Bikers come to race

Published 12:20 am Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eric Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — Cyclists participate in the Louisiana-Mississippi District Road Race Cycling Championships Saturday morning at the Natchez State Park.

Natchez — Dozens of cyclists will take in the scenic beauty of the Natchez State Park this weekend as they meander through the woods and cruise past the lake on their two-wheeled rides.

But these cyclists are not participating in a nice weekend joy-ride. They are competing to claim the title of Louisiana/Mississippi Regional Road Race Champion in races that started at 10 a.m. Saturday and will continue into this afternoon.

Approximately 100 USA Cycling licensed racers, a majority from Louisiana and Mississippi, are competing in different age groups and different skill levels for the regional championships, and tournament coordinator Allen Richard said this event, which is in Natchez for the seventh consecutive year, gets very competitive and is a great event for Natchez cycling.

“(Promoting cycling in Natchez) is really the reason we do it,” Richard said. “We put effort out locally with (the Natchez Bike Club), and we’re not really a racing club. The whole purpose of our effort is to promote cycling, promote racing and promote Natchez. I think it’s a cycling destination in itself, and we try to do everything we can to support the concept of bringing cyclists to Natchez.”

Only two local cyclists participated in the action Saturday. Natchez Bike Club member Scott Sandidge was one of those two. He raced in the Category 5 race that started at noon Saturday.

“I’ve been riding for about three years and racing off and on,” Sadidge said. “I just want to support the hometown race and try to put on a good showing in it for the hometown folks.”

Sandidge had hometown support from former local competitive cyclists Tommy Smith and Curtis Moroney who were trailing the racers and offering encouragement for Sandidge. Moroney and Smith said they have not participated in the race in four years.

“(Having this event here) is great,” Sandidge said. “We want to try to encourage more events like this and try to build Natchez up to be a cycling landmark.”

Sandidge finished ninth in his race. Robert Lewis from Woodville finished seventh in the Category 5 race. Sandidge, Lewis, Smith, Moroney and Richard are all members of the Natchez Bike Club.

Natchez native Scott Kuppersmith also raced Saturday and finished first in the Masters Men’s 35-and-older division.

Saturday morning was the time for the young cyclists to shine at Natchez State Park. Four different age groups started their races at 10 a.m. and four winners were crowned and earned first place points in the region standings.

Fourteen-year-old Andrew McMickens from Alexandria, La., took home third place in his age group, and said he has been cycling for three years and done well, but he has not been able to get over the hump to win a race.

“I haven’t gotten first yet, but I keep getting second or third” he said. “I can’t quite get there.”

McMickens said he came to Natchez for the weekend with his mother Stacey. Both Stacey and Andrew will participate in races today.

“We all normally come, and my husband (Scott) and (other) son (Quinton, 12) would be here too but they had other obligations,” Stacey said. “But we get together and try to ride as much as we can as a family, that’s why we enjoy this sport, because it’s something we can do together.

“I definitely (wanted to come this year) because it’s the championship, and this a great venue, and it’s not that far for us,” she said. “We always like riding around the (Natchez) trace.”

Richard said approximately 80 percent of the riders are from Louisiana or Mississippi, but they do have riders registered from as far as Chicago as well as Alabama, Texas and Florida.

The event features races in four different categories today, including the top level cyclists from categories 1 and 2, Richard said.

The races begin at 9 a.m. with the Men’s Category 1 and 2 racers.