Wieczarek wins Tour de Strongland race

| Monday, Sept. 8, 2008

Only one second separated the top two finishers in the marquee event of the Tour de StrongLand bike races, and three other races were determined by the same margin Sunday at Allegheny Town Center in Leechburg.

Brian Wieczarek, 42, and Ray Russell, 49, cycled past the rest of the field in the 37-mile road race, setting up a photo finish. Wieczarek edged Russell to highlight the 20th anniversary of the StrongLand Chamber of Commerce-hosted event.

“Me and Ray got away with, maybe, 10 miles to go,” said Wieczarek, a Ligonier native. “Once the pack lost sight of us, their initiative to chase was a lot less, so we opened up our gap. We just rode side by side for a while. Then, we decided to drag race and put the hammer down.”

Wieczarek, racing with the Freddie Fu Cycling Team, ended the race with a time of one hour, 36 minutes and 57 seconds, while Russell, a member of team Sette Nova was a second behind. The next group of finishers was nearly four minutes behind the duo.

Russell, a Freeport native, had a secret to his success.

“Stick-to-it-ness,” he said. “That's my word. (Sunday) there was a lot of packing early, and Brian and I got off on a long break. Usually, for the long breaks, it's easier on the older guys because it's fast and steady instead of fast-slow, fast-slow.”

Still, the course wasn't a leisurely drive, as it wound through parts of Lower Burrell, Leechburg and Appollo.

“This is actually a very tough course,” Russell said.

“It's so rolly. It's up-down, up-down, up-down. Those little hills, although aren't real steep, wear you down after a while.”

In the 37-mile mountain bike race, which ran concurrently with the road race, the finish was also neck-and-neck. Delmont's Donald Hozaflook, 38, took first place with a time of 1:50.36. Alex Kukieza, 46, of Zelienople, was right behind at 1:50.37.

“We battled it out the whole way,” Hozaflook said. “(Kukieza) was pretty strong.”

Among women riders who competed alongside the men, New Kensington's Nina Wilczek was the second-overall women's finisher.

Riding in the 20-mile road race, the mother of two toddlers finished with a time of 1:06.21.

“I love to ride bikes,” Wilczek said. “Sometimes, I don't have time to train, but my dad runs a cycling class, so I can work out there.”

Thirteen races took place over the course of the day, ranging from the 37-mile events to short sprints for 2- to 3-year olds. Three off-road races were held Saturday at Roaring Run Trail in Apollo.

An estimated 123 riders took part in yesterday's races, a testament to the Tour's drawing power over the past two decades.

“Absolutely, it's a success,” StrongLand Chamber of Commerce director Allan Walzak said. “We have so many wonderful volunteers working with the various youths and riders in the race. (The riders) are coming from everywhere. They came from all around Pittsburgh, Erie, Butler, Indiana (Pa.).”

Results from the other major races yesterday:

• Vandergrift native Adam Smith won the 10-mile mountain bike race in a time of 36:34. Smith graduated from Kiski Area High School earlier this year. Freeport's John Baker took second (41:42). n In the 20-mile mountain bike race, Mike Letson came out on top at 1:09.58. John Shirling was right behind at 1:10.46.

• Mike Mankier won the 20-mile road race, clocking in at 56:27. Brendon Bucinski was one second behind him.

• Kiski Area teacher James Feudale came in first in the 10-mile road race. His time of 29:40 barely edged Dan Rowley's 29:41.

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