Cheering for the `Classic'

It was an event that featured 150 or so performers from 13 nations, both men and women, who did their thing at breakneck speeds with inestimable courage over 16 days before 200,000 enthusiastic fans. In America, it is an annual event with nothing else like it. It is a marathon bicycle race, the ``Classic,'' which concluded last Sunday in Boulder, Colorado, and was won in the men's division by America's own Greg LeMond, who has raced with great success in Europe the past few years. Much of the warm reception for the event is no doubt a continuation of the appreciation in the United States for its smashingly successful 1984 Olympic cycling teams, which came from nowhere to take the lion's share of gold at Los Angeles. Perhaps, too, it is a natural outreaching to a sport where the fans are so close to both the action and the actors, able to feel the stiff breezes of the bicycle machines that rocket past, able to go up and chat with the racers at the end of an exciting race. I t doesn't hurt that the world-class event attracts many of the best athletes from Europe and the Soviet Union.

Of course, despite all the enthusiasm and the fact that this was the event's 11th year, the race does not begin to have the following of comparable events in Europe, where the sport of cycling is enormously popular.

But it is not hard to root for continued success. That the men's race will continue and perhaps flourish is not in much doubt. It attracted a strong and deep field and a healthy number of sponsors (though the ``Classic'' should avoid identification with beer or other questionable products). The prospects for women cyclists are less sanguine: The women's division attracted a field of only 52 this year, and many important sponsors bypassed the women in favor of the men's teams. Not fair.

Much of last summer's cheering among the nation was for the American men's team, but there was also spirited rooting for gold-medalist Connie Carpenter-Phinney, now retired. A following that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, and the nation's aspiring women cyclists, hope the women's division will continue. So do we.

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