Aevolo Cycling's sweep of the U23 races last weekend at the USA Cycling Amateur Road Championships in Hagerstown, Maryland, marked a high-point for the second-year development team, but several incidents of harassment and the discovery of racist fliers near the team hotel in Clear Spring cast a pall over an otherwise successful weekend.
Hagerstown, which has a population of more than 40,000 and is just over an hour's drive northwest of Baltimore, served as the hub for the championship weekend, which featured a time trial on July 26 in Boonsboro, road races in Clear Spring on July 27 and 28, and a final criterium on Sunday, July 29, in downtown Hagerstown.
Team director Mike Creed told Cyclingnews the trouble occurred in Clear Spring, a town 12 miles west of Hagerstown with a population of about 350.
Creed said that during the July 27 road race around Clear Spring, one of his riders was dropped, slipping out of the back of the peloton and eventually outside the protection of the rolling road enclosure. While he was chasing to get back on, a driver on the road approached the rider and threw something, striking him in the face and drawing blood.
That day ended well with a solo win for Aevolo's Alex Hoehn, but there was another incident the following day while the team was on a recovery ride in the same area. The Aevolo riders were "buzzed" by an automobile driver, who Creed says cursed at them and told them to get off the road or he would run them over.
"Since then I've gotten tweets from other incidents, like Missy Erickson had somebody threaten her," Creed said.
Aevolo's Gage Hecht won the Sunday evening criterium to take his second title of the week following his time trial win, and the riders and staff went back to their hotel in Clear Spring on a high note. But that euphoria was short-circuited the next morning when they found a cache of racists fliers.
"On our final day, the guys went for a walk around the town because we had a little time to kill in the morning, and they found a bunch of racist pamphlets," Creed said. "It was a plastic bag with racist pamphlets inside with like candy to help weigh the bags down and presumably to entice children to pick them up."
After the team returned home to Colorado, both Aevolo's official Twitter account and Creed's personal account broadcast their issues with the race venue.
"Everybody that I had come face to face with was polite, but I wasn't in cycling gear and I'm not a minority, so it just made me question who the people in this town were," Creed told Cyclingnews. "I was very angry and I put it out there that unless I saw something from the community or the governance of the community to assure me that this is an outlier, I can't 100 per cent believe this is an outlier if I've had three incidents in five days."
Creed says the response he's gotten from the community has been satisfying.
"The response has been overwhelming, both from the tourism board and the police department and locals who have nothing really to do with that," he said. "They assured me that it was not typical of the community. They apologised for them and they want us to come back.
Washington County Sheriff Doug Mullendore told the local Herald-Mail newspaper that some pamphlets had been tossed into driveways and parking areas in Clear Spring, but they did not target the cyclists or the event.
Clear Spring Mayor Paul D. Hose characterised the incident to the Herald-Mail as "a disgrace."
"People shouldn't act like that," he said.
Visit Hagerstown President Dan Spedden told the Herald-Mail the incidents on the road and with the fliers do not represent the area.
"That's not us, that's not Clear Spring and that's not Washington County," he said. "My hope is to connect with [cycling officials] and try to repair it."
Creed said the local promoter, who he said put on a flawless race despite weather delays, was livid when he heard the news, and Creed said he got similar responses from others involved with the race.
"So there's no beef on that, and none of this is directed at those people, but I really just wanted to know that I'm taking my riders to a safe place, and the way the community is responding I'm starting to believe that it might have just been some really bad luck," he said.
Chuck Hodge, USA Cycling's vice president of event operations, said the governing body is aware of the incident and has already taken action.
“We were informed about the situation shortly after the incident and have been speaking with the Aevolo cycling team and assisting local law enforcement with their investigation," Hodge said in a statement emailed to Cyclingnews. "Overall, the community of Hagerstown showed great support for the riders and the event, and we are saddened that any group would behave in this disgraceful manner. The local organising committee is working diligently to assure that all riders are welcome in the area and we will assist them however we can in creating an inclusive environment for our members.”
Creed said despite the negative moments, there are a lot of positives coming out of the community's reaction.
"Even with this bit of a bad thing that happened, I think it's still positive that the community reached out the way they did and they didn't ignore it. It was great to see a community willing to isolate people like that and say, 'No, we're not a part of that.' Hopefully those people in that community see that and see that they're the fringe."
While @usacycling put on a great #Roadnats, our experience in #ClearSpringMD was less so. On 3 occasions, our riders received physical & verbal abuse - not to mention discovering racist pamphlets on the roadside. Unacceptable. We won’t be back. @HagerstownPD@HMMediaSports— Aevolo Cycling (@Aevolo_Cycling) July 30, 2018
All the locals I encountered face to face were very nice. However we had some terrible experiences while in clear spring, md. We won’t return and spend a dime until we’re convinced this doesn’t reflect the community at large and the local governance is investigating. https://t.co/JL86YKj8ux— Michael Creed (@Michael_Creed) July 30, 2018
I would like to add that the race promoters were extremely responsive and as angry I am. They put on an amazing race, @usacycling did magnificent to save the u23 road race after a weather delay. None of this anger is directed at them.— Michael Creed (@Michael_Creed) July 30, 2018
RE the racist trash found around Clear Spring, MD. pic.twitter.com/pIpyBAzs6h— Michael Creed (@Michael_Creed) July 30, 2018
I was also verbally assaulted while waiting at a traffic light in Clear Spring. The officers standing on the corner jumped right in and handled it for me. I’m just glad my junior athletes weren’t there to experience it. It’s sad and disgusting. @HagerstownPD@usacycling— Missy Erickson (@missyerickson) July 31, 2018
I'm really sorry you and your team had to experience this kind of behavior. As a Clear Spring resident who volunteered on both race days, it's certainly not reflective of the people I know who live here. I hope you can return next year to give us a 2nd chance at a 1st impression.— Chris Dennis (@tall_chris) July 31, 2018
I'm am so sorry you and your team had to experience such disgusting behavior. I am from Clear Spring. I actually live on the race route and really enjoyed seeing the race pass through. This makes my heart sick that this happened to you.— Stephanie Divine (@sdivine1982) July 31, 2018