The District is known for its traffic, but D.C. residents Sunday will see a new breed of congestion as scores of cyclists pack into a 1-kilometer circuit between Pennsylvania Avenue and F Street NW.
About 125 of the world’s best riders, including elite American cyclist Christian Vande Velde, will negotiate sharp turns and a daunting hill during the 85 laps of the ING Direct Capital Criterium, the first bike race of its kind to be held in the District.
It will be the anti-Tour De France, with long mountain climbs replaced by the challenge of quick acceleration and the ability to fend off rival riders in a close space.
“There’s going to be a lot of slicing and dicing out there for sure,” veteran Canadian rider Eric Wohlberg said. “But I think it’s going to make for a great spectacle, and it will be good for the riders and good for the people to have it right in downtown.”
The event had been held in Silver Spring in past years but was forced to seek a new location after losing support from the town’s business improvement district. Race director Mark Sommers then inquired about the District’s interest with Mayor Adrian Fenty, who is an avid cyclist and triathlete.
“His eyes lit up, and he said, ‘You’re kidding me,’” Sommers said. “‘That’s the only big sporting event we don’t have in the city. Let’s talk about it.’”
For the District, the timing was appropriate. It boasts of its status as the “most improved city” for cyclists, according to Bicycling Magazine. Fenty and other D.C. leaders have encouraged residents to cycle more and have advocated the use of the SmartBike system, which allows people in the city to rent bikes for short trips around the city.
In addition to ING Direct and the sports commission, the race has enlisted 11 sponsors, including the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and Cyclelife, a new shop, cafe and cycling club in Georgetown that will open this fall.
“The stars started to align, and the pieces really started to come together,” Sommers said. “It hit a number of bells that were attractive not only to the administration but to corporate partners.”
In addition to the pro race, Sunday’s events will include two kids races, a masters race for riders 35 and over and a race for advanced amateur cyclists.
Organizers and riders said they hope the event will boost the profile of cycling as it seeks to improve its reputation after a series of doping scandals. Sommers pointed to the involvement of several riders in a new testing program that seeks to create a “biological profile” that establishes baseline values for hormone levels and concentration of red blood cells. Any deviation from that profile would mean a rider could be cheating.
“I think there are a lot of teams that are doing everything they can to make sure the sport is clean,” Wohlberg said. “There’s a huge effort being made by everyone to restore the integrity of the sport.”