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Kevin Dayhoff: Tour de France kindles passion for Carroll County’s past bike races

Although the eyes of much of the world are on the Tour de France each July, Carroll County also hosted a number of celebrated bicycle races decades before the first Tour de France in 1903.

One of my passions for July, besides thoroughly enjoying the heat and humidity, is the Tour de France, which ended July 18. This year, for a sports bonus, I took time out during the balance of the COVID-19 isolation in the winter and spring to binge watch Appalachian Trail through-hiker YouTube videos. Recently, Caroline and I have had a chance to hike short sections of the Appalachian Trail, and I think it would be exciting to find the time to hike longer lengths of the trail.

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This year, Slovenian Tadej Pogačar won a second successive Tour de France. Wout van Aert won the final stage on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Two other racers, however, captured the imagination of many: American Sepp Kuss and British racer Mark Cavendish.

An article on the website Eurosport on July 19 explained the Cavendish comeback best: “Cavendish looked to be nearing the end of his career after battling illness and injuries, and failing to win once over the last two years…” This year at the Tour de France, “[t]he 36-year-old won four stages at the Tour to equal Eddy Merckx’s all-time record for most stage wins at the race [34].”

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According to an article in Bicycling on July 12, “Kuss was born and raised in Durango [Colorado], the son of endurance athletes and prominent members of Durango’s hard-core outdoor community.

“Kuss won three national collegiate mountain bike titles at the University of Colorado Boulder. There he dabbled briefly in road racing until 2016.

“[B]y the end of that season he was riding for the U.S. national team in Europe. A standout ride at the 2017 Tour of California drew the notice of top European teams.”

For the true road bicycle racing fanatic, there are three major European events each year: The Tour de France is usually held in July. The Giro d’Italia – Tour of Italy – established in 1909, is held in May, and the Vuelta a España – Tour of Spain – which began in 1935, is usually held in August.

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The Tour de France has a little something for everyone; history, drama, intrigue, science, a mini-geography tutorial of Europe, and all of the fanfare and spectacle of what is arguably one of the most difficult sporting challenges in the world today.

Perhaps it should be mentioned, in full disclosure, that much of the insane beginnings of the Tour de France were started by journalists and a newspaper. The bicycle race began as a newspaper publicity event, brainstormed by Henri Desgrange in 1902, to promote the sports newspaper l’Auto.

According to the history section of the Le Tour de France website, “The line between insanity and genius is said to be a fine one, and in early 20th century France, anyone envisaging a near-2,500-km-long cycle race across the country would have been widely viewed as unhinged.

“Today, as it was in the late 1890s, bicycling is quite popular in Carroll County. According to an article in the April 1896 Democratic Advocate newspaper: “The Bicycle is a foreign invention. Those sky-scrapers, with one large wheel and a little one behind, with the riders up in the clouds, were of English invention, and were first imported in this country about twenty years ago... [They are] dangerous, and yet their use was spreading.”

The Cycling Ramblers had 15 uniformed members in 1887 and according to historian Jay Graybeal. The club “was organized like a militia company of its day.”

Perhaps couples like this one seen in an early 20th century photo pedaled to the Pleasure Park north of Westminster for the Bicycle Race Meet in 1898. This photo was taken in front of William Keefer’s Groceries, Provisions, Flour & Feed store at 86 E. Main St. in Westminster. From the collection of the Historical Society of Carroll County.
Perhaps couples like this one seen in an early 20th century photo pedaled to the Pleasure Park north of Westminster for the Bicycle Race Meet in 1898. This photo was taken in front of William Keefer’s Groceries, Provisions, Flour & Feed store at 86 E. Main St. in Westminster. From the collection of the Historical Society of Carroll County. (Kevin Dayhoff)

There is a long and storied history about Carroll County’s love affair with the bicycle and the subject has been the topic of choice in this space a number of times. A portion of this discussion has been published before.

For a quick getaway, my favorite place to bicycle in Carroll County is the Wakefield Valley Trail and Park. For a day trip, Caroline and I like to travel over to Brunswick and hop on to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. We also like the Northern Central Railroad Trail, in Gunpowder Falls State Park in Baltimore County.

According to research in the summer of 2013 for a segment of “Old Roots, New Roots,” on WTTR-1470AM by Cathy Baty, the curator at the Historical Society of Carroll County, “The first machine that we would recognize as a bicycle was developed in 1865. Called a velocipede, it had a front wheel only slightly larger than the rear. The pedals were on the front wheel and there was no chain connecting the two wheels.

“In the last 2 decades of the 19th century, bicycling boomed,” reported Baty. “Bicycles were an inexpensive means of transportation but became especially popular for recreation. According to the Democratic Advocate, I.A. Miller owned the first bicycle in Westminster. In 1883 … a club called the Cycling Ramblers [formed]. The following year, the club took the first of many excursions when the members rode to Natural Bridge in Virginia.”

Downtown Westminster jeweler, Toni Pomeroy of Pomeroy Jewelers, will be interested to know that according to an article in the June 25, 1898 edition of the American Sentinel, the first prize “for the winner of the twenty-five mile paced open race was a diamond ring valued at $35.00.”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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