With longer daylight, warm weather and inspiration provided by this spring's Tour de Trump, area cyclists have a variety of local weekday evening races to sharpen their speed for the big weekend competitions out of town.
Tuesday and Thursday events already are spinning around Westgate Industrial Park in Tysons Corner. Registration opens at 5:30 p.m. and races begin at 6 p.m.
"Bicycle racers need a lot of fast miles during the week to better prepare for the demanding events," explained Alex Sallwey of Arlington, a race official.
Similar races started up this month in Greenbelt Park. "Registration will begin at 5:15 p.m., and we expect the first race to begin at 6," said race director Larry Black.
Both venues offer separate events for novice riders and experienced competitors. Both venues charge $5 for each race registration, which covers insurance and goes toward prizes. Races will continue through September.
Only riders registered with the sport's governing body, the U.S. Cycling Federation, are eligible for the Westgate Series, Sallwey said. Applications may be obtained from area bicycle shops or directly from the USCF in Colorado Springs.
USCF registration is optional at the Greenbelt Series. "Anybody can ride, but people under 21 must have their parent or legal guardian present," Black said.
The Westgate and Greenbelt races offer racing around circuits closed to traffic. Called criteriums, these are the most prevalent sort of bicycle races in America. Criteriums are the bread and butter of bicycle racing. Champions such as Greg LeMond grow up on a steady diet of these as amateurs.
Westgate's course is slightly less than a mile around, mostly flat. "Novice riders . . . start in the first race, the B race," Sallwey said. "The B race goes for 20 laps. The A race is for the better, more experienced riders. They go 30 laps."
Greenbelt's course is a 1.5-mile route that undulates around the tree-lined park. Novices compete in five-lap, 7.5-mile races; those in the open competition go 15 laps for 22.5 miles.
"The success of each of our races is subject to road marshals," Black cautioned. "We need volunteers around the course to alert anyone walking past because the riders come up so quickly."
Both venues can boast distinguished riders. Jim Montgomery, 46, of Herndon, a regular at the Westgate Series, has won 15 national age-graded championships. The Greenbelt Series has had the likes of Tour de France veteran Jock Boyer and national professional road race champion Thomas Prehn in the pack.
"The races are a great way to break into the sport," Sallwey said. "They're also great for working on speed, building confidence."
Black calls cyclists "competition junkies." Points are tallied at the end of each Greenbelt race toward prizes awarded at the conclusion of the summerlong series.
Sallwey said Westgate's series also uses a points format. "At the end of each month, certificates for merchandise awards at local bike shops are distributed," he said. "But the prizes are not the real purpose of these races. The real purpose is training."