George Street Bike Challenge

July 20, 2008
Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, Mass.
Making the grade on George Street
By Mark Conti
Cycling columnist
 
The long uphill effort to erect a statue in honor of Marshall "Major" Taylor, the 1899 world cycling champion, was reached two months ago, but the annual challenge to climb his training ground on George Street may never end.

Major Taylor, known as the "Worcester Whirlwind," moved to the area from Indiana in 1895, heard that local bicyclists proved their strength on George Street and quickly began training on the steep ascent. The 500-foot climb has an average grade of 18 percent.

Next Sunday, cyclists will once again be testing their climbing ability at the seventh annual George Street Bike Challenge for Major Taylor. The event, presented by Barney's Bicycle and the Seven Hills Wheelmen, will begin at 10 a.m. on George Street, at the intersection of Main Street in downtown Worcester.

Next Sunday, cyclists will once again be testing their climbing ability at the seventh annual George Street Bike Challenge for Major Taylor. The event, presented by Barney's Bicycle and the Seven Hills Wheelmen, will begin at 10 a.m. on George Street, at the intersection of Main Street in downtown Worcester.

"George Street is like Mount Everest. People want to go up it because it's there. And then they want to do it again, and see if they can do it faster," said Lynne Tolman, a member of Seven Hills Wheelmen and the Major Taylor Association. "The street's reputation as the ultimate local challenge for bicyclists goes back to the early 1890s.

"Major Taylor was told about it when he moved here in '95, and that's why he tackled it and why his ascent drew a crowd. Every year we hear cyclists, before they even catch their breath at the top of the hill, saying what they're going to try next year to improve their climbing."

A statue of Major Taylor was unveiled at the Worcester Public Library May 21 and the event attracted three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, Olympians, national cycling champions, world champions, local officials, state legislators, a representative of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, authors, local residents and cyclists from Minnesota, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Boston and Central Massachusetts.

The two-sided Taylor monument, which is 10 feet high and 12 feet wide, stands as a memorial to not just a world champion cyclist who lived in Worcester at the turn of the 20th century, but a black man who persevered with dignity during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

"With the Major Taylor monument in place at the Worcester Public Library since May, and the attention that has generated all over the world, we've certainly put the Worcester Whirlwind's adopted hometown on the map. For people who've heard the stories of Major Taylor's struggles and triumphs over the years, the statue really brings it to life," Tolman said.

The George Street challenge helped raise money for the statue. Now, money raised by the fundraiser will add to the statue's maintenance fund and allow the Major Taylor Association, which organized the effort to build the statue, to continue educating people about Worcester's world champion cyclist.

Riders begin on Main Street from a standing start on level ground then immediately hit the George Street hill. One bicyclist at a time will ride against the clock in the 500-foot event.

"George Street is something you've really got to see in person to appreciate. Just walking a few steps up the hill will give you a good feel for it - in your calf muscles," Tolman said.

David Flynn of Shrewsbury holds the course record for the climb at 23.13 seconds, set in 2006. He also won the event last year with a time of 23.74.

The two-block time trial has grown from 50 riders in 2002 to 127 last year. The uphill climb is open to bicyclists ages 12 and up, but younger children who have practiced on the hill and can climb it will be allowed to compete.

There are several age groups, as well as categories for tandems and triples. A new category for recumbents has been added this year.

"It must be extra difficult to climb steep hills in that laid-back position, so I'm very curious to see this. It'll be a spectacle!" Tolman said.

Also new this year will be the Garden Fresh Courthouse Cafe, which will be open at the foot of the hill. The cafe will also be showing the last stage of the Tour de France on its big flat-screen TV.

"I recommend the performance-enhancing muffins and cookies," Tolman said.

The entry fee is $15; proceeds benefit the Major Taylor Association. Organizers will raffle a Giant OCR3 road bike from Barney's Bicycle and other prizes.

The event is sponsored by Standard Auto, Puma, AdventureCORPS, Polar Beverages, the Telegram & Gazette and Charter Communications.

For more information on the event, visit www.majortaylorassociation.org.



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