Louisiana, Mississippi bikers compete in tournament

Published 12:16 am Sunday, September 13, 2009

By Michael Kerekes

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Natchez native and current Southern Miss student Ty Sullivan said, for him, biking is an “escape,” a means to get away from everyday life.

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“I wasn’t very successful as a high school athlete due to working conditions,” Sullivan, 22, said. “So this was something that allowed me to take what I thought was an individual sports and just get out what I could put in.”

Sullivan has been putting time and effort into biking since 2004, when he first joined the Natchez Bike Club. This year, however, marks his first year as a participant in amateur bike racing.

Sullivan is one of many contestants in the Louisiana-Mississippi District Road Race Championships taking place at Natchez State Park this weekend. The race is put on by the Louisiana-Mississippi Bicycle Racing Association, a regional association of USA Cycling.

Allen Richard, an event promoter of the race, said the tournament serves as the regional championship race for all LAMBRA participants.

“They’re racing for points and medals,” Richard said. “They get double points in their category and basically bragging rights of being the regional champion.

“They’ve accumulated points (with LAMBRA) through races throughout the year, and the attraction of this is double points, which goes towards who ends up winning the championship (for their category).”

The categories are broken up into fifths, Richard said, with Category 1 racers being the most experienced and Category 5 being the least experienced.

“(Category) 1 would be the fastest, strongest (of the bunch),” Richard said. “The next level up from (Category) 1 would be professional. (Category) 5 would be entry-level. If you showed up and wanted to race for the first time, you’d be in (Category) 5, and as you accumulate points and placing, you move up based on USA Cycling parameters.”

In addition to category racing, the road race championship also sees participation based upon age, ranging from children as young as 12 to adults older than 60. Both the age-based races and Categories 1 – 5 racing split up men and women. Saturday saw racing among the different age groups, as well as Category 5 contestants, and today will play host to Categories 1 – 4 competitions.

The course is a 5.2 mile loop through Natchez State Park. Richard said the state park was chosen as the location for the event due to it being biker-friendly.

“While the course is open to traffic, but it’s a very controllable area with very light traffic and good road services,” Richard said. “The park service here is very accommodating. Obviously, we bring traffic to their facility, and it’s just a good relationship.”

Richard also said he was very grateful for the amount of people that volunteer their time to make the event possible.

“There is a huge amount of volunteer effort for this,” Richard said. “Almost none of the volunteers race, most just ride recreationally. There’s just no way to do this without all the volunteers.”

For Sullivan, a Category 5 racer, the road race championship is something that has been anticipated for while.

“This is actually a really cool event,” Sullivan said. “I spent my entire year training just in hopes of getting to come out and perform in front of the people in my town, so year-long I get ready for this, because when you tell people you’re a cyclist, they expect you to win every race. So when you come to your home town, you really want to perform well and make the time look good.”