They say it’s like NASCAR, but with two wheels instead of four.
Sure enough, bicycle racing has a lot in common with stock car racing: a pace car, lots of left turns, drafting in packs, a sprint to the finish and, yes, even an occasional wreck.
Its following may be considerably smaller than NASCAR’s, but for competitors and supporters of bicycle racing, the sport is exhausting, thrilling and plain fun.
Around 250 to 300 riders competed in the state criterium – or, closed-course – racing championships Saturday in Blythewood at the fifth annual Summer SOULstice bike race weekend.
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“It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Rip Major, a 50-year-old racer from Greenville. “It’s just seeing how much you can push your body to the limit, how much pain you can endure and how much pain you can inflict on your competition.”
Coming around the final turn in the last lap of the beginner men’s race, Major was riding near the front of the pack. The riders, who averaged speeds of about 25 mph around the 0.6-mile loop, were growing tired at this point near the end of the 35-minute race. As the sprint to the finish line was starting, his vision was narrowing, and maybe he began to lose focus, Major said.
That’s when things got “chaotic,” he said. Another rider bumped him, and Major and his bike wound up in a ditch.
“I remember rolling and then looking up and seeing another cyclist coming at me, so I got run over on top of being on the ground,” Major said.
He thinks he might have cracked a few ribs in the crash. Meanwhile, unscathed, his Greenville Spinners Racing teammate Ron Babington took first place and the state championship in the race.
Junior boys and girls raced together.
The only female competitor in her age group, 12-year-old Sarah Dressel of Fort Mill, finished fifth in the state championship. She started competing in road races only about two months ago, she said.
“I’ve always liked biking,” she said. “I like the feeling of the wind, and I like turning, and I like going against people. I like competition.”
Twelve-year-old Eric Moore of Greenville, one of Dressel’s Upstate Junior Cycling teammates, finished at the top of his age group in the juniors race right before hitting the track again in the beginner men’s race.
“When I’m breaking away, like I did today, I was just trying to think about not letting them catch me,” he said. “You don’t really know (if you’re going to win) until the finish line, because they could catch up. So, really, all you can do is just keep up the pace.”
He trains regularly with his Upstate Junior Cycling teammates and rides about once a week with his mom, Kathleen Moore. She used to be able to ride ahead of him, but now has to play catch-up.
Kathleen Moore said her son became a cyclist after winning his age group in a triathlon three years ago – much like herself, who took up cycling after competing in a triathlon in 2007.
“I ran before that, but I didn’t ride,” she said. “But I fell in love with riding. It’s my
favorite sport of the three. I love riding, just the solitude. It gives me time to think.”