In Europe, they're fighting to be part of them. In Virginia, they're creating festivals to celebrate one of them. In Baltimore, the city's symphony orchestra is composing music to honor one of them.
They are the bicycle races.
The coming of the two biggest, richest, most televised bike races in American history, almost back-to-back this spring in Virginia, Washington and Baltimore, will make 1983 a breakthrough year in American bike racing, some cycling officials predict.
The three-day, 275-mile Tour of America race, modeled on the 22-day, 2,200-mile Tour de France bike race, will bring out 75 of the world's best cyclists on April 8, 9 and 10, most of them to race in this country for the first time.
With them will come a traveling circus of more than 50 cars, motorcycles and a helicopter filled with support crews, reporters and television cameras.
That attention will be important to Virginia, the District of Columbia and the race's sponsors--primarily the French bicycle and auto manufacturer, Peugot--for it means national and international exposure on television. In Europe, newspapers will have datelines from Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg and Washington.
The three-day race through the heart of Virginia's tourist country will end in a pink cloud of cherry blossoms, if Washington's cherry trees cooperate, as riders pedal six times around the Tidal Basin and the Mall. The race will be televised in its entirety in many parts of Europe and in excerpts and live for the last half hour on a U.S. network.
In Baltimore on June 5, in an even longer television show, many of the same world-class racers will pedal for more than two hours around the Inner Harbor for the 1983 U.S. Professional Championship. It is the second year for an annual event that Mayor William Donald Schaefer predicts will do for Baltimore what car racing has done for Indianapolis.
The Baltimore race is expected to attract a crowd of more than 100,000, weather permitting, including thousands of bicyclists of all ages who will be invited to cycle over the course before the race.
It will be the most televised bicycle event in America, with at least seven U.S. cities, including Washington, seeing not only the race, but advance programs, including a half-hour, prime-time show on the eve of the race, and a 30-minute postmortem when it ends.
The entire race will be set to music. Racers will pedal to classical music broadcast from street-corner loudspeakers, with the furious final laps accompanied by the William Tell Overture. And the Baltimore Symphony has been commissioned to do a musical composition honoring the bicycle and the race.
There also will be music in connection with the Virginia race.
Fredericksburg is staging a two-day outdoor festival with 20 bands to mark the brief passage of "the Tour," which starts the final day's race in the city just before noon on Sunday, April 10.
Merchants are sponsoring most of the events and one has given $1,000 so that the city can buy flags "and look as good as Alexandria does with its parades," said Assistant City Manager Peggy Marshall.
Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. said, "We don't know what we're doing yet, but we'll try to keep up with Fredericksburg. We're a city that's very enthusiastic about bicycling and this race will bring the creme de la creme" and the media north on Washington Street early on that Sunday afternoon.
Other Virginia cities and towns, realizing the national and international exposure that the race can provide, have pleaded with the Tour to detour their way, much as French towns and cities bid against each other to get the Tour de France.
"I've seen the Tour de France and I said, 'Gee, what would it take to get this Tour to come through downtown Suffolk,' " said Suffolk Mayor Andrew Damiani. "But I was too late. They'd already rerouted the race to spend more time in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Portsmouth and they told me it was too far, 18 extra miles, to come to us. I understood . . . . Maybe next year."
The American Tour already is popular in Europe, with "European cyclists fighting for places, and European journalists, too" fighting to come and cover the race, said Jonathan Boyer, one of America's best professional cyclists and the only American ever to race in the Tour de France. Three teams of Americans have been invited to race in the American Tour.
Not only are these the first major professional races in this country, says Boyer, who will ride in both events, but both offer $100,000 in prize money--more than any previous professional bike races have paid.
Bernard Hinault, four-time winnner of the Tour de France and one of at least six world champion cyclists expected to compete in this first Tour of America, sees the United States as a new world for European bike racers to conquer, even though bicycle racing was invented here in the late 1800s and Americans dominated the sport for many years.
"Europe is already passe' . . . . America is new country" for bike racing, Hinault said recently, "and I simply want to be a pioneer, the first Frenchman, the first great European to win on the new continent."
Hinault, heading a team sponsored by the Renault and Gitane cycle manufacturers, will compete only in the Tour, an open-road "stage" race that tests a rider's stamina and hill-climbing ability, as well as speed. The Baltimore race is a "criterium," a 1.5-mile circular course over city streets, including cobblestones. This is a race that favors sprinters. Greg LeMond, considered with Boyer to be among America's top racers, will compete in the Baltimore race, but not in the Tour.
While the professional races are entirely for men, there being no professional women cyclists or races, American women are among the world's strongest amateur riders. Rebecca Twigg, 19, who recently won the world "pursuit" championship and holds three national cycling titles, raced in Washington last year in the annual National Capital Open Bicycle Race, which marks the start of amateur racing each year in the Northeast.
This year, the race will be held on April 17 at the Ellipse.