WINTER HAVEN, Fla.—For the third straight year, cyclists in the Chain of Lakes Cycling Classic Criterium blazed through the streets of downtown Winter Haven, racing to raise funds for the Polk County Humane Society.
Organized by the non-profit group Cycling Classics Inc., the Chain of Lakes Cycling Classic is dedicated to cycling, community, and charity, and this year, as in the past, all three constituencies were well served.
The Criterium, a multi-lap race on an 8-turn, three-quarter-mile course, delivers the speed and excitement of bicycle racing directly to Winter Haven residents, free of charge. With half the course looping around the park and two corners facing the terrace of Richard’s Fine Coffees, spectators can sit in the shade or sip lattés while racers fly past at 30 mph.
Cyclists love the course because it is challenging. Fans love the course because it is picturesque and offers many comfortable views. Families enjoy the Kids’ Races and the Bicycle Safety Rodeo sponsored by Safe Kids.
And lost, abandoned, and abused pets love the entire event because 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Polk County Humane Society, the only No-Kill shelter in the area. Since every rescued pet lives at the Humane Society until it is adopted, funds for food and care are constantly needed. Through the Chain of Lakes Criterium, cyclists and supporters do their part to help.
Best Pros and Amateurs Attend
The Criterium, like its companion events in the Chain of Lakes Cycling Classic, the road race and time trial held the day prior in Fort Meade, features several classes of riders competing in a daylong schedule of races. With classes for every age from 10-year-olds to masters over 65, there is a race for every serious cyclist.
Cyclists come from all over the Southeast (and for one pair of riders, from Michigan) to compete in the Chain of Lakes Classic events, which carry the coveted Florida Crown designation, making them worth extra points and prize money.
For the cyclists, the chance to race for more points, a larger purse, and the best trophies of any event in the state (custom crafted by Earth Studios of Moab, Utah) is an irresistible draw.
Add to that the Criterium course—not the usual boring square, but a pair of linked rectangles with high-speed S turns, forcing riders to stay alert all the time—plus the chance to help the Humane Society, and it is easy to see why so many cyclists show up.
Bring the Kids
Local families come for the thrills—words cannot transmit the awesome impact of a pack of cyclists whizzing past, heeled over at 45-degree angles, banking through tight turns, only a few feet away—but also for the ambience and the other activities.
With vendors selling a variety of foods, the sculptures that dot the park, the food and beverages available at Richard’s, right on the course, there is plenty to enjoy besides the racing.
Safe Kids, in partnership with the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, sponsored a bicycle safety road for the young ones. A course was laid out in a parking lot adjacent to the race course, where young riders could learn the proper way to signal turns and cross a road, and could perfect their riding skills in a safe environment.
All Children’s Hospital, in conjunction with Safe Kids, set up several booths providing information about water safety, child passenger safety, and other ideas for keeping kids healthy and happy.
Sarita Taylor, the Department of Transportation District Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, was on hand as she is every year, giving away free bicycle helmets to children who lack them.
The ever-popular Kids’ Races, for 4–6-year-olds and 7–9-year-olds, were repeated this year. The youngest children raced only a few hundred yards, while the older kids did an entire lap of the course (supervised by some of the pro riders.)
In the end, every participant got a medal and a chance to pose for pictures on the top step of the podium, so every child got to go home feeling like a winner. [etssp 319]
For most fans, and of course the riders, the focus of the event is the racing. Electronically timed by the crew from Topview Sports and organized by the all-volunteer staff of Cycling Classics Inc., each race went off without difficulty and almost precisely on schedule, despite the three-ring circus aspect—with podium ceremonies, race starts and finishes, plus kids’ events—all happening at different places around the park.
With riders rounding the corners at 30 mph and topping 40 on the straights, the pack passes frequently enough for fans to follow the course of the action; those paying less attention could rely on the play-by-play announcing and astute analysis provided by the Topview Sports announcer.
Racing in packs at high speeds around tight corners is inherently dangerous, and there were a couple of serious crashes, one at the road race and one at the Criterium. Cycling Classics had paramedics on hand to treat and transports the injured riders.[etssp 320]
Most collisions ended in scrapes and bruises, generally with the riders leaping up, grabbing their bikes, and rejoining the race in their tattered uniforms, eager to place well despite a little road-rash.
When the last lap was finished and every one departed, the Cycling Classics team—from the board of directors to the temporary volunteers—pitched in to clean up. Exhausted, sunburned, and satisfied, they knew that the fans and the riders had left happy, and somewhere in Polk County, some rescued pets had a better chance at better homes.
For complete results, please visit Florida Cycling.com.
Women Cat 1–4