After two years in making, Maryland Cycling Classic set for debut on Labor Day weekend

Baltimore Sun (TNS)
From left, Leonard Howie, Director of Economic Development for Baltimore County; R. Michael Gill, Maryland Secretary of Commerce, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott; and John Kelly of Kelly Benefit Strategies announce the debut of the Maryland Cycling Classic, which is scheduled to run Sept. 4 on a 120-mile course from northern Baltimore County to downtown Baltimore.

Delayed for two years by the coronavirus pandemic, the Maryland Cycling Classic will make its debut on Labor Day weekend on a 120-mile course that begins in northern Baltimore County, just below the York County line, and ends in downtown Baltimore.

Organizers of the event, billed as America’s top-ranked professional road cycling race, and area political leaders convened Tuesday morning at the Columbus Center in Baltimore to outline the 120.4-mile route that will start at Kelly Benefits headquarters in Sparks, loop twice around Prettyboy Reservoir and finish at the Inner Harbor at East Pratt Street and Market Place.

Seventeen teams of seven riders — a group representing more than 25 countries — will compete in the Sept. 4 race that was originally scheduled to make its inaugural run in 2020 but was pushed back by concerns over COVID-19.

John Kelly, the race chairman and chief strategy officer for Kelly Benefits Strategies, compared the effort behind organizing the race with the determination needed to complete the course.

“It hasn’t been easy, but nothing good in life is easy,” he said. “But it’s rewarding when you stick to it. Cycling embodies a sport that requires tremendous discipline, tremendous commitment, and literally, you get to the point where you just can’t try any harder.”

The event will be the first world-class cycling race in Maryland since the 1996 Tour DuPont, according to organizers.

Big economic impact: Terry Hasseltine, president of the Sport & Entertainment Corp. of Maryland, which owns and manages the Maryland Cycling Classic, said early numbers project an economic impact of more than $10 million. He said it’s anticipated that more than 70,000 people will travel to Baltimore to take part in race festivities and watch the actual competition.

Sept. 1 has been billed as “Community Day,” where organizers and sponsors will try to spread enthusiasm for bicycles and raise awareness for bike and helmet safety. The 17 teams of professional riders will be introduced Sept. 2.

Sept. 3 is the Bridges of Hope Ride that begins at 8:30 a.m. at Kelly Benefits. Participants can ride on a 31- or 62-mile route that could cross as many as 52 bridges in the state. The actual race will start at 1 p.m. Sept. 4.

R. Michael Gill, secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce, said the event will give Baltimore and the state a chance to market themselves to an international audience.

“When we have something in Maryland like this, they get a chance to taste all of the other great things that are in Maryland. That’s why this matters,” he said. “The race will be the race. There’ll be a winner, there’ll be losers, it will have a beginning, it will have an end. But tens of thousands of people will experience Maryland and experience this region. … People get to experience our great state and then come back again.”

Another significant event for the city: Just two months after the city hosted the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott welcomed another significant athletic event to the city.

“We are transforming Baltimore into a premier destination for all sorts of events, but especially sporting events,” said Scott, who noted that he was president of the Baltimore City Council when Hasseltine first approached him about the race. “And we want our region to continue to be a place where everyone is welcome and people from all over the world look forward to visiting.”

Hasseltine pointed out that Baltimore continues to work with Washington on a merged proposal to serve as one of several U.S. cities to host games for the 2026 World Cup.

“That is huge,” he said. “This plus that, Baltimore, Maryland, is your new epicenter of international sports.”

Leonard Howie, Baltimore County director of economic and workforce development, said he was eager to help usher the county into a partnership with the city to host the race, characterizing himself as a “cycling enthusiast.”

“If I’m not on my road bike, I’m on my fitness bike. If I’m not on my stationary bike, I’m dreaming about being on a bike,” he said. “So when this opportunity was presented, that the county could be a partner in this, I couldn’t have jumped on it faster.”

Starts close to the Pennsylvania line: The race will begin in Baltimore County on an “upper course” highlighted by undulating terrain close to the Pennsylvania state line, then loop around the Prettyboy Reservoir, offering cyclists chances to break away from competitors.

After the first 75 miles, participants will travel south on Falls Road for 4.5 finishing circuits of 7.5 miles each, featuring 19 turns through downtown and neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Fells Point, Mount Vernon and Greenmount West. The final 1.9 miles will descend St. Paul Street onto East Pratt Street for what could provide a flat and fast conclusion.

A race spokeswoman said information on road closures will become available about a week before the competition.

"Preakness on Wheels:" Chris Aronhalt, owner and president of Medalist Sports, which is managing and marketing the event, described it as “Preakness on Wheels.” He said a few professionals already have ridden the course and told him, “There’s nowhere to hide.”

Ben King, a top rider for one of America’s top professional teams, Human Powered Health, gave his endorsement of the course.

“The Maryland Cycling Classic will give riders and spectators alike a feel for rural and urban Maryland,” King said. “I really like what they’ve done. The quiet country roads at the start are like those that I train on in central Virginia and will be relatable to local riders. I can guarantee the constant rolling terrain will be more punishing than it looks on paper. ... The people of Maryland and Baltimore should get ready for a great show.”