BERLIN - Nearly 300 bicycle enthusiasts came to Marshall County for a Saturday morning bike race and spokesmen for the event say they'd like to do it again next spring.
Race Director Marshall Bassett lives in the Crieve Hall area of Nashville, but he's been riding the back roads here and found that Berlin Fire Chief Joe Greer was willing to help bikers base their race at the fire hall.
"We selected this area because there are a lot of country roads without much traffic," said Rachel L. Scott, spokeswoman for the event sponsored by Swiftwick, a riders' apparel designer and manufacturer headquartered in Brentwood. Her team is sponsored by State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co.
"We have to sponsor a race to be considered a team," Scott said. The SVMIC Cycling Team was organized three years ago.
Scott and Bassett say there seems to be a consensus among the riders that they would like to return to Marshall County next year and in succeeding years for more races that they've modeled after the Paris to Roubaix Spring Classic in France. That race is known as the "Hell of the North" because it's difficult. The race that started on Old Berlin Road was dubbed "Hell of the South."
Greer said the fire department was "fully operational" during the race. Land around the fire hall was where two bluegrass bands, barbecue vendors and trade show exhibitors set up to perform, cook and trade.
Cycling teams from Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas were represented in three classes of competition.
The winning cyclist was identified by Scott as Sebastian Slaskamp, a member of the Krystal Elite Team, sponsored by the Krystal hamburger restaurant chain. Slaskamp is originally from Germany.
Placing second in that senior race of 64 miles - the premier event of the day -- was Mike Olheiser of Huntsville, Ala. Scott said Olheiser was the 2009 Elite Nationals Road Race champion.
A $400 donation from event proceeds was given to the fire department, Scott said. A $100 donation was made to the Berlin Methodist Church next door where cars were parked.
Berlin firefighters helped organize parking, Greer said.
"If we do this next year," the fire chief said, "we should be able to set up a grill and sell hamburgers or have the drinks they need."
Some cyclists brought special beverages of their own concoction. It's more effective than commercial beverages known to hydrate the body.
Gary Slagle of Columbia watched the race because his son, Richie Slagle of Murfreesboro, was competing as a member of the Moab Bike Shop team of Murfreesboro.
"They had a bunch of excited kids here," Slagle said. "There's a good turnout."
Also at the race was Mark Franklin, 57, of Crossville, who said cyclists shouldn't travel too far to a race and then prepare for competition upon their arrival.
Driving too far "leaves you unfit to race," Franklin said.
Mary Mayhew and Missy Petty of Knoxville are Krystal Elite teammates.
Asked about the need for helmets, Petty said as a result of a spill during a race at Blacksburg, Va., she was evacuated by helicopter ambulance.
She decline to elaborate since she was about to start another race.
"A few riders went down" during the race Saturday, Scott said, "but we didn't have to call the ambulance."
There were some other nominal but notable events during the races.
"There was a horse that jumped over a fence" when cyclists whizzed by, Scott said. There was "no problem" arising at that intersection of equine and cycles.
And a dog got loose.
"One of our racer's (pet) dog lunged at one of the cyclists who hit the dog and hit a mail box," Scott reported. "His helmet was dented."
In such mishaps riders experience what the enthusiasts call "road rash."
"It's very painful when you skid across the pavement," she said.
"One female rider went down by slipping on gravel," Scott said, speculating that may have happened because the race was the first contest on the Tennessee Bike Racing Calendar. "People are shaky...
"This course is intended to be harsh," Scott said, comparing it to the French race that's on various road surfaces.
In France that includes cobblestone roads, more traditionally paved roads, as well as dirt roads.
Here, the dirt road part of the loop is about 1 kilometer long near the unincorporated community of Philadelphia just west of Interstate 65. The 24-mile loop also includes gravel-filled corners and rough tar and chip pavement.
"That appealed to us," said Keith Knittle of Franklin who is vice president of the team and one of the founding members. "It's because the roads aren't pristine.
"These guys are riding on skinny tires," Knittle said. "The average bike costs about $4,000 to $5,000. You don't have to spend that, but people do. It's their passion and hobby."
One tire and wheel could cost $1,000. Organizers had a race mechanic who drove a pickup truck along the racecourse. If a tire went flat, the cyclist raises a hand, stops with the truck and the mechanic replaces the wheel with another. It might take only 15 seconds.
"European bike racing is like football here," according to Rusty McCain, the father of one of the contestants. "People come out to party all day (along the bike race course for the Spring Classic in France) just to see the leaders of the pack pass by."
That might take only 20 seconds, McCain said.
A few years ago, McCain went to France to see the race, but he also rode his bicycle on the track before the race started.
"People cheered for us," he said, describing his audience as French men and women who were drinking "pastiche," a beverage that's a mixture of whatever is available, but usually with an alcoholic base.
The French onlookers asked McCain where he lives. He replied "Nashville, Tenn." They didn't recognize the city's name, so he added that it's near Jack Daniel's distillery. The French recognized the brand name and toasted McCain.
"People have been training for this for months," Knittle said. "The race is held rain or shine."
Mother nature was cooperative Saturday and "A lot of the racers were watching the weather" before traveling to the race.
There were three classes for the race: A group racers took on a 64-mile challenge; B racers peddled 44 miles; and the C class went 24 miles - if they finished.
"We did have a lot of DNFs, did not finish," Scott said.
Very few of the people at the race are from Marshall County.
Asked to look for a local participant among the cyclists, Scott found Tommy Clark of Memphis.
Thad DeHart of Spring Hill is the secretary of the team.
The 177 racers probably came with approximately 100 other people, mostly friends, relatives, officials for the event, the musicians and trade show vendors.
Berlin Store owners Chris and Jane Hall were pleased. Sales more than doubled for lunch. Breakfast sales were up about 50 percent.
Do they want the cyclists to return for another race?
"Sure," Chris replied. "We've been really slow this past winter."
Scott said, "The residents and fire department and the market have been very welcoming."
The vice president of the team hosting the race was asked if plans have started for holding the race here next year.
"Not yet," the Franklin resident replied "but we'll start planning for next year in the next couple of months."
"The event went off very well and exceeded everyone's expectations," Knittle said.
He promised to report when a decision is made.