By Marie McAden
The 190 riders competing in the Sixth Annual Beaufort Memorial Cycling Classic on May 1 aren’t the only ones who will be breaking a sweat. A small army of volunteers, including a group of 15-20 U.S. Marines, will toil tirelessly on race day to turn Beaufort’s Historic District into a cycling speedway.
Starting at noon, volunteers will set up large tower lights at nine spots along the .6-mile course that loops around Bay Street to Scott Street down Craven to Newcastle
Street. They’ll also stack bales of hay on corners and at other hazards for the safety of the riders who will be traveling up to 40 miles an hour.
At 2 p.m., crews will get to work assembling a large stage on Bay Street for the awards ceremony. Two hours later, the Marines from the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort will arrive downtown to erect the 4,000 feet of fencing that separates spectators from cyclists.
During the race, a couple dozen members of local bicycling clubs will serve as course marshals, helping pedestrians get across roads and ensuring the pathway is clear when the cyclists circle around.
And at the end of the race, they break it all down and pack it all up for next year.
“We couldn’t put on this kind of event without the help of a lot of people,” said race organizer Don “DG” Veitch. “The community has really embraced it.”
Part of the USA Crits Southeast series, the Cycling Classic is the third heat in a seven-race competition that begins April 28 in Athens, Ga., with the Terrapin Twilight Criterium and ends May 6 in Sandy Springs, Ga. This year’s race is expected to draw all 15 national professional cycling teams.
Beaufort Memorial Hospital has served as the title sponsor for the Lowcountry event since its inception in 2007, helping to finance operational costs and the $15,000 in cash prizes.
“The hospital is the perfect sponsor because it promotes active, healthy living,” Veitch said. “Cycling fits right into that lifestyle.”
Hosting the event is Lowcountry Velo, a Beaufort-based USA Cycling Association club and team. Months prior to the race, members of the group go out into the community to solicit other sponsors.
The group also helps find some 15 host families for riders needing a place to stay. Gary and Pat Thompson, both Beaufort Memorial physicians, have opened their home to several different women’s teams over the last five years.
“We love having them,” said Pat Thompson, a gynecologist with Beaufort OB/GYN. “These are riders who might not otherwise be able to afford to come to Beaufort and compete if they had to pay for lodging.”
Her husband, Gary, an avid cyclist who rides 35 to 60 miles four days a week, often tags along with the women racers on their training rides.
“They’re amazing athletes,” said Thompson, an anesthesiologist with Lowcountry Anesthesia, a sponsor of the event. “They’ll ride for three hours at a pace of about 18 miles an hour and then get back on their bikes that night for the race and ride 35 miles at speeds reaching 30 miles an hour.”
The teams, which can include up to five riders, the team manager and a mechanic, usually stay about five or six days, commuting to Walterboro for the fourth race in the series held the day after the Cycling Classic.
In addition to providing accommodations, the Thompsons also cook for the cyclists.
“The first year, the girls brought cans of tuna and pasta and made their own dinner,” Gary Thompson recalled. “I broke out fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano and truffle oil to add to the dish. That’s all it took to convince them. The next night I did the cooking.”
The Cycling Classic is free and open to the public. The event starts at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 1 with a kids’ competition, followed by the women’s race at 6 p.m. and the men’s heat at 7:30 p.m.
For more information on the Cycling Classic, visit www.lowcountrycyclist.com.