Cyclists spend six hours biking to nowhere, support charity

By John Manganaro

Schwinn Airdyne bikes and Spinning cycles packed the upper lobby of the U.S. Steel Tower… Schwinn Airdyne bikes and Spinning cycles packed the upper lobby of the U.S. Steel Tower Saturday morning, along with more than 800 riders, myriad volunteers and a speaker system blasting epic tunes like “Sandstorm” and “Pump Up the Jam.” The more serious riders wore Spandex and elastic cycling suits smattered with team logos and sponsors. Others donned denim shorts, aviators and handlebar mustaches.

The dichotomic apparel, facial accessories and throbbing music only added to the excitement when, at 7:59 a.m., the judges called for the sea of anxious riders to get ready.

“The race is about to begin,” a voice boomed over the crowd. “I repeat, the race is about to begin. Can we please have the first rider from each team step onto your stationary bicycles?”

After some frantic last-minute bike adjustments and a dramatic countdown by the judges, the 10th Annual Race to Any Place kicked off to a start, featuring more than 80 teams from across the Pittsburgh region, including several from Pitt. Together, the groups raised nearly $120,000 to benefit the Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia Chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The six-hour relay was comprised of 24 consecutive 15-minute heats. Finishing the race required teamwork, planning, plenty of water and a load of complex carbohydrates — all off which were available for riders courtesy of a number of sponsors including TRIB Total Media, GNC and UPMC Health Plan. Teams included at least 12 riders, with each rider completing a minimum of one 15-minute heat.

Teams could only change riders as new heats were announced — the process worked like a pit stop in NASCAR. First, a rider’s teammates stopped the bike’s wheel, immediately adjusting the seat height and toe-cage size for the next rider.

Speedometers tracked each team’s distance, which for some climbed well over 200 miles. In the end, each category of racing, such as “corporate teams,” “men’s team,” “women’s team” and “spin open,” named a winner.

Several teams from Pitt participated in this non-stop stationary action, including the Panther Cycling Club, who raced in the more competitive “spin open” division. A group of Pitt dental students and a group of pharmacy students also raced, competing in the less competitive “open” category. Matthew Appleton, a Pitt student and captain of the Panther Cycling Club team, explained his squad’s motivation for joining the event.

“The Race to Any Place is something of a tradition for the Panther Cycling Club,” Appleton said. “We’ve participated every year since our club was founded in 2005, and we’ve managed to win three of those four years. We’re kind of known when we show up that we’re here to win. We also hold the record for the most miles logged at the race.”

Appleton said the race represents one of the friendliest and most exciting competitions of the year, complete with rivalries and complex strategizing.

“This is the only event of its kind that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “There is always so much energy, especially out of the fundraising groups. Of course, everyone gets really into the competition, but when you get down to it everyone is cheering for everyone else. It’s all about how much money we can pull in.”

Kira Foley, campaign manager for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, said the society will use the race proceeds to combat leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma. Every team makes a $500 flat donation, with many teams soliciting additional per-mile pledges from people and companies in Pittsburgh.

Mike Lueck, a Pitt dental student and captain of the Pitt Dental Student team, is a seven-year veteran of the race. He first participated with his fraternity at Pitt back in 2003, and this year he convinced a group of fellow dental students to grow mustaches and join him in the race.

“We had our annual dental school mustache competition going on this week,” Lueck said. “We decided to join the race and keep the ‘staches as an intimidation factor.”

Lueck said his squad has yet to develop any rivalries at the race dispite winning the “open” competition last year, but he hoped they could “beat out those pharmacy kids.”

“It’s an amazing thing to be able to participate in this event,” Lueck said. “We (the groups combined) raised over $100,000 in a single day to help fight against leukemia and lymphoma last year, and we are definitely going to hit that goal again. Plus, we get to eat a ton of free food. It seems like every restaurant in Pittsburgh donates something. I’m looking forward to the pierogies and burritos.”

Lueck’s squad again claimed the “open” division title. It is unclear whether their mustaches had anything to do with the victory.