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Cyclists speed to fulfill what Habitat needs

Ivan Stevic's fists reached for the sky as his bicycle hurtled down Seventh Street, the 26-year-old Serb capturing first place in Sunday's Race for Humanity Criterium event.

The second-year pro cyclist from Belgrade earned a gold medal, a $250 check and a titanium Festina watch valued at $400.

But Percy Austin had him beat.

Austin got a new home Sunday - or at least the wooden frame.

East Pasco Habitat for Humanity volunteers spent five hours assembling the skeleton of the Austin family's new 1,100-square-foot home inside the downtown Dade City race course. They erected the stud walls, nailed plywood to the sides and assembled the trusses on Pasco Avenue.

Then they took it down that afternoon and transported the sections to the home's lot on nearby Lowell Harris Way. It will be permanently erected this morning on the home's foundation, then finished.

There are more than 2,500 families in east Pasco that live in substandard housing, according to Habitat for Humanity.

Now one fewer family will have to do so after this weekend's two-day charity bike race.

"It makes me feel good watching them put it up," said Austin, 50.

The Dade Battle of Brilliance is no more. The annual event has been renamed the Race for Humanity in its seventh season, under new sponsor East Pasco Habitat for Humanity, which has also given the event a new purpose. That is why downtown regulars were treated to the unusual sight of a home being built between the historic Pasco County courthouse and the abandoned Western Auto.

"It's a symbol of what we do," said East Pasco Habitat for Humanity executive director John Finnerty, "and it's also there to draw attention to the plight of the folks living in our county who have to live in substandard housing."

Organizers think they have reached their goal of raising $20,000.

The old race was always a charity race - it just didn't have a charity, which made it difficult to stay out front for sponsor Kiefer Village Jewels, a for-profit business running an Olympic-style benefit race.

In December, East Pasco Habitat for Humanity took over the name and race operations. It started for all levels and ages Saturday with the new road race in San Antonio and ended Sunday with the 0.6-mile Criterium race in downtown Dade City.

Officials said 716 riders raced for more than $6,000 in prizes during the two-day event. That is more riders than those drawn to any Florida event last season, including the state championships.

Not bad for a race that often struggled to attract funding, community support and competitors.

"It's not an experiment anymore; it's a total success," said Kiefer Village Jewels owner David Hevia. "Habitat . . . with just everything they have to offer, have taken what was just a bicycle race and now made it into a great event."

It was an event not without controversy. Contact on the second turn of the last lap of Sunday's pro race resulted in one rider taking a spill and left some complaining afterward.

A more serious accident Saturday left a rider hospitalized. Officials said a female rider fell out of the road race's safety escort. When that happens, a rider has to follow the rules of the road, but officials said the injured rider didn't. Race officials said she saw a police car on the race course and mistakenly thought traffic had been shut down.

She ran a stop sign at Ramsey and St. Joe roads, race officials said, turning into the path of an oncoming pickup. She was struck and flown to a Tampa hospital with chest injuries.

The rider was doing well Saturday, race officials said, and they spoke to her that night at the hospital.

Sunday's race also heralded the return of San Antonio resident and former national team member Josh Thornton to competitive cycling. He placed third in the pro Criterium of his hometown race, officially ending the 27-year-old's retirement. He had been training again only for a few months.

"I've been retired from competitive racing since 2001," he said. "I had a unique opportunity to get back into cycling. I'm in a different position in life. I'm more able to do more racing more comfortably.

"I really hope this is a (good sign). It's the start of the season, and I need to train a little bit more, but it's a good way to start the season."

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