Washington County residents play major role in event’s success.
HAGERSTOWN, MD — For the second year in a row, the nations top competitors descended upon Washington County, Maryland for the 2019 USA Cycling (USAC) Amateur Road National Championships. Over the course of four days, cyclists tackled the rolling hills of Boonsboro and Clear Spring, with the final day consisting of the high-intensity Criterium (Crit) through the aesthetically pleasing streets of historic Downtown Hagerstown.
The action-packed weekend kicked-off Wednesday, June 19th, with the Big Bike BBQ Event at the scenic Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville. On Thursday, cyclists took to the roads, starting with the Time Trials, where competitors rode past the lush farmlands of Boonsboro. On Friday and Saturday, racers tackled the picturesque backroads of Clear Spring in the two-day Road Race. The championships came to a conclusion Sunday – at speeds of 25 to 30 mph – with the fast-paced Crit through the Arts and Cultural Districts in beautiful Downtown Hagerstown.
“Hosting the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championship was such an incredible experience that brought both our local community together and cyclists from across the nation to Washington County” said Audrey Vargason, director of sales for Visit Hagerstown.
The Hagerstown and Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that the 2018 USAC Championship Weekend generated $1.4 million dollars in revenue for the county, while Sports Destination Management Magazine reported around $2.6 million dollars for direct and indirect spending. Visit Hagerstown officials are confident that this year’s totals will match the turn-out from 2018, which saw more than 670 athletes competing in the weekends events. That number doesn’t include the families of cyclists, supporters and other racing enthusiasts who patronized local hotels and businesses.
The USAC Championships have created an opportunity to connect Washington County residents with the national cycling scene. Spectators lined country roads and downtown streets, ringing cowbells and cheering on the competitors. The final day of racing included a family-friendly Block Party at University Plaza in Downtown Hagerstown, with live musical performances, food from local vendors, and a Kids Zone with face painting and popular backyard games like cornhole, Connect Four, and oversized Jenga sets.
In order to execute an event of this size, Visit Hagerstown relied heavily on the help of local residents who served as volunteers throughout the four days of racing, some of which were on the scene as early as 3:30 a.m. Tasks varied depending on the day, especially as the sites of the races changed. For the Time Trials, volunteers spread out across the 11 to 30 kilometer (6.8 to 18.6 miles) course, building fencing and putting up signage. For the Clear Spring Road Races, where the course distance was between 80 and 162 kilometers (50 to 100.6 miles), volunteers worked in the “Feed Zone”, areas where competitors can receive water bottles as they race. Many local residents were amazed by the speed of the competitors, especially as they attempted to hand them drinks on-the-go.
First responders, along with Hagerstown and Washington County government officials, also played an instrumental role in making sure the event went smoothly. Whether it was the unfortunate circumstance of attending to an injured cyclist, providing escorts, setting up detours, or communicating road closures with local residents, race officials took an “all hands on deck” approach.
“Over a dozen agencies came together to combine resources and worked in a cooperative manner to ensure the event was safe” said Vargason, adding, “Once we met that goal, everything else really came together so we could then focus on enhancing the visitor experience and promote lodging properties, area attractions and events in conjunction with the National Championship.”
Despite the long days and hard work, volunteers and first responders were upbeat, applauding the race as a boon to the economy for Hagerstown and Washington County. Chuck Hodge, Chief of Racing and Events for USA Cycling, commended the work done by Visit Hagerstown and the Maryland Sports Commission, saying, “Great Courses, community cooperation and smooth logistics ensured that all of our participants had a great time while visiting Washington County.”
USA Cycling is the national governing body for the sport of cycling in the United States. The organization oversees road, track, mountain bike, cyclocross, and BMX. Based out of Colorado, USAC is “at the center of the US Olympic movement with peer institutions such as the United States Olympic Committee”, while operating numerous events in cities across the United States.
The partnership between USA Cycling and Visit Hagerstown began when Visit Hagerstown received an event request for proposal from the Maryland Sports Commission, a division of the Maryland Stadium Authority. Visit Hagerstown is one of several members of TEAM Maryland, a coalition of tourism, county and city government organizations from across the state, with the goal of enhancing, recruiting, and retaining sport tourism in Maryland.
As far as the racing went, each course presented its own challenges, though most cyclists competed in multiple events. Kaia Schmid, of New England, took home the gold medal and Red, White, and Blue jersey in both the Road Race and The Crit for the Women’s 15-16 Division. While Justin Williams, of Legion LA, took the top spot in the Category 1 Criterium Road National Championship for the second year in a row. As Williams stepped to the podium, donning his championship jersey from 2018, a fan yelled out, “Stripes on Stripes!” generating a roar of laughter and cheers from the crowd.
“Our priorities as a host destination are to ensure first and foremost a safe venue, secondly a memorable visitor experience and third to accelerate economic development in Washington County” Vargason said.
The weekend did indeed provide a great opportunity for out-of-town cyclists and their families to connect with local residents, especially children from around Washington County who came to cheer on the racers. Many competitors were seen chatting with kids about their equipment and explaining racing strategies and terminology, like peloton, which is the main group of riders in the race.
There were also plenty of “feel-good” stories that came out of the championship weekend. Mercury Endurance Cycle donated one of their bikes to a competitor whose bike was lost by the airline. There was also a touching moment following the conclusion of the U23 group, where an unknown rider gave his bike to a local child instead of shipping it back to his home in California. And Category 1 racer, Evan Hartig, made a deep connection with a local group of Hagerstown children who were some of his loudest supporters at the finish line.
City and county officials were encouraged to see many cyclists and their families around town in their uniforms and team gear at local cafes and restaurants in and around Hagerstown. A large portion of the participants were repeat competitors from last year, with many saying that they plan to return to Washington County in the future, calling it both a great place for road race training and as a vacation destination.