Thousands of spectators and cyclists gathered in Washington County Saturday for the amateur leg of the Tour of Battenkill pro-am bike race.
Event organizer Dieter Drake said the 100 km race through the hilly, rural towns of Greenwich, Salem, Easton and Cambridge drew approximately 1,541 participants and as many as 30,000 spectators, tourists who helped boost the economy of Washington County. He said over the course of the day there were 18 fields of competitors in categories based on age and skill level.
“It was just a sea of cyclists,” he said. “We probably had as many as 20,000 to 30,000 people come out to watch it. I’m not a professional estimator of people, but I’ve never seen that many people in Cambridge.”
The number of spectators is estimated to have increased from 15,000 last year. Increased interest was attributed in part to the growing popularity of the event, which is already said to be the largest amateur bike race in the country, and the addition of a professional/elite cyclist heat Saturday and a professional race scheduled for today. The Pro-Men’s Invitational race today will feature 20 professional and elite cycling teams completing two circuits on the 62-mile course for a total of 124 miles. Floyd Landis, the 2006 Tour de France champion who was subsequently suspended after failing a drug test, is expected to compete as part of his comeback with the OUCH Pro Cycling team.
Tour of Battenkill officials said they believe their event could draw even more spectators, as many as 40,000, if the race could be included in the Union Cyclist International (UCI) America Tour.
Having UCI designation is considered critical to attracting top professional teams because it gives riders a chance to compete for UCI points that go toward national ranking. But the USA Cycling organization, tour promoters say, balked at reviewing the Tour of Battenkill application to be included in the UCI America 2009 race schedule. The USA Cycling people said the Battenkill application was filed too late.
The Tour of Battenkill’s bid for inclusion in the 2010 UCI America Tour received a boost from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., last week. Schumer on Friday attended pre-race festivities in Cambridge and announced his renewed push to have the Tour of Battenkill included in the UCI America Tour.
“Granting the Tour of the Battenkill UCI status would be the icing on the cake, as it would help bring top professional cyclists to the roads of Washington County and provide a shot in the arm for the local economy. I will continue to push USA Cycling to support this application so that Washington County can reap the full benefits of this first-rate race,” Schumer said.
Schumer previously helped the event by lobbying GlobalFoundries Co., the company planning a computer chip plant in Malta, to donate $50,000 to help sponsor the race.
Drake said the funding was key to providing food and lodging for the 20 professional and elite teams this weekend.
He said he believes the Tour of Battenkill will get on the UCI schedule in 2010. The course is already popular among the pro cyclists he’s talked to. He designed the course to reflect the true terrain of his home in Washington County.
“I just came from a dinner with all of the professional teams, and they said, ‘boy, if this race isn’t on the UCI calender, I don’t know what can be.’ They’re telling me [UCI] has races that aren’t half as well organized as this one that have as much community support as this one.”
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