Bike race brought 200-plus to Berlin

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Berlin Community Fire Department provided the starting place for the bicycle race there over the weekend.

BERLIN -- Nearly 170 bicyclists competed Saturday in the Hell of the South race patterned after a race starting in Paris, France, called Hell of the North because of its difficulty.

More than 50 flat tires was one result, indicating this early race in the season for cyclists really is a test of man and machine, according to James Weeks, the organizing official for the women's bicycle race.

The event started here a year ago, with some of the course in Maury County.

Another repeat performance may prove to be more financially worthwhile for the local economy. Marshall Bassett of Nashville is the race director.

With close to 200 racers -- half of them traveling some distance to the race -- "You can figure 100 hotel rooms in Lewisburg could be rented," Bassett said.

Lodging for cyclists was a factor last weekend.

"This year we didn't really anticipate much Mule Day crossover," Bassett said of the annual event in Columbia where thousands gathered for the event scheduled for the first Saturday in April each year.

"With Mule Day," Bassett continued, "we've realized that maybe we'd have it a week earlier or a week later.

"We had to divert some folks" from towns with heavily booked motels, he said. "We had to send them to Franklin or Spring Hill and I think the Spring Hill hotels had little availability."

Meanwhile, Bassett is considering expansion of the race based here in Berlin to include a race around the Lewisburg public square.

"Obviously, we need to talk with the mayor, the councilmen and the police chief to determine whether they can shut the city square down for four hours," he said. "That's the first step. We haven't even explored that far yet, so that's an option for next year.

Bassett expressed some interest in visiting Lewisburg during one or two festivals to become aware of what issues might be faced by a bicycle race.

"After we go through ... this race, we could sit down with the Lewisburg Downtown Association to see if it's something they want to pursue it," he said.

"There are different possibilities."

Bicycle race officials don't see the first Saturday in April as the only time for their event.

"We tried to schedule around spring break in this area which is why we scheduled it on the second of April," Bassett said.

Jeff Roche, of the Belmont/Hillsboro area in Nashville, is the chief judge of the race.

"I can visually capture ... when they're across the road," Roche said of his digital video camera and his responsibility for certain results.

"If you look at the finish line as a plane, it's when the first wheel crosses," Roche said. "That's the winner."

Roche noted that most of the bicyclists have professional careers in another field.

"It's the competitive spirit of people, beyond the exercise," he said on why bicyclists would torture their bodies so much. "They like the challenge. It's like golf or other sports that take a lot of money. Traditionally more white collar people have disposable income."