Cycling event promises excitement

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 25, 2000

When Chuck Hodge, Event Manager of the Elite National Cycling Championship to be held here May 21, first approached officials about staging the race in Natchez, they weren’t exactly doing flips.

It only took one visit to change that.

&uot;At first when I told them about Natchez, they were like Natchez?!?&uot; Hodge said. &uot;We had the race in Cincinnati last year, and we’ve had it in New York. But after they came here and met with the mayor and police chief and other officials they were just overwhelmed by Natchez. Everybody’s excited about it.&uot;

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The event comes one day after the United States Cycling Olympic Trials in Jackson, where the winner of that race will secure a spot on the Olympic team. An international race and standings determine other riders. Hodge said the U.S. Olympic team will probably be made up of all professionals.

While pros and amateurs will race in Jackson, the Natchez race will be comprised of male amateurs only.

Hodge said he expects 150 to 200 riders in Natchez for the big race.

&uot;They will be coming from all over the country,&uot;&160;he said

The race here will be similar to the Road Race that is run in the Natchez Bicycle Classic.

Riders will start on Main Street, head out to Upper Kingston for 120 miles of racing, and return to town around or a little after 5 p.m. and finish up with a few laps down Silver Street and through town which will take about 45 minutes to an hour. Riders will be going approximately 30 miles per hour at the finish.

Hodge and two members of the USA Cycling toured the course with Natchez Bicycle Classic organizer Curtis Moroney.

&uot;It’s a great route,&uot; Hodge said.

And, as with the Natchez Bicycle Classic, teams will be doing everything possible to get one of their riders the best possible advantage, such as drafting and breaking away from the pack to tire out those who riders who are not part of a big team.

Herring Gas of Natchez will be competing in the race.

&uot;There will be even more strategy for this race,&uot; Hodge said. &uot;There are more teams in the Elite and most will have four or five members. It’s not always the fastest rider, but the smartest. And those riders who don’t have teams, can play off of other teams.&uot;

The winner of the race here will have an opportunity to join a pro team and could possibly end up racing in Europe.

&uot;Cycling in Europe is like NASCAR here,&uot; Hodge said.

While no money is involved, the champion gets a gold medal and gets to where a national championship jersey with stars and stripes for a full year.

&uot;And even more importantly, the winner will have a good chance to be selected for a pro team,&uot; Hodge said. &uot;There are seven or eight pro teams, and they usually try and pick up the national champion for the next year.&uot;

Come on out May 22 and you just may be seeing the next Lance Armstrong.

Hodge is also in town spending time addressing volunteer help such as course marshals. Hopefully he will learn quickly in Natchez finding volunteers is not be a big problem.

When a big event hits Natchez, you can always count on people stepping forward to help.

&uot;We will have a party beforehand for volunteers and T-shirts,&uot; Hodge said. &uot;And we’re also planning some events downtown for the time the riders will be out in Kingston.&uot;

Joey Martin is sports editor of The Democrat. He can be reached by calling 446-5172 ext. 232 or at