BROOKSVILLE — One of Florida's hilliest cities will be bustling with two-wheeled activity this weekend.
Preparations for the inaugural Brooksville Cycling Classic are rolling into the final stretch. The event features two days of bike racing and family-friendly activities with the goal of putting Brooksville on the map as a cycling haven, said Laura DeWitt, who is helping to spearhead the event.
"We've tried to incorporate a serious cycling race, so people get an idea of what that's all about, as well as an opportunity for people to come out and ride their bikes and take part around the whole theme of 'get healthy,' " said DeWitt, a cyclist and co-owner of two Hernando County health food stores. "Brooksville is an optimal cycling area and we want to showcase that."
Saturday's criterium, or short-course race, will be the crowd-pleaser, DeWitt said. "Tough corners, it's on bricks, and South Brooksville Avenue should not be underestimated as a hill," she said.
Riders start the 1.2-mile, six-turn circuit course at Liberty and Main streets, head west on Liberty and then make a tight turn south onto Lemon Street, picking up speed on the downhill before turning east on Lamar and then south on Main. The racers then turn east onto Russell Street and scream past the historic train depot before a tricky left-hander onto the brick surface of South Brooksville Avenue. Expect gaps to open in the pack during this bumpy climb up one of the city's most scenic streets before the riders turn back onto Liberty Street for the finish.
The youngest junior class riders are on the course for 20 minutes, starting at 9 a.m. Racing continues throughout the day, culminating at 5 p.m. with the 75-minute pro race.
The Get Healthy Pavilion will be open all day near the corner of Liberty and Lemon streets. The pavilion will house vendor and sponsor displays, free samples and products available for purchase, as well as acupuncture, massage therapy, tai chi and Zumba demonstrations. A cafe will offer food and beverages for purchase.
Saturday's activities also include a kids' race on Liberty Street; a bike-building and racing competition between police and fire personnel; and a fun ride on the Good Neighbor Trail open to everyone.
On Sunday, riders take to the hilly roads of Spring Lake for the Ice Cream Hill road race.
The start/finish line for the 17-mile course is at ARC of the Nature Coast on Neff Lake Road. Riders will tackle tough climbs on Spring Lake Highway and Hayman and Batten roads. The race is named for the hill on Spring Lake Highway that climbs up to Boyett's Grove, the roadside attraction.
"It's a monster course," DeWitt said.
The juniors start first at 9 a.m. The pros, who will make four loops for a total of 68 miles, start at 2 p.m. Entry fees typically cover the cost of putting on the race and the purse for the winners of the professional races. Other proceeds from the event will benefit the YMCA's Open Doors program, the ARC Nature Coast, and Partners for Paul, a local group formed to support the efforts of Dr. Paul Farmer. Farmer is a Hernando High School graduate and founder of Partners in Health, a global organization that aims to provide health care for the poor in developing countries.
For $25, donors can add their names to a bicycle angel tree and provide a new bicycle to a needy child.
Talk of a bike race in Brooksville started a couple of years ago. DeWitt races for FloridaVelo, a cycling group run and sponsored by Pablo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz's sports management company, Topview International, also runs Florida Cycling, an organization that operates in partnership with the Florida Road Cycling Association to put on most of the racing events in the state.
Santa Cruz, a Safety Harbor racer, said he discovered Hernando's potential for a bike event long ago. But the key to success, Santa Cruz said, is cooperation from local governments and law enforcement agencies, and Brooksville and the county delivered.
"The city, the police department, everybody involved has just been unbelievably helpful and diligent," Santa Cruz said. "It's just amazingly unusual to see this kind of cooperation, and it makes a world of difference."
That's good to hear, Brooksville City Council member Joe Bernardini said.
"I just hope that those that visit enjoy our community and want to come back," he said. "As a council we've tried to encourage these types of events. We can't encourage on the one hand and aggravate on the other."
Santa Cruz figures more than 500 racers will show up for the weekend. The goal is to grow from there, he said.
"The dream is to make this event a mainstay in the Southeast, and that's going to take promotion and word of mouth," he said.
The cycling festival is just one of three events that will draw people downtown this weekend.
On Saturday, the Brooksville Business Alliance will combine its monthly Market on Main Street and Brooksville Nights events into one 12-hour street festival, and the city will host its Fall Art N' Market Walk as part of the 154th edition of Founders Week.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.