New traditions take hold in Lititz Fast bikes and tight turns make for a thrilling Sunday

By on May 3, 2012

By: BRUCE MORGAN AND STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

Ephrata wrestlers square off on the mat in preparation for their season-opening Ephrata Tournament, which is slated for next Saturday, Dec. 10. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)Ephrata wrestlers square off on the mat in preparation for their season-opening Ephrata Tournament, which is slated for next Saturday, Dec. 10. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

As an avid cyclist, Lititz’s Dave Minney and his family stood near the intersection of Main and Cedar streets soaking up the atmosphere as racers breezed through a tight turn at the Lititz Post Office.

At the other end of the block, Greg Zittle, also of Lititz, polished off a plate of pub nachos and a beer while marveling at the speed of the riders.

With a mix of casual spectators and dedicated fans lining both sides of the street, and local shops doing a bustling business, the inaugural Rock Lititz Tour bike race electrified the downtown district Sunday afternoon.

"Most of all, I just hope it’s a great party," said Soren West, president of Atomic Design in Lititz, one of the event’s sponsors, during the morning set-up. "People should come out and enjoy all the shops and the restaurants, and the band, and the sunshine … and there’s a bike race. It’s very exciting."

Mission accomplished.

Rich Ruoff, operations manager for the Pro Cycling Tour, called the day a success and said next year’s event is already set for April 27-28.

"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," he said after Sunday’s races. "I received no official estimate, but it seemed to me we cleared at least 2,000 people in town and probably more since it lasted almost six hours (12:30 to 6 p.m.)."

Lancaster’s Rob Allen, owner of Orange Street Velo, placed ninth in the Cat 3 criterium race and was one of roughly 500 participants throughout the day who raced the loop of Main, Broad, Center and Cedar streets. Allen had also competed in the event when it was held in Ephrata during the previous four years, but noted that it was much more embraced in Lititz.

"For a first-year race, this is a great turnout," he said. "I bet this is 50/50 … half spectators, half racers’ families and friends. The second year it will double because everybody will know and they’ll bring more people."

For a lot of the spectators, the Rock Lititz Tour was an opportunity for them to see a high-speed bicycle race up close and personal for the first time. The crowd seemed to be a mix of enthusiasts and curious onlookers.

"That’s me, curious," laughed Terry Laughman of Penn Township, who strolled through Lititz Springs Park with his wife, Retha, before catching a glimpse of the race at the Lititz square. "It’s such a nice day. It’s crazy to stay inside today. This is fun. I think this is something to watch. I’ve never seen one. I’ve seen it on television many times, but never here."

"It’s so nice when things are happening in your town; when you have a town where things can happen," said Cathy Mansbery, who works at the Lititz recCenter and moved to Lititz in 2009. "I love this town."

"This is the most people I’ve seen in town on a Sunday," said young Joe Kane as he watched from the challenging intersection of Cedar and Main, known to the riders as turn four. "The town should do more of this."

Kane witnessed one of the few crashes of the day, a gruesome-looking pile-up from which everyone managed to walk away.

"Me and my brother were standing here and one guy slid into the barrier and went into the trash can," he said. "His head hit and it looked like he was knocked out, and the guy behind him slid underneath him and hit his head on the curb."

Broken fork, blown tires, more riders crashing into the mess…

"They were actually laying there for two to three minutes and not moving," Kane said. "The medics came over. It was pretty bad. Eventually, they both got up and they were walking."

Count long-time Lititz resident Lisa Maksym among those who also watched with curiosity.

"I was born and raised here and this is a first for Lititz and me," she said. "I think it’s pretty awesome. I just can’t believe the speed that they’re going."

The speed and competition of the riders was something which enticed Lititz’s Joe and Betty Narkiewicz. After grabbing a slice or two of pizza, Joe got a taste of the culture which he remembered watching when the Core States Classic was held in Lancaster at one time.

"When you bike for recreation and then you watch these guys, it gives you a different appreciation seeing it up-close and personal," said Joe, who will get a deeper appreciation of it in a couple of weeks when he competes in a sprint triathlon in Florida with his sons, Brent and Kyle. "This is not something you decide to do on a Sunday morning. These guys have worked at it, for sure."

As the event schedule worked its way from the beginner riders to the feature Pro Category 1/2 race in the late afternoon, the crowd swelled in size. That was good news for businesses such as Bricker’s Famous French Fries, Greco’s Italian Ices, Candy*ology, Roma’s and others.

Denny Leas, an employee of Bricker’s Fries, said that they were well-prepared for a barrage of customers.

"It’s been pretty steady once the racing started," Leas said. "We came with 300 pounds of potatoes. If we need more, all we do is make a phone call and they bring more. The only thing (race organizers) told us is there’d be 500 participants, so then we just figured maybe two per participant as far as followers."

Mike Gregor, of Greco’s Italian Ices, had Sunday’s date circled on his calendar. He also participated when the race was previously held in Ephrata, so he knew what to expect.

