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Race shifts into get-along gear

Organizer of bike event in Brentwood seeks harmony among racers and residents.

August 11, 2008|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

With cycling on the rise and in the news, a West Los Angeles club planning a race in Brentwood says it is going to great lengths to ensure harmony among cyclists, residents and motorists.

Velo Club La Grange, the event organizer, plans to stage a grand prix over a 2.3-mile circuit on San Vicente Boulevard on Sunday.

The event, offering $10,000 in prize money, is expected to draw more than 400 professional and amateur racers from the Western United States.

"This Brentwood Grand Prix will be one of the largest races ever held in L.A. for pros and amateurs," said Jay Slater, a La Grange member.

Organizers took a number of steps -- hanging an 18-foot banner at a Whole Foods, putting up posters, distributing fliers and talking to homeowners, coffee shops, restaurants and merchants -- to ensure that the neighborhood would be aware of the event. They said they were conscious of the fact that the cycling community has faced greater than usual scrutiny since two cyclists were injured in a crash with a car on Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood.

Prosecutors said Christopher Thompson, a doctor and a Mandeville resident, had argued with the cyclists before slamming on his brakes in front of them. Thompson last week pleaded not guilty to reckless driving and battery charges involving the July 4 crash.

In recent months, high gas prices and the desire to be more environmentally conscious have induced many drivers to switch to two wheels. "Road rage" incidents between motorists and cyclists appear to be on the rise.

"We know we're going to be under the microscope, what with the Mandeville incident and more people on bicycles in general," said Marco Fantone, a La Grange spokesman.

Vehicular traffic will be prohibited on San Vicente between Barrington and Burlingame avenues during the grand prix, the first leg of which begins at 7 a.m. for "masters" riders 55 and older. The races will range from 40 to 80 minutes, with the average race lasting an hour. The final of nine races (including one for pedal pushers ages 5 to 11) is expected to end about 3:30 p.m., with the boulevard to reopen soon after.

Races will start at the Los Angeles Public Library branch between Montana and Gorham avenues. Riders will head east, making a quick U-turn at Gorham and heading west to Burlingame and coming back around to complete the loop.

Organizers will set up barricades along the boulevard median between Gorham and Montana, where cycling-equipment, food and apparel vendors will display their wares.

"We don't want people stepping off the curb into a group of cyclists going 35 mph," Fantone said.

Winners of individual laps will get prizes, including pounds of Peet's coffee or cycling apparel and equipment. Whoever prevails in the female pro race will walk away in style, with a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes from Footcandy, a San Vicente boutique. As any fan of "Sex and the City" can attest, the shoes typically sell for $500 to $1,000.

"We're looking forward to it," Xiomara Zelaya, co-owner of Footcandy, said of the event. "Based on my neighbors, it seems everyone's on board and everyone's excited."

Velo Club La Grange, founded in 1969 by French cyclist Raymond Fouquet at a Westwood restaurant called La Grange, has more than 400 members nationwide. One of the largest and oldest cycling clubs in California, it fields one of the top amateur racing teams in the United States. According to the club's website, past members have included a Tour de France stage winner and an Olympic gold medalist.

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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