The original plan dates more than a decade ago, when the idea for a Tour of Maryland cycling race was kicked around before going on the back burner.
Then about five years ago, with the state of Maryland doing more cycling events including BMX, the idea was brought front of mind again. It was modified slightly with the idea of a full tour instead being a one-day international cycling race.
Everything was set … until the pandemic. An event scheduled to debut in 2020 was delayed to 2021 — and then to 2022. But after a successful inaugural race and with plans to grow in the future already in mind, some of the biggest stars in the sport are on the preliminary roster for the second edition of the Maryland Cycling Classic, presented by UnitedHealthcare, a 121.9-mile race from Sparks, Maryland, to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on September 3.
“The most efficient form of transportation in the world is still the bike and the cleanest mode of transportation,” said Terry Hasseltine, executive director of the Maryland Sports Commission and president of the Sport and Entertainment Corporation of Maryland, recently on the SportsTravel Podcast. “Having an event like this just brings a breadth of awareness to cycling and how important it is both for physical activity but as well as economic draw for us through the Maryland Cycling Classic.”
Last year’s inaugural event drew big crowds to the Inner Harbor not only to watch the cycling but those who ended up being in the right place at the right time; there was an Orioles game that same day. This year, there will be increased hospitality areas and fan zones in the Inner Harbor and with a major volleyball tournament nearby at the Baltimore Convention Center, “downtown Baltimore is going to be a robust sports center,” Hassletine said.
The logistics of planning an international cycling race depend also on the areas the cyclists will traverse. Throughout Baltimore County, roads will be closed for the race, then open up as soon as cyclists have gone by. There are parts of the 7½-mile loop in the city that will have rolling road closures, although the area around the Inner Harbor will be closed for the day given the number of times cyclists will go through the area.
“What we do is we encourage people to come downtown — and be prepared,” Hasseltine said. “Be prepared that you might have to take an alternate route to get to a parking garage. You might have to take an alternate route and park a little further outside of downtown and walk into the environment.”
But as part of the logistical planning, race organizers are doing a major social media campaign to make sure residents know of the event and potential road closures — while encouraging them to take advantage of the opportunities.
“We want them to own part of the race, activate in your community, come out course side, watch the race, cheer them on, host a block party, have fun with your neighbors,” Hasseltine said. “The great thing about this event is in the city especially, people can be out there for several hours and the race goes by four or five times.”
With everything free to the public, anybody can pick out a spot on the route and see a field headlined by Great Britain’s Simon Yates, who was fourth at the recent Tour de France and is a previous winner of Vuelta a España.
Canada’s Michael Woods and France’s Victor Lafay were both stage winners at this year’s Tour de France. The top-ranked American is Neilson Powless, the third-place finisher in last year’s race. Maryland native Scott McGill, a two-time Tour of Portugal stage winner, is also in the field of expected competitors.
The event is owned and operated by the Sport and Entertainment Corporation of Maryland. The event is managed and marketed by Medalist Sports and KOM Sports Marketing while John Kelly, the chief innovative and strategy officer for Kelly Benefits Strategies, is the event chair.
“Our staff takes great pride in delivering a world-class event,” Hasseltine said. “… People are starting to learn what the Sport and Entertainment Corporation of Maryland does and what we’re about. It’s a natural tool of communication, and we get to do it through large scale events where we get to engage a community that otherwise we wouldn’t necessarily get to engage with.”
The event is part of a full Labor Day weekend of community events throughout the region including a community “Bike Jam” free to the public as well as street festivals, a discussion on the history of black cyclists in the United States, a stage presentation to introduce the professionals and a health and wellness expo on race day.
The weekend also offers fans an opportunity to ride parts of the course during the UHCCF Bridges of Hope Ride on September 2, the official charity ride of the event benefitting the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation. In 2022, the BOH charity ride raised over $200,000.
“Our legacy of this event is far beyond just hosting the biggest one-day cycling event in North America,” Hasseltine said. “It is making sure that our community is left better because we did it. … it’s about giving back as well as creating a profile of excellence for the state and the city and the county. … We wanted to ensure that this wasn’t a ‘take’ event? This is a give back event.”