BROOKSVILLE — What began four years ago as a celebration of two-wheeled athleticism in downtown Brooksville has grown into a multifaceted affair with an identity all its own.
Besides playing host to a bike race that attracts accomplished professions and amateurs, the city has embraced the weekend as a showcase for outdoor leisure activities.
While cyclists compete at blinding speeds around a tight, 1.2-mile criterium course that starts and finishes at Liberty and Main streets, visitors can enjoy a free art walk, a farmers market, and musical and dance performances.
Laura DeWitt, co-owner of Get Healthy, the event's main sponsor, said she's happy that the race weekend has grown into an activity with so many drawing cards.
"It's always been meant to be an event for everyone to enjoy in some fashion, whether they come for the bike racing or not," DeWitt said. "It's about getting people to come and do something fun outdoors."
Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha agreed, saying that the Cycling Classic fits in with its effort to brand itself as a destination for outdoor events.
"Getting people to come downtown for any reason is always good for our city and our businesses," she said. "But to be associated with a premier event that attracts racers and spectators from all over is a definite plus, because it (is) the kind of community-oriented project we've been working hard to complete in the city."
For hard-core cycling athletes, the lure of the event is irresistible. Divided into two distinctive stages over two days — an in-town short-course race that challenges rider dexterity and skill, plus a road race filled with steep hills that test endurance and stamina — the event is considered among the toughest on the 22-race schedule sanctioned by Topview Sports.
"We've worked hard to try to attract the best cyclists in the country to come and see what we have to offer," DeWitt said. "And that's allowed us to build a tremendous amount of credibility in a short time."
In addition to the city-sponsored Art N Market Walk, Saturday's activities include an open ride on the course for riders of all abilities, a kids race on Liberty Street, and a police and fire rescue rally.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.