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Cycling Classic could lead Brooksville into better economic future

Other than maybe a couple of long-ago visits to Miss Kitty's Hilltop Lounge, Saturday was the most fun I've ever had in downtown Brooksville.

Business people liked it, too, some of them reporting record sales days. Even city staffers who got stuck with extra work seemed excited. So, of course, did politicians.

"I can't remember when downtown had this much activity from sunup to sundown," said Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn.

This was due to the simultaneous staging of three events — a street market, an art walk and a bike race — any one of which would have been a nice boost for downtown.

I'll focus on the race, the Brooksville Cycling Classic, and not because my wife, Laura, helped organize it or because her store was a sponsor. No, as much of a stretch as this may seem to some people, cycling could be part of Brooksville's economic future.

Also, unlike the other events, the classic is new, though it follows in the masochistic tradition of the Flatlanders Challenge running race. Endurance athletes like to be tortured — "challenged," they call it — by brick streets and hills.

"I talked to one woman racer, and she said, 'I absolutely hate these cobblestones. I can't wait to come back next year,' " Bradburn said.

This perverse enjoyment was the point of the lower-category races around the six-turn, 1.2-mile course through downtown on Saturday.

But there was also the spectacle of the 75-minute competition for elite riders. NASCAR fans, if you've turned away from the sport because you think modern drivers lack guts, check out the numbers I saw on the computer of one of these top bike riders: 24.5 mph average and a maximum speed of nearly 40 mph achieved on a quarter-mile downhill stretch that ended with sharp left onto a potholed street.

That nobody left bloody teeth in the gutter struck me as a miracle.

Flatlanders has struggled because of competition from too many other running events.

Cycling races are relatively rare, and ones with distinctive courses even more so. Last weekend's turnout of 230 riders for Saturday's race and 300 for the longer loop in Spring Lake on Sunday was large for a first-year event. It could easily draw two or three times that many riders in future years, said Mike Tomlinson, a vice president for TopView Sports, which staged the race.

"It has all the ingredients,'' Tomlinson said. "It has spectators. The city is warm and welcoming. The courses are great."

Racers and spectators might decide to come back to town for a day of training, or a week at a bed and breakfast, or maybe even for their retirement. Developers have to build golf courses to attract people whose lives revolve around that sport. Finishing the Good Neighbor Trail would be a nice bonus, of course, but we've already got some of the prettiest, hilliest riding in the state.

As Tomlinson pointed out, the city understands the promise of cycling. So many people went out of their way to make this race work that if I gave them all the credit they deserve, this column would read like an acceptance speech at the Oscars. It was mind-blowing, really.

Eastern Pasco, on the other hand, has pretty much had it with cyclists. Acting on residents' complaints, law enforcement officers have ticketed riders for impeding traffic, speeding and illegally parking at the ballfield where they usually gather. When TopView asked the Pasco Sheriff's Office for support about a week before a San Antonio race scheduled for Labor Day weekend, deputies said the company hadn't told them soon enough. Understandable, sure, but the race moved to Hernando, where the short notice wasn't a problem.

As a cyclist, I hope drivers won't make the inconvenience of passing riders out to be a bigger deal than it really is. Even if you're behind a group, the delay is seldom more than a few seconds.

Riders, please, remember that you are not in the Tour de France and your discarded water bottles are not souvenirs. They are litter. Don't ride in the middle of the lane, run stop signs or yell back at drivers — even if they flip you off.

Because people will complain, and when they do, the Sheriff's Office, which has been an ally of cyclists so far, will be our enemy. You will likely see deputies in patrol cars. They may question your legal right to ride, or at least ride the way you like. And I'm sure that's not the kind of challenge you have in mind.

Cycling Classic could lead Brooksville into better economic future 10/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 8:11pm]

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