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TUESDAY, MAY 1, 2007
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Language, culture, life on road
Foreign riders face
obstacles along the tour

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

Imagine, you're from a different country. You don't know anybody. You can't speak the native language, and you're literally on the road for six months of the year.

Those are all issues facing foreign-born professional bicycle riders who will be racing through the streets of Decatur on May 6. They are part of the 300-plus riders expected for The Decatur Daily Downtown Criterium.

Several racers come from faraway places like Argentina, Italy and Colombia, and find themselves going from city to city on a near-daily basis, searching for that elusive win.

Every week they are experiencing something new and different culturally while also trying to keep focused on the task at hand.

"This is big country," said Gustavo Artacho an Argentine rider for the Colavita-Sutter Home team. "I live in Buenos Aires, but I think here there are big cities, big states, everything is bigger."

Being a cyclist gives these riders the opportunity to see plenty of the United States.

Riders go from coast to coast competing. And even though during races they are paying attention to the road, they have the opportunity to check out event locales.

With the way the cycling season goes, a lot of the foreign riders spend the cycling season — about six months — in the
United States and about six at home.

While it can be difficult at first, dealing with the language barrier, some riders fall in love with the country and decide to stay.

Cesar Grajales, a Colombian rider with the Jittery Joe's team spends 10 months of the year in Athens, Ga., and two at home in Colombia.

"I like my style of life here in the States," Grajales said. "By being able to go to Colombia and spend two months is enough. When I went back to Colombia I started to miss the States. I really like being here."

The transition, however, is not as seamless for others as it was for Grajales.

After the adrenaline of coming over and making money as a professional cyclist wears off, some riders start missing their families.

They need to focus as much as possible. They need support and friendship. Teams provide the riders with the necessary tools.

"The cycling community was very good and very friendly every place," said Sebastian Alexandre, an Argentine cyclist for the Rite Aid team. "Sometimes they open their houses. They don't know who you are or where you are coming from."

Also, the Internet has helped foreign cyclists keep in touch with friends and family across the globe.

With e-mail and Internet chat programs, cyclists can chat converse people thousands of miles away.

Alexandre talks with his wife, a schoolteacher in Buenos Aires, four times a day, either via e-mail, or with a special cell phone he purchased.

While advances in technology have made the world smaller, there is still no substitute for home.

Riders marvel at the vast spectrum of food you can purchase in America — they describe it as either the healthiest or the "worst" — but still long for their native cuisine.

For Artacho and Alexandre, it is "asado" Argentina's native barbecue, which includes all kinds of meat, along with sweet bread and chitterlings.

"The way we do the barbecue, that is very special," Sebastian says. "For me, having an (American) barbecue doesn't make too much sense. I just don't taste the meat in the same way."

Race-day schedule

Here is the schedule of events for The Decatur Daily Downtown Criterium bicycle race in Decatur on Sunday, May 6. More than 300 professional bicycle riders will be competing in the downtown race.

All day: Free children's activities near the start-finish line on Second Avenue Northeast next to Bank Independent

All day: Food and entertainment vendors

All day: Downtown stores open for shopping

10 a.m.: Fun Ride Open to the public. Ride side-by-side with professional bikers. Various riding distances are available from 10 to 35 miles. The free event is open to riders age 5 and up.

1 p.m.: Masters 35 years and older. Race laps: 40 minutes plus two laps. Prizes: $500. Places: 10.

2 p.m.: Men's Category 2/3. Race laps: 50 minutes plus three laps. Prizes: $500. Places: 10.

3 p.m.: National anthem performed by the U.S. Army Materiel Command Band from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
Location: Princess Theatre for the Performing Arts, 112 Second Ave.

3:10 p.m.: Women Pro 1/2/3. Race laps: 60 minutes, plus 3 laps. Prizes: $5,000. Places: 15.

4:30 p.m.: Men Pro-Am. Race laps: 75 minutes, plus 3 laps. Prizes: $10,000. Places: 30.

6:30 p.m.: The U.S. Army Materiel Command Band from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., in concert. Location: Princess Theatre for the Performing Arts, 112 Second Ave., Decatur. Sponsored by: Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.

For more information visit: www.decaturcycling.com

The route of the race

  • The hub of The Decatur Daily Downtown Criterium race activity will be the start-finish line at East Moulton Street and Second Avenue.

  • A series of four races, the masters (35 and over), men category 2/3, women professionals and men professionals, will feature more than 300 riders from the United States and overseas.

  • The cyclists will travel south on Second Avenue Southeast one block to Johnston Street Southeast, turn right and go west to First Avenue, turn right, proceed downhill to Lee Street Northeast, turn right, proceed to Second Avenue, go uphill to the start-finish line at Moulton Street.

  • Walking the 0.6 mile route takes about 13 minutes.

  • Leisurely riding a 10-speed across the course took 3 minutes, 47 seconds.

    But for the racers, it will be anything but a leisurely ride.

    “These guys will be going averaging about 28 mph,” JoE Silva, media coordinator for the USA Crits Southeast Series, said.

    “But they’ll really be smoking it on some of the laps. The racers ought to be doing the lap in about a minute, 10 seconds.”

  • The masters will ride for 40 minutes before sprinting the final three laps.

  • The men category 2-3 will ride 50 minutes, then sprint the final three laps.

  • The women will pedal for 60 minutes before a three-lap dash.

  • The men’s pros will circle downtown Decatur for 75 minutes before assaulting the last three laps.

    - Michael Wetzel

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