"Later on it will heat up a little bit, and a lot of these (racers) can’t eat until they’re done," Gregor said shortly after the opening race. "It’s a shame for Ephrata’s loss, but it’s a huge win for Lititz. I can tell you that right now. I got pumped when I heard about it. It will be twice as big next year."

Although Roma’s take-out business might have been affected with people not being able to pull up out front, the popular pizza shop was still busy with customers.

"Yesterday was the Pretzel Fest. Today, the bike race. Not tons of business," Vito Randazzo, owner, said, "but something to keep you busy. It’s a good thing for the community."

Candy*ology, too, was kept busy selling its lemon sticks, a Philadelphia tradition, in front of its shop.

"We overstocked candy," Ms. Rita said. "We got the lemon sticks and made a big effort to get those in. (The lemon sticks) are something that not many people in Lancaster County know about. They do it at the Devon Horse Show and they’ll sell maybe 8,000 over a weekend."

Not far from their doorstep were stacks of hay bales placed in front of the sidewalk to help protect racers from wrecks coming out of turn four.

"These road racers, they get pretty nuts on a course like this," said Minney, whose children Andrew and Aidan competed in the kids race. "The Cat 5 is pretty good racing so far. I can only imagine what the pros are going to be like."

Zittle was on his way to meet his wife and son, 3-year-old Jackson, after leaving the pub. His destination was a place his son referred to as "Crash Corner."

"Hopefully, that (crash) doesn’t happen again, but I have no doubt, it probably will," Zittle said. "It’s a tight corner down there. You’re coming off a hill, (making a) hard left turn. I wouldn’t want to do it. I’m sitting here having a beer watching; that’s all I’m doing."

Allen, who averaged 26 miles per hour in the Category 3 race, said that there’s a fine line between staying up and going down coming out of that turn at Cedar and Main streets.

"It really is. It’s on the absolute edge of hitting that barrier and staying in line. And we’re doing this for fun," Allen laughed. "It’s fun to get a payout, but for me, it’s part business, part health, part hobby. Most of these guys are out here because they love the lifestyle, the fitness, the cycling culture. You’re never going to get any significant amount of money doing this."

Pro 1/2 race winner Ryan Dewald, though, was more than happy to take home his share of the payout. To do it on what he considered to be his home turf added to the thrill for the Reading native.

"The mid-Atlantic area, Lancaster and Reading, are kinda like my stomping grounds," Dewald, 32, said. "I’ve won probably over 50, 60 races in my career. But it’s always great in front of the hometown. All these people are my friends. I love trying to do my best for my fans. I started racing 18 years ago and this community helped me develop from the beginning."

A member of XO Communications and Sysco Systems, most of Dewald’s teammates were competing at Speedweek and some bigger events last weekend. But he did what he had to do to get the victory.

"I’m too old not to win anymore. I lost in a photo finish last week down in Roanoke, (placed) fifth the week before … I’ve got to start winning these things," Dewald said. "I played a team role on some big pro teams over the years, but as I’m getting older, I’m just getting real strong. I just try to ride away. It’s kind of a primitive technique, but I’m getting good at it."

The Kane family — Joe, his parents Joe and Kim, and brother Galen — hosted one of the racing teams for the weekend, adding another dimension to the Lititz experience for out-of-town racers.

"They are awesome," said Greg Wittwer, a member of the Integrated Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy team, about the Kanes. "The hospitality was unbelievable. People like that make us want to come back next year.

The Kanes opened the doors of their East Main Street home to the five-man team. Dave Dawson, one of the team members, attends Philadelphia University as an industrial design student with Galen Kane.

Brian Sacawa and Nick Maimone also spent the night.

While these racers have a sponsor that pays some of the bills, most have full-time jobs while doing as many as 50 races a year, putting in 10,000 miles in training and racking up 25,000 miles in travel on their vehicles during an era of high gas prices.

"This is what we do on weekends," said Wittwer, 29, a health and physical education teacher from Richmond, Va.

The hospitality of a small town makes their busy schedule more enjoyable.

"This is a very charming town," he said. "A lot of times we race and there are no fans. To have races in small towns where people come out, it’s really something special. I could hear people cheering while I was racing. It’s nice to hear that. And I thought the course was great."

"It was fantastic," added teammate Dawson. "The crowds were bigger than what we expected. We had a blast. I’m definitely coming back."

The Kanes provided the team with a home-cooked meal before they headed out to prepare for their next race.

In the meantime, work is already underway for year two of the Rock Lititz Tour.

"We are having a post event wrap-up meeting in a few weeks to see what we can do to make it even better," said Ruoff.

"From our point of view," said West, "this is just the prototype. We’d like to ramp it up and increase our sponsorship next year. And we’d really like to attract more and more high-level athletes to make this a world class event."

This year’s sponsors included Atomic, Tait Towers and Clair Global. West, Ruoff and the rest of the team of organizers will be looking to boost sponsorship and get more local businesses involved for the 2013 race. More BIKE RACE, page A15

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