Bike race a strong draw in Lititz
Races provide an economic boost BY BERNARD HARRIS, Staff Writer
Doug Royer was there Sunday at 11:30 a.m. to set up his chairs at the corner of East Main and North Cedar streets.
Why was that the chosen spot to view the second Rock Lititz Tour?
"Because we were here last year," said Royer, a borough resident.
He and Linda Long had front-row seats to the crashes on that corner at the inaugural race, and they decided it was the most exciting place to watch the series of bicycle races in the town.
A video of one crash taken from that spot was uploaded onto YouTube.com. It went viral and was picked up by ESPN.
"Everybody saw that video," said race organizer Rich Ruoff, of the Road Cycling League.
"I think it brought more spectators here," Ruoff said of Sunday afternoon's crowds, which lined the three-block-long finishing straight along East Main Street.
But it also might have worked against the race, he acknowledged.
"There was definitely talk among the riders," he said.
About 180 racers participated in the the six men's races and one woman's race. About 300 were expected.
Ruoff believes some stayed away after the event was reduced from three stages over two days to a single afternoon race.
Yet, he plans to revive the three-stage format for next year. It will again include a road race on Saturday morning and an individual time trial on Sunday morning.
Ruoff also plans to add recreational rides of different lengths next year for nonracing cyclists.
He credited the Rock Lititz Group -- the three Lititz companies of Atomic Design, Clair Global and Tait Towers -- for supporting the race.
"We want to grow this to become a major annual East Coast event," with as many as 600 races and as many as 7,500 spectators, Ruoff said.
Evan Wheeler was one who said he would likely be back next year.
The 30-year-old racer from Takoma Park, Md., had come to Lititz to do his first race of the season. It would be preparation for larger races in the Washington, D.C., area in coming months.
He had not raced Lititz before, but had heard of the race from teammates on the National Capital Velo Club.
And, he said, he saw the video.
"Everybody saw the video," said Wheeler. In fact, he had viewed it the previous day in preparation for the race.
Fortunately, Ruoff had made changes in the seven-tenths-of-a-mile course. At turn four, at Cedar and Main streets, the barricades were pulled back to widen the turn as much as possible. Hay bales were added in an effort to reduce injuries for any riders who miscalculated the downhill curve.
Although Sunday's event was not crash-free, the crashes were minor and none occurred on that turn.
What impressed Wheeler was the size and enthusiasm of the crowd.
"It's obviously a great venue. You've got a ton of local support," he said. "We have races in D.C. that don't get this much attention."
Nearby, Ramon Benitez stood along the barricades with his son, 20-month-old Beniceo, on his shoulders.
Still in his spandex racing suit after taking second place in the men's over-40 race, Benitez was cheering on his wife, Dorian Buckethal, in the women's race. She also sped to second place.
"It's a little vacation," Benitez, of Howard County, Md., said of their weekend stay in a Lititz bed & breakfast.
"This is a place to vacation. The fact that you get to race your bike is just a plus," he said.
Joel Cliff, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the county's tourism-promotion agency periodically highlights bicycling, among other outdoor activities.
The one-day Lititz race is expected to generate $16,600 to $26,600 in spending on hotels, restaurants, gas stations and shopping.
The economic impact of the 14 bicycle races scheduled in Lancaster County this spring and summer is expected to exceed $233,000.
Some Lititz shops stayed open for the event. Some restaurants had special menus planned for the racers and the crowds.
Kelly Withum, executive director of Venture Lititz, a downtown promotional organization, said the borough's downtown businesses are happy to support the race.
"It's a different demographic than we're used to seeing in our downtown," Withum said. "It brought new and different people to town."
She estimated that about half the crowd was from out of town, while the other half was local.
Among the local racers was Brad Ober of the Thru-It-All Body Shop team.
Ober, of Manheim Township, won the men's over-50 race, but it wasn't for lack of stiff competition. He raced against two former Olympians, one of whom is the current national champion in his age group.
"I got away early with another guy, and they weren't able to bridge the gap," he explained of his victory.
He watched the later races from a spot near the hay bales, where riders passed perilously close.
"It's a good place to turn the screws a little bit," he said of the turn.
Royer, watching the race from the nearby corner, noted the addition of more food vendors and a biergarten at this year's race. That's in the European-style of bicycle racing, said Soren West, a one-time professional racer and now president of Atomic Design.
There, races often are community festivals built around the race.
West said the Rock Lititz companies hope to promote a festival as a gift to the community that hosts them.
"We hope to be back every year to have it be better and better," he told the crowd.