BROOKSVILLE — The blood and sweat of legions of bicyclists have seeped into the scenic roads in and around Brooksville over the years.
The area has the high hills and low traffic volume craved by Lycra-clad riders from throughout Central Florida. Many pass through Hernando County, sprinting for town signs and bragging rights, during epic rides that begin in the nearby cycling mecca of San Antonio in Pasco County.
Now Brooksville will host a bona fide bike race that organizers expect will make riders scream for mercy and spectators scream for more, all while giving a helping hand to local charities and a boost to the economy.
The first Get Healthy Brooksville Cycling Classic is slated for Oct. 16 and 17. A criterium, or short-course race, is scheduled for Saturday in downtown Brooksville. A road race will take place on Sunday, starting downtown and looping out into the hills of Spring Lake.
Hundreds of riders ranging from first-timers to professionals will come to test their mettle on the topography, said Laura DeWitt, an avid cyclist and the co-owner of two Hernando County health food stores. DeWitt is helping to spearhead the event.
"It's probably one of the hardest road races in the state," she said.
But the classic is not just for racers and spectators, DeWitt said.
There will be fun rides for families and children. A Get Healthy pavilion will feature gourmet food samples, massages and tai chi classes. Other activities will run throughout both days.
"We don't want people to feel (that) because they're not hard-core cyclists it's not for them," she said. "It's a community event."
One of three taking place that weekend, in fact.
Also on that 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.
That could mean thousands of people converging downtown.
"It should be an exciting day for Brooksville," said City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha. "Lots of diverse interests coming together, and a little something for everybody."
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 who often heads north on Sundays for the San Antonio rides, discovered Hernando's potential for a bike event long ago. But just as important, Santa Cruz said, is the reception from local governments and law enforcement agencies that organizers must ask to close roads.
That welcome is sometimes less than warm. Not so here, he said.
"The attitude and the response in Hernando County has been a breath of fresh air," Santa Cruz said. "We believe that Brooksville and Hernando County as a whole can define themselves as a place that embraces the health community."
The roughly mile-long criterium course starts on Liberty Street and includes stretches on Main and Russell streets before riders turn north to attack the bumpy, uphill bricks of S Brooksville Avenue.
"It's a little bit dangerous, and spectators love that," DeWitt said.
Entry fees typically cover the cost of putting on the race and the purse for the winners of the professional races. Other proceeds will benefit three local charities: YMCA's Open Doors program, Arc of the 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 Giant bicycle to a needy child.
Mayor Lara Bradburn, a champion of the city's Good Neighbor Trail, said the event is a sign of things to come as the trail expands beyond its first mile-long phase.
"I'm so excited about this," Bradburn said. "It's kind of a foreshadow for what we hope to have in Brooksville on a regular basis."
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.