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Cycling through the cold

Matt Cooper hurdles an obstacle on the course while racing in the Masters category 3/4 35-plus and 45-plus race during Sunday's MABRA Cycloross Championships at Memorial Park in Taneytown. Cooper, who lives in Columbia and is originally from Westminster, finished first.
Matt Cooper hurdles an obstacle on the course while racing in the Masters category 3/4 35-plus and 45-plus race during Sunday's MABRA Cycloross Championships at Memorial Park in Taneytown. Cooper, who lives in Columbia and is originally from Westminster, finished first. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

TANEYTOWN - Cyclocross riders, clad in their cycling suits, rushed from the finish line for blankets and sweatshirts Sunday following their respective competitions.

Matt Cooper, who finished first for the Masters 35-plus race, waited for his name to be announced in the bitter cold with just his uniform on. The Westminster native started cyclocross last year, and has won three races since he began, he said.

Cyclocross is a form of bicycle racing that consists of laps, trails, hills and obstacles that require the rider to dismount the bike and jump back on. For the last five years, Taneytown's Memorial Park has been turned into a cyclocross course for the Mid-Atlantic Bicycle Racing Association's Cyclocross Championship.

Cooper, who now lives in Columbia, began racing after running took too hard of a toll on his body. He picked up cycling, and began cycling with friends who pushed him in the direction of cyclocross. Cooper races for Adventures for the Cure, a nonprofit organization that helps a variety of charities, from children with diabetes to children with disabilities in Kenya.

"Cycling is kind of such a selfish sport, it's nice to be able to do something for a cause," Cooper said.

Cooper attributed his talent with cycling to his father, who taught him to ride a bike when he was 5 years old, he said. The great thing about cyclocross is that it bridges age gaps, said Tracy Lea, the race director of the Cyclocross Championship.

"You can see cross racing is really for all levels from little kids to slow old guys, or fast girls and slow girls," Lea said.

Lea has been involved in racing for more than 40 years with her husband, Rob, she said. The two used to be involved in mountain bike racing until they moved to Carroll County, she said.

"Taneytown is fantastic," Lea said. "If you want to ride your bike outdoors, Carroll County is to die for."

Both of Lea's sons are involved in racing. Syd Lea has won seven gold medals in the Special Olympics World Games. Tracy's other son, Bobby Lea has been to both Beijing and London to compete in the Olympics. The two were always involved in cycling, Tracy said.

"I think they like, morphed onto a bike," Tracy said.

Bobby said he started racing because he was constantly surrounded by cycling as a child. He placed 12th at the 2012 London Olympics for cycling, he said.

"It was a couple places lower than what I was hoping for, but five of the six events I did were personal bests," Bobby said.

After two Olympics, he said it's possible a third run in 2016 could be in the works. Tracy said it probably won't even be a consideration until another year down the road. Prior to the Olympics, cyclists spend two years or so competing and gathering enough points to qualify.

"If the planets align, maybe I'll take a run at Rio," Bobby said.

He designed the course for this year's cyclocross championship, he said. The course took around 45 minutes to complete and has a very close feel to how the world championship course is, Tracy said.

"I'm not a big fan of courses that are really technical or tough," Bobby said. "So I designed a course that was kind of fun for everyone. Not terribly taxing mentally, physically, technically, but if you're strong enough to go fast on it, then you can certainly make it hard on yourself."

The race was challenging enough for Knight Elsberry, of Washington, D.C., who crashed twice. This is Elsberry's second year participating in cyclocross, after a 25-year break, he said.

When Elsberry was a teenager, Eric Heiden, an Olympic speed skater, had just won five individual gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics, he said. Heiden cycled in his offseason, and visited Elsberry's town for a race.

Elsberry cycled until college, when he couldn't make the time commitment to do both, he said. Two years ago, he decided to start again and began cyclocross.

"Cyclocross is good when you have a job and a family and don't have time to commit to long hours to train," Elsberry said. "Three months of the year, I can justify leaving the family on the weekends."

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