Cheers rose slowly from the spectators — parents, children and observers of all ages — when the red pace car came into sight.
On the heels of the car followed a dozen or more bicycles, riders clad in a rainbow of colors that merged into a blur as they flew by. The crowd applauded and shouted words of encouragement until the bikes disappeared around the next corner.
The difficult part, said Evan Goldberg, 15, of Washington, D.C., is the lead rider who just won’t let up. But after four years of experience and more than 100 races under his belt, he knew how to keep pushing and secured third place in his category Sunday during the Nittany Stage Race’s downtown criterium phase.
The two-day, three-phase race, the first of its kind in the county, began Saturday with the Rattlesnake Road Race in Black Moshannon State Park and continued into Sunday with the campus time trial and criterium.
Cyclists sped through the Penn State campus Sunday morning onto College Avenue, which had been closed specifically for them — a first for the borough, according to coordinator Andrew Artz. Racing continued Sunday afternoon with the criterium, which twisted around the Highlands neighborhood and Memorial Field.
“This is a Pennsylvania championship event,” Artz, 27, said, “which is incredible because this is the first time we’ve ever held this race.”
Artz, an Iraq veteran and Penn State student, said he was contacted by the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau in late 2013 about holding a bike race in the region. As a member of the Penn State Cycling Club, he said he decided to put together a charity bike race.
He turned to the Bestwick Foundation, he said. Founded by X Games gold medal winner and State College resident Jamie Bestwick, the foundation raises money for those in need in the Centre Region.
“All the money stays local,” Artz said. “We could have chosen a large national charity, but we wanted to keep it about Centre County and State College.”
All the funds for the race were raised through registrations, sponsorships and crowdfunding, he said. More than 230 cyclists registered from across the nation and beyond.
Racers were broken into several different categories, including one for professionals. The race also offered masters categories for racers 35 and older.
“We’re one of the only races on the East Coast to have all the major categories plus a masters category,” he said.
Mitch Ernst, 22, came in 19th in the men’s category four and five. Clad in blue and white with a Nittany Lion logo on his chest, the recent Penn State graduate said the most difficult part was sprinting out of the corners.
He was pleased with his performance, though, saying, “I didn’t crash, so I made it out in one piece.”
Beyond giving cyclists a chance to ride through a new area, the race also helped to bring the region’s cycling movement into the public eye.
“Someone questioned why were we interested in a bike race,” said CentreBike President Jim Serene. “It brings people out. We want people to come downtown.”
“Riders came in and they stayed in motels,” he said. “People are supporting local businesses. Economically, it’s very good.”
Serene and about 60 fellow CentreBike members volunteered all weekend to help with the race — directing traffic, blocking roads and assisting cyclists.
CentreBike works with the Centre Region Council of Governments and the borough of State College on route construction, he said, as well as influencing the construction of additional bike paths throughout the community.
The main objective of the organization is working to help make more businesses bicycle-friendly, he said. “We want to encourage people to ride to work and ride around town.”
Bringing cycling to the area is tough, Vice President Anna Nelson said. Often when working on creating a route, they’re dealing with a road that crosses multiple townships but is owned by the state Department of Transportation. It’s difficult to get everyone on the same page.
“But, we’ve had a lot of great progress around the townships when it comes to biking,” she said. “There’s a lot of momentum.”