Racers to pedal for title at Mandalay Bay

Frank Travieso is all for the fast life.

He has heard all about Las Vegas and what it has to offer in that regard, and he can’t wait to get a taste of it.

But the first order of business for Travieso during his first trip to the city will be getting an up-close look at, of all things, a stretch of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center parking lot — over and over and over.

That is where The World Championships Sports Network USA Crits Finals bicycle race will be held Thursday.

Las Vegas is the last stop in the 10-race 2007 USA Crits Championship Series, and Travieso has a firm grip on the series title. He would have to finish out of the top 20 and have AEG Toshiba-JetNetwork teammate Yosvany Falcon, who is second in the series, win the race to fall out of the series lead.

Travieso, a 27-year-old Miami resident, has no intention of letting that happen.

“It’s pretty big because I am leader of the series and it’s the last race,” Travieso said. “To win the last race is important. … There’s big pressure because the race is in Las Vegas. The race is going to be really fast.”

About 120 riders are expected to compete in the men’s race at 9:15 p.m.; about 75 are expected to compete in the women’s race at 7:15 p.m.

Laura Van Gilder, of Cresco, Pa., who races for the Cheerwine team, has clinched the women’s series championship.

The men’s race will consist of 60 laps on a 1-kilometer course (0.62 miles), while the women will race 40 laps of the same distance.

Travieso said speeds approach 40 mph on straightaways on flat courses and can exceed 60 mph on downhills. Riders slow going into the turns, but Travieso said there are always some willing to take risks by steaming through the turns to gain an advantage heading into the straightaway.

“You’re sprinting the whole time,” he said. “You can’t let anyone get a big lead. If someone goes up 20 seconds, they have a chance to lap the field.”

The race is being held in conjunction with Interbike, a bike industry trade show that is expected to bring 22,000 people from 60 countries to Las Vegas. The show runs Wednesday through Friday at the Sands Expo Center but is closed to the public.

Ravi Rajcoomar, the managing director of Swagger, which is producing the race, said industry people and race promoters have been trying to bring a top race to Las Vegas for several years.

“The hard part was to have a meaningful event and a schedule that worked,” he said.

That was done by linking the race to Interbike and to the Crits Championship Series.

“September is a good time after a whole year of racing, and Vegas is a great spot,” Rajcoomar said. “But definitely one of the big draws is being in front of a big crowd from the bike industry.”

The winner of the Las Vegas race will be the finals champ, and organizers are labeling the race the unofficial world championship.

Top riders from all over the world are expected at the race, which will be free to the public.

How big of a deal is the race for Las Vegas?

“Enormous,” said Brandon Cunningham, a local racer who has lived in the Las Vegas area for nearly eight years. “Hopefully it will be a successful race that we have here every year. Las Vegas is not the best bike-racing community for its size. Having one of the best bike races in the country held at Mandalay Bay, one of the best resorts, is huge.”

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