By John Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – There was no way to beat the heat on Saturday, as cyclists took to the streets for the long-awaited return of the Riding with the King event. The best the riders could hope for was to roll with it.
“Some people thrive in the heat,” said Belden’s Debbie Milne, a national champion road racer who easily won her first race on Saturday. “It doesn’t bother me to ride in the heat, I just hate standing around in it.”
Saturday’s races included a 3.1-mile circuit downtown as well as time trials in Sherman in the late afternoon. The scene shifts to downtown for a series of criterium races today, starting a little after 9 a.m. and continuing through mid-afternoon.
Milne and other area cyclists played a major role in the return of the Riding with the King event, once an annual affair but last held in 2003.
“It seems like everywhere I went people wanted to know when we were going to bring back this event,” said Milne. “This has the potential to become a very big event.”
While this year’s event was organized quickly, it all came together pretty well on Saturday morning. The first race was delayed when the Elvis Festival parade lagged a bit, but competition was in full swing by noon.
Neighborhood streets weren’t closed for the racing, but the Tupelo Police kept traffic under control and the riders safe.
One rider described Saturday’s conditions – afternoon temps soared to the mid-90s – as “an experiment to see how much water I can drink,” but all seemed delighted with the course and the support they found on the city’s streets.
“It could be a little cooler, but at least it’s not stormy,” said one of the race organizers, Josh Westmoreland.
Saturday’s first race, the Pro 123, saw three teammates from the Atlanta-based professional Team Aerocat cross the finish line together, side by side, after 10 laps of the 3.1-mile course. Juan Pablo Dotti, Serghei Tvetcov and Andrew Crater joined hands as they celebrated the victory.
The second race, for Cat 3/4 riders, was won easily by UAB student Justin Bynum, 20, who found the course through several neighborhoods to his liking.
“I have a big climb to make at home any time I want to go riding,” said Bynum, who broke away from the pack on the first lap. “This course suited me perfectly. But it was really hot.”
Bynum had opened a 55-second lead by the final lap and cruised home.
“On the last lap, I was thinking about not crashing and also about conserving some strength for some of the other races this weekend,” he said.
The last circuit race of the day, for juniors, was won by Aberdeen rider J.T. Winders, 18.
Complete official results for Saturday’s races, Westmoreland said, will be posted at today’s competition.
Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522