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Pro teams arrive, prepare for Winston-Salem Cycling Classic

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Lynn Berry of Lewisville (left in green) guides the men's team Amore & Vita and the women's Michaela Fanini on a ride of the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic road course, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (Walt Unks/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Mike Cobler, owner of Cycletherapy Bikes in Lewisville, worked past midnight, into Wednesday, tinkering with high-end, carbon fiber race bikes, tuning them up for the professional cyclists who will pilot them through downtown Winston-Salem this weekend.

“Mike has been pulling an all-nighter,” said John Eustice, a former U.S. pro cycling champion and, among cyclists, one of the pioneers of American cycling in Europe, a warhorse from the Greg Lemond generation. Now the technical director of the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic, Eustice was standing in front of Cobler’s bike shop, shepherding mostly Italian members of the Estado de Mexico-Faren team from volunteer host-family homes to a training ride.

This weekend marks the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic’s second running, but it’s the first time that it – and the city – will host internationally sanctioned professional races. Prize money just for Saturday’s men’s pro criterium (crit) – a 75-minute circuit race downtown at 6 p.m. – is $15,000, according to the WSCC website. Total prize money for the two days of amateur and pro crits, and the men’s and women’s pro road races: almost $50,000.

For the races, some of the pro-team bikes packed in travel boxes arrived at Cycletherapy late Tuesday.

“Yeah, I stayed ‘til 2 a.m.,” Cobler said. Shop mates helped, too. “We un-boxed everything and checked it over. Replaced some stuff. We’re almost there. It was fun,” he said Wednesday afternoon, dropping his head in feigned exhaustion.

In all, Cycletherapy worked on 24 bikes for four teams.

Across town Wednesday afternoon, members of the Amore & Vita SMP team, one of Italy’s longest-running outfits, were eating nutrition bars in the YMCA parking lot across from Hanes Park, meeting there to then recon the road-race course, which starts downtown and loops through Old Salem and West End before rolling back into downtown. On Friday, the pro men will do the 7.5-mile course several times, enough to complete 120 miles. The pro women, competing at separate times Friday, will do about 50 miles.

The team has riders from Mexico, Canada and Italy, among other countries.

Logan Loader of Monterey, Calif., dressed in his predominately black Amore “kit,” or team uniform, will be competing in the pro road race Friday at 1 p.m. and the pro crit on Saturday at 6 p.m.

The hard part now is keeping the body race ready without making it tired.

So, on Wednesday, he and his teammates were planning an “easy” four hours of saddle time.

“Training-wise, we’re doing 25 hours a week,” Loader said.

“It’s a fine line because we traveled all the way from Europe, so you need to do a ride that’s hard enough to kind of wash the travel out of your legs, to open your capillaries up, and at the same time not so hard that it’s going to tire you out,” he said.

Local teams will represent Winston-Salem, too.

Ken’s Bike Shop, for example, is fielding several riders. And Team SmartStop, a domestic professional team based in Winston-Salem, will have several riders in the mix as well.

Members of Team SmartStop were competitive in two pro criterium races last weekend, putting Shane Kline and Jure Kocjan on the podium of the Novant Health Invitational Criterium in Charlotte on Saturday, and getting Adam Myerson into sixth place on Sunday in a pro crit in Belmont.

The men’s race in Charlotte put up $40,000 in cash prizes, according to the race website.

Apart from the money, pro teams want to win because a victory or podium spot gives them points toward rankings. A higher ranking means more publicity. More publicity is good for the sponsors.

Those who are fans of cycling have often heard about UHC, or UnitedHealthcare, because the health-care company sponsors a team that won that pro crit in Charlotte, with Carlos Alzate taking the top spot. And the same fans may not otherwise have known that SmartStop is a storage company if the company had not sponsored a team that contested the win.

Pro cyclists are rolling billboards — which is why the sport is sometimes compared with NASCAR.

Other similarities include tactics, speed and crashes.

Racers depend on teammates to draft; riding behind another cyclist’s wheel – drafting – saves a lot of energy. And they’ll need it. The tempo of a pro race is incredibly high; some people would find it difficult to pedal downhill at the speed these guys sustain for an hour-long crit. And, there is an occasional wreck. In the final laps, racers can expect competitors to throw elbows, squeeze into spots that just don’t exist or even lean over to head-butt for a better position – all while pedaling at 30-plus mph before sprinting at 35-40 mph.

“It’s the biggest adrenaline rush you’ll ever get,” said Josh Tucker, who co-owns Clemmons Bicycle shop, along with Travis Beane.

“You could be at max threshold and dying in the pain cave, and when you hear the bell, it’s like it all goes away.

“It’s on.

“It’s fast. It’s tight knit. It’s a cluster is what it is. You’re on the rivet. … Guys cussing, fussing, fighting. Speaking other languages. You get cussed out in Spanish, French, German, Belgian – doesn’t matter what it is.

“You’ve just got to … hold on for dear life,” Tucker said.