NEW BRITAIN - Cyclists bolted around Walnut Hill Park Saturday during the 28th annual ShopRite Nutmeg State Games.
The cycling criterium kicked off the games and attracted people from New England, New York and beyond.
The race, which has been held in New Britain since 2010, brings many riders to the city, said race director Laura Summers. This year, 300 people preregistered and Summers expected a total of 350 racers by the end of the day.
The goal of the event is for “everyone to have a great day on the bike,” Summers said, adding that the park is a great course for first-time racers.
She also said she hopes the event gets people interested in cycling as a sport, which is good for all ages from kids to people in their seventies.
“There’s pretty much a spot for everyone in the sport,” Summers said.
For many participants, the event was more than a chance to win a medal. It was a chance to teach kids about cycling, a sport than many say is often overlooked.
Jim Colella, a New Britain resident racing for team Race CF, has been cycling at the Nutmeg Games for six years.
“It’s a great event in the sense that it promotes a healthy sport,” Colella said. “It’s about bringing health and wellness to the younger generation.”
And, Colella added, it brings causes together. Race CF, which benefits cystic fibrosis, had 20 people in their group racing.
“I came out here because I want to be a part of something good for our community,” he said.
Cycling, he said, is a lifelong sport. Though it can be tough to ride for long distances in hot weather, Colella said, the sense of fulfillment after crossing the finish line is worth it.
Aidan Charles, director of the youth cycling league for the Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program, echoed Colella’s sentiments.
Cycling gives people “a lot of lifelong habits,” said Charles, such as hard work, patience, consistency and the “long-term payoff of investing in yourself.”
The criterium is the first event of their junior race series.
“It’s a great sport for everybