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Ben King, a professional cyclist from Virginia, poses with a bicycle on the deck of the Bygone hotel bar in Baltimore on October 8, 2019. The Union Cycliste Internationale will host a cycling event in Baltimore on Sept. 6, 2020.
Ben King, a professional cyclist from Virginia, poses with a bicycle on the deck of the Bygone hotel bar in Baltimore on October 8, 2019. The Union Cycliste Internationale will host a cycling event in Baltimore on Sept. 6, 2020. (Phil Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore will host a major international cycling race for three years beginning in 2020, after a Maryland bid was accepted by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body for global bike racing.

The race, to be called the Maryland Cycling Classic, was included Wednesday when the UCI announced its 2020 calendar for its ProSeries races with a date of Sept. 6. The ProSeries is a step below the Switzerland-based organization’s WorldTour races, which include the Tour de France and similar multi-day stage races in Italy and Spain.

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The 110- to 125-mile Maryland race would ideally start and end in the city, but travel into surrounding counties, said Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports Commission.

Few details of the planned Baltimore race have been ironed out. The route still needs to be chosen and the event’s budget and cost remain up in the air, Hasselstine said.

“Over the next 60 to 90 days, working with our city and county partners, we’ll determine a route that’s good for cyclists,” but also takes other needs into consideration, he said.

The Baltimore Department of Transportation said the city has not officially agreed to host the race and is continuing to study the issue, but Visit Baltimore is one of the partners in the group organizing the event along with the sports commission and Medalist Sports.

The event will secure needed permits after working with the city and any counties the race enters on determining the best route, said Hasseltine, also vice president of communications for the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Georgia-based Medalist will manage the event and has experience running large bike races, including the Tour of Utah and the Colorado Classic.

Major bike races usually require some road closures, much like the ill-fated Grand Prix of Baltimore that ran in the city from 2011 to 2013, but couldn’t attract enough sponsors. While the start and finish areas and any finishing circuits would need to be closed for a bike race, such races often use what’s known as a rolling enclosure that only shut down roads they pass only once for as long as it takes the cyclists and the race entourage to pass by.

He added that while the Baltimore region is the focus of the event and organizers have preliminary support from city officials, if talks were to break down, the event would remain in the state and could be run outside the city. But given Visit Baltimore’s support, he said that’s unlikely to happen.

“We wouldn’t be going forward with the announcement ... if we didn’t have a commitment from a city agency and a partner in the city,” Hasseltine said.

He anticipates the event should bring a “$20 million benefit” to the region, drawing tourists as well as spending by the racers’ teams.

For those close to the sport, Baltimore hosting a UCI road race is a significant win for the region, especially when the organization hasn’t had any significant races on the East Coast in several years.

Ben King, a professional cyclist from Richmond, Virginia, said the last major event on the East Coast was the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in his hometown. The Baltimore race is expected to bring in 110 to 125 cyclists racing for professional teams from across the globe, he said.

King, 30, said he is excited to bring professional bike racing to Baltimore, which he described as a region with a strong amateur cycling scene.

“I think the East Coast has a lot to offer and there are a lot of passionate fans of cycling on the East Coast who will finally have an opportunity to, in a way, participate in the action and be there up close and personal with their heroes,” said King, who raced this year’s Tour de France and Vuelta de Espana — the Spanish tour — for Team Dimension Data, a South Africa-based team.

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Hasseltine said the event is locked in for the Labor Day weekend over the next three years. The organizers want to leverage the event’s popularity into a full Labor Day weekend celebration, hosting block parties and wellness events with a cycling focus on the Friday and Saturday before the race.

“At the end of the day ... this is bigger than just a one-day ProSeries cycling event,” he said. “We think this has a net big win for the city beyond just cycling.”

The organizers’ goal is to establish an event that will run for years to come and could use different routes each year, Hasseltine said.

John Kelly, chairman of the host committee and president of Kelly Benefit Strategies, which has sponsored a domestic cycling team, said he’s hopeful the race can become a regular event that spurs tourism in and showcases “the goodness and beauty of Baltimore through a sport that attracts fans from all over the world.”

“If we do this well, and our community gets behind this, it could become a tradition that lasts,” Kelly wrote in a text message. “This race is in a perfect place on the UCI calendar to attract the world’s best cyclists as they finalize their preparations for the World Championship road race held in September of each year."

The UCI was impressed with the state’s success in hosting the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships, a major domestic amateur event in Hagerstown in 2018 and 2019, Hasseltine said.

Baltimore is hosting another UCI event this weekend in a different cycling discipline known as cyclocross, which is like steeplechase on bikes. The Charm City Cross race is being held Saturday and Sunday at Druid Hill Park.

The city has hosted other major bike races in the past, including the US Pro Cycling Championship in the early 1980s and a leg of the short-lived Tour de Trump in 1989.

Liz Cornish, executive director of the Bikemore cycling advocacy group, said the Maryland race should generate millions for the local economy.

“It will also expose an international audience to our city, which has the potential to inspire other large sporting events to come to Baltimore,” she wrote in an email. “Youth will be exposed to a new sport that creates opportunities they may not otherwise have access to. And for advocates it demonstrates to elected officials what we have been saying all along: Bikes mean business, they mean health, and they mean fun for an entire city.”

The Baltimore Sun’s Christopher Dinsmore contributed to this article.

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