Main St., Rohrersville, on Wednesday, June 19 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. More info is here: https://www.bigcorkvineyards.com/.
The four-day cycling extravaganza will conclude with a Block Party in University Plaza, at 50 West Washington St., Hagerstown, on the afternoon of Sunday, June 23. From 10 a.m.-6 p.m., there will be food, arts and crafts vendors, a Discovery Station Kids Zone with a STEAM Crafts Corner, games including cornhole, Jenga and Connect Four. Plein Air artists will paint local scenes starting at 8 a.m.
There will be a beer garden, sponsored by Antietam Brewery, for those 21 and over. DJ Ryan Smetzer, country singer Jeff Taulton, and ukulele player Tim Seals will provide music.
Learn more about the USA Cycling Amateur Road events at: http://www.visithagerstown.com/amatuer-road-spectator-info.
About our Guest Blogger:
Karen Gardner is a freelance writer who lives in Keedysville, MD. She specializes in health, historical, environmental and recreational writing. She enjoys running, cycling, hiking and other outdoor sports. She also rides horses and gardens.