Murray, KY – Hundreds of riders clad in multi-colored jerseys and spandex flocked to Calloway County this past weekend for the MidWest Collegiate Cycling Conference's first road race of the season. The race also represents a first for Murray State's cycling team it's the first event of its kind the team has ever hosted. Carrie Pond has more.
Cyclists from as far as Michigan and Wisconsin braved cold and rainy weather for last weekend's road race in Kirksey. Sponsor Tom Timmons says the team put in a bid for the first race of the year in hopes Murray State's location would sweeten the pot for the other conference teams.
"The MidWest Conference are all states that are north of us, so we were hoping that we'd have some nice spring, warm Kentucky weather for them to come down to, but it hasn't hurt the attendance; this is a really great turnout."
Because the cycling team is a club sport at MSU, team members pay for most costs individually. The team hosts mountain bike races annually at Land between the Lakes to fund their mountain bike season, but this was the first time the team had organized a road race. Since November, president James Combs and vice president Charlie Adams have borne the brunt of the work, orchestrating volunteers, clearing up liability issues with the university and plotting the course. Because of the workload, Adams decided to sit out on the race, instead focusing his attention to directing the various volunteers.
James Combs, however, excited by the prospect of racing on his home turf, decided to juggle organizing and cycling.
"I haven't even been thinking about racing; I've just been thinking about getting the race together and it's kind of crazy that I have to race in a few minutes. It'd be good to have been warming up for 30 or 40 minutes before the race but I'm not going to have a chance to do that today."
Teammate Jeff Viniard says he wouldn't expect any less from Combs.
"You know James relishes being in the saddle, so if anything, being out there in the miserable weather is really going to be good for him.
After hearing predictions of rain or even snow for the day of the race, team members worried the turnout wouldn't be enough to cover the expenses of organizing the event and hiring officials. While heading back to Murray to make last minute copies of registration forms, Charlie Adams's concerns were slightly assuaged as he saw potential cyclists heading toward the starting point.
"Seeing a lot of cars with bicycles coming at us. That's a good sign. I mean the beginner race is supposed to off in 15 minutes, but that means a lot of other riders are coming in."
But Adams and his teammates had no reason to fear over 240 riders showed on Saturday alone. Among those at the road race was Jenny Barr, a rider from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She says she came to Murray hoping for spring like weather, but enjoyed the trip anyway.
"I mean the conditions weren't so great. It was cold, and the second you're done, your sweat freezes and you're freezing cold. But it was good."
The team's good fortune continued during the next day's event 180 riders stuck around to race in the criterium, a short circuit race that took place behind Murray State's Alexander Hall. After hearing the team had made a 2400 dollar profit which will go towards hotel accommodations, registration fees and transportation costs during the rest of road season James Combs was markedly more upbeat than the day before. He says the team received a lot of positive feedback about the courses, both from officials and participants.
"It's got a nice variety. It's got flats, it's got rolling hills, and the one big hill I was glad to hear people had problems with. And most of them, I think, were hurting their last lap on that hill. And that's the way I think it should be."
Hendrik Frentrup from University of Wisconsin at Madison says between the weather and the difficult criterium course, the first race of the season was certainly challenging
"Yesterday was an easy course, but a rough race because it was raining and hailing and everything. Today is a beautiful day, but a very technical course. So overall, I'd say it's the harshest conditions I've ever raced under."
Despite the challenges, Frentrup is one of many participants who said they'd come down to Murray again for another race. Charlie Adams says all the planning was worth the chance to host the event.
"It's kind of weird having a Sunday afternoon crit that you don't have drive three or four hours home afterward. So, I don't know, it was nice to have a race in Murray it was a good experience."
All the positive feedback already has the team talking of hosting a race next year. If all goes well, James Combs says he hopes to make it an annual event.