Posted on Sun, Apr. 16, 2006

Close to NASCAR on two wheels


They come blasting down the course at full speed. It's a flash of colors as they go by. You look down at your camera hopelessly. They were going too fast to get a good shot. That's OK. In another minute they'll be back around.

Here they come again, and this time the crowd is roaring. They skid into a turn packed so close together. If there's a crash now, it's disaster.

They come around again. This is it - the final stretch to the finish line. The racers line up, drafting off each other until just before the line, when it becomes a full sprint. Out comes someone from the top of the pack. They push it full speed to the finish line. Victory.

This may sound a lot like NASCAR. In this race, however, the powerful engines are in the legs of the racers, and their vehicles have just two wheels.

Oftentimes it's a struggle to get non-cyclists to relate to the sport. Most people just don't understand the thrill, kind of like folks who don't watch NASCAR. So in trying to relate cycling to something Southerners are passionate about, I struck upon NASCAR. The similarities are striking.

NASCAR and cycling are both colorful. The bright colors of the cars - and racers' jerseys - become a rainbow blur as they speed by. But somehow, in the middle of all the action, true fans of the sport can pick out their favorite racer in an instant.

NASCAR and cycling both involve serious tactics. Racers - and drivers - pace each other down the road. Drafting becomes an art form, and the winner is always the competitor who used other people's power to his own advantage. Drafting off others saves a racer's strength and pulls him along until the very end, when he suddenly pulls out in front and hits the gas. It's an all-out sprint of man and machine until the end.

NASCAR and cycling fans are both a little misunderstood. Most folks can't comprehend why grown men would want to squeeze into spandex and ride 100 miles, much less in front of people. But then again, others can't comprehend why fans would want to sit for hours and watch cars drive in circles.

I make these comparisons to try to get some average Joes - maybe even some NASCAR fans - out to the Ford Tour de Georgia when it rolls into town Tuesday afternoon. Professional racers from across the United States and Europe will ride into Macon in a parade of speed and color.

And if you can't wait till the main action starts, you're in luck. The Komen Central Georgia Cycle for the Cure criterium race will start at 1 p.m. Professional and elite amateur female racers will sprint to the finish line. I'll be out there wearing my team colors and racing with the best of them. I mean, I'm no Danica Patrick of Indy racing fame, but I do like to be a part of the action every once and a while. What NASCAR fan couldn't agree with that?

To contact Renee Martinez, call 744-4509 or e-mail

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