Cycling Challenge this weekend

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The new Palmetto Parkway, an extension of Interstate 520, will be dominated by four-wheelers and 18-wheelers when it opens later this year. This weekend, however, those on two wheels will have the six-mile stretch all to themselves.

The first – and only – Palmetto Parkway Cycling Challenge begins Saturday in North Augusta. Dubbed “The South’s Most Unique Racing Event,” the race will be the only one of its kind because once the parkway opens to traffic, racing will no longer be allowed.

“It’s very unique because you’re never, ever going to race on that road again,” said race director Mark Shells. “Once a major interstate highway opens up, that’s it.”

Saturday’s action will feature a time trial as well as sprint races. Circuit racing will begin Sunday with 10 categories of racing ranging from juniors to masters. After the racing is complete, the course will be opened to the public for a “Family Fun Ride.”

The weekend will also feature a series of handcyling races, a form of adaptive cycling designed for paraplegic racers.

Shells said he is expecting up to 150 racers this weekend. He said that early entries have come in from cyclists across the U.S., including Illinois and New Hampshire.

Shells said outside factors such as the re-emergence of Lance Armstrong in competitive cycling should drive up interest from fans in the area, which had played host to stages in the now-defunct Tour de Georgia.

“The whole idea is to establish cycling in the CSRA, not just as a fitness thing but for racing,” Shells said.

According to Shells, whose Savannah River Cycling organization led the race coordination, August was not an ideal time to run the Cycling Challenge because of conditions being “blistering hot,” but the organizers’ hands were tied by the progress of the parkway.

The organization will soon begin looking for new locations to host future events of this nature, possibly moving it back across the river.

Reach Joey Jones at (706) 823-3304

or joey.jones@augustachronicle.com.


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