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Pro bicycling race idea hailed as Olympic step

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


DADE CITY -- Organizers on Wednesday unveiled a plan to bring top-level professional bicycle racing -- and eventually the Olympics -- to east Pasco.

The first event in what event chairman David Hevia hopes will become a prestigious annual stop for the cycling world is scheduled for Sept. 17, with hundreds of professional sprint racers expected to swerve through a half-mile course around the historic old courthouse at up to 40 mph.

Hevia said as many as 10,000 spectators could line the streets for the inaugural race, dubbed "The Dade Battle of Brilliance."

"This thing is going gangbusters," Hevia told a crowd of supporters and volunteers gathered Wednesday at a Kafe Kokopelli luncheon.

The plan calls for a day of racing in 12 categories, beginning with races for local children and capped by a challenge for professionals competing for prizes, series points and cash.

A key ally is E.J. Rogut, who heads the cycling division of the Florida 2012 Olympic bid. He is also president of the Florida chapter of the internationally recognized USA Cycling organization that oversees Olympic cycling in this country. Rogut believes the hilly terrain around Dade City is perfect for a 26-mile bicycle road course if Tampa and Orlando land the 2012 Summer Olympics.

A regular rider in east Pasco, Rogut said he already has collected a map and aerial and ground-level photos of the proposed course to be sent by December to international cycling officials for consideration.

He said a bid by Dallas is the closest competition to Florida's Olympic dreams.

Hevia, who owns Kiefer Village Jewels with partner J.R. Harrelson in the landmark Touchton Building downtown, said he dreamed of a signature event that would benefit children as well as bring visitors to town. A miniature bicycle in a wrist watch display in his store got him thinking about cycling, he said.

A partnership with Toys for Tots will help local children, he said.

"This is a dream come true for me," Hevia said. "This meeting means this is going to happen."

Despite Hevia's enthusiasm, there are still details to work out. The race needs sponsors, volunteers, racers, and commitments from an ambulance crew willing to stand by for the duration of the races. And then there's the state Department of Transportation, which must approve closing two state roads -- Meridian Avenue and North Seventh Street -- for the races.

The proposed course begins on North Seventh, turns east on Meridian, then heads south on Fifth Street, through a staging area on Pasco Avenue behind the old courthouse, then down Sixth Street before turning east on Church Avenue where it would reconnect with Seventh Street.

Ellen Kast, president of Tampa-based Team American Classic cycling team, promised the event would thrill spectators.

"The purpose of these bikes is to go fast," she said. "We're going to have riders flying around this course."

Rogut said a similar race started 30 years ago in the Coconut Grove area of Miami now draws up to 500 riders every year.

Hevia said he plans to fashion a special trophy for the featured race here. On a one-carat diamond, the jeweler said he will have the winner's name engraved in tiny letters on one facet of the diamond for each year leading up to the 2012 Olympics.

"We've got an ideal opportunity here," Rogut said. "It can happen, but it's a community effort, and that's what it's going to take."

Business and individuals interested in a variety of available sponsorship packages may contact Hevia at (352) 567-2378.

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