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Bike racers head to town for McKeesport Grand Prix

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 11:39 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
John Cotter of McKeesport rides through Renziehausen Park, a portion of Saturday's planned course for the McKeesport Grand Prix.

The Appalachian Bicycle Racing Association is taking to the hills and winding roads around Renziehausen Park with a new McKeesport course in this year's regional racing circuit.

ABRA, which manages cycling programs in southwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, north central West Virginia and western Maryland, will host the McKeesport Grand Prix on Saturday as part of its Criterium Series.

A criterium — or crit in abbreviated racing lingo — is a short-course race often contained in a closed circuit of city streets. Each race is no longer than 60 minutes, and the winner is the first to cross the finish line without being lapped by a fellow rider.

“There's a race every weekend — most within two hours of here — and they're phenomenal courses,” McKeesporter John Cotter said. “It's really hard to get a new race started. It usually takes two or three years to build interest in a particular course, but I think McKeesport will be a nice change from beat-up city streets.”

The course is set to start on Eden Park Boulevard, with parking available at the Mayfair Avenue side of McKeesport Area High School's parking lot, and traverse Renziehausen Park and the Penn State Greater Allegheny campus.

McKeesport's recreation board is welcoming the event with open arms, saying it's something new and thrilling for outdoor entertainment in the city.

Cheryl Cotter, a recreation board member and John's mother, has been watching her son race for years.

“It's so exciting to watch them sprint at the end,” she said. “Really, the whole race is fascinating. They don't just ride in circles. There are tactics involved.”

ABRA promotions suggest that success in road criteriums requires good technical skills and the ability to navigate a course safely with other riders.

Racers often work together to clear paths and plan a ride strategy.

Riders are required to be licensed through the national organization USA Cycling. New riders who don't have annual licenses may purchase a single-event permit on the day of a race.

In every race across the country, participants are divided on the course — first by sex and age brackets, and again by experience. There is a professional contract designation and amateur categories 1 through 5.

At the start of their riding career, every racer begins in the amateur Category 5. With increased participation and points acquired for race performance, riders are able to progress in categories.

“This is a great sport, because anyone can participate,” John Cotter said. “Once I reach a certain level, I can race with the pros. It's not like football, where all you can do is sit and watch the stars.”

Noting that the McKeesport Grand Prix will include a variety of races, he said there is something for everyone, including beginners.

Races are scheduled at the following times:

• 10 a.m. — Men's Category 45, 30 minutes; Juniors (under 19), 45 minutes.

• 10:45 a.m. — Men's Masters (40+), 45 minutes; Men's Masters (50+), 45 minutes.

• 11:45 a.m. — Women's Category 12/3, 45 minutes; Women's Category 45, 45 minutes.

• 12:35 p.m. — ABRA Kids Race, two laps

• 12:45 p.m. — Men's Category 12/3, 60 minutes

• 2 p.m. — Men's Category 34, 45 minutes

More information on Saturday's race and other regional biking events is available online at and

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or