Hitting brakes on Maryland Cycling Classic leaves biking community feeling deflated: ‘Enormously disappointed’

Scott McGill, a professional cyclist who grew up in Fallston and graduated from high school there, knew that participating in the Maryland Cycling Classic the past two Labor Day weekends was equal parts exhilaration and responsibility.

“It’s one of the weekends where I get a lot of media attention, which is not always the case,” he said with a laugh. “Doing races in Europe, we’re usually the small fish in a big pond. But in that race, it seems like I’m the big fish in a small pond. So it’s been a busy weekend trying to fulfill all of the media obligations as well as focusing on the race.”

McGill, who competes for Project Echelon Racing, will have to dip his toe elsewhere after Tuesday’s news that the third version of the Maryland Cycling Classic was being postponed this year. Organizers said the race is expected to return in 2025, but the delay left people with ties to the biking community feeling frustrated.

“Obviously, I’m enormously disappointed,” said Joe Traill, owner of Joe’s Bike Shop with stores in Fells Point and Mount Washington. “It’s unfortunate that these events have happened during the relative infancy of the event. No one could imagine not holding the Preakness for whatever reasons in large part because it is so established. It’s unfortunate that we can imagine not having this race.”

The Maryland Cycling Classic is no ordinary event. It is the highest level road cycling race in the United States and is endorsed by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the sport’s world governing body that also supports, among others, the Tour de France.

Representatives for John Kelly, chief strategy officer for Kelly Benefits who chairs the race, and Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, did not respond to requests for comment.

In its debut in 2022, the Maryland Cycling Classic attracted an estimated 70,000 spectators. Last year’s event on Sept. 3 drew an estimated 80,000 fans and almost 800,000 viewers on livestream — an increase of 200% from 2022.

Those numbers suggest this year’s race on Sept. 1 would have set the bar even higher, and that’s why the postponement felt like a flat tire.

“It’s a big disappointment that Baltimore won’t get to host such a great event,” said Kris Auer, one of the organizers of the Charm City Cross, a UCI lower tier-sanctioned race that celebrates its 20th anniversary Sept. 28-29. “It really showcased how good cycling can be in Maryland, and it brought together a lot of people who never gave Baltimore much of a thought in that regard and really showcased what Baltimore could do.”

Event organizers cited a variety of reasons for the postponement, including the participation of some cyclists in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Paris and the “strain on existing resources and personnel” of Baltimore City and Baltimore County after the collapse of the Key Bridge.

McGill said he understood the decision in light of the tragedy.

“That’s a major roadway that now no longer exists,” he said. “People who live on either side of the bridge have to change their routes and their daily commutes. Even though the race was on a Sunday and might not have that much traffic, it still could have played a factor.”

Another rationale involved the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal, an international cycling event in Canada, occurring two weeks after what would have been the Maryland Cycling Classic instead of the usual one-week gap.

“To send a staff from Europe and have to be around for additional time like that, that’s hotel, that’s travel, that’s food,” said Auer, who had served as a mechanic for European-based Israel-Premier Tech for the first two Maryland Cycling Classic races. “It’s difficult to come to America from Europe, and then to tack that on top of it, if I was managing a European team, I would have to look closely at that. I think some participation still would have happened, but the Maryland Cycling Classic might not have gotten the quality of rider that they got in Year 1 and were getting more of in Year 2.”

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There’s some concern that the absence of this year’s event will have a trickle-down effect on the biking community. Traill said the previous races sparked enthusiasm among amateur bikers and curiosity among nonbikers.

“We saw great excitement in the shop, but I think more notable was not the excitement I saw in the shop, but the excitement that I saw when I went out to dinner at my local favorite spots and patrons who weren’t cyclists at all commenting and asking me about the race knowing that I was the resident cyclist,” he said. “That was the one time when motorists in Baltimore County seemed excited by seeing cyclists on the road and being sometimes inconvenienced by it.”

Nathan Surowiec, a Bel Air native and Fallston graduate who races for Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina, said he is worried about losing gains the event has produced.

“The trouble with a lot of events — and this happens in many industries — is that when something loses momentum like this, it’s really hard to get that back,” said Surowiec, who finished 18th in the Criterium portion of the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships on May 5 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It’s definitely a shame that it’s been postponed.”

Last year’s race started at noon at Kelly Benefits, moved north of Butler, toed the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line, rounded Prettyboy Reservoir twice, traveled southward along the eastern side of Upperco, Boring and Glyndon, and mounted a total elevation of about 7,500 feet before making its way into Baltimore City.

Within the city limits, the course included 4 1/2 laps of a 7.5-mile route that featured 19 turns and short climbs through neighborhoods like Fells Point, Washington Hill, Old Town and Mount Vernon. The circuit was generally bounded by St. Paul Street to the west, Pratt Street to the south, South Broadway to the east, and East Lafayette Avenue to the north.

While concentrating on the competition aspect of the event, McGill said he enjoyed serving as an unofficial tour guide for teammates and rivals.

“It’s been an awesome experience, especially showing a lot of my competitors the beauty of Maryland and Baltimore,” he said. “A lot of people are super surprised when they come and see how good the roads are for cycling. So it’s been cool to show people who would never normally come to Maryland that Maryland is actually a great place to visit.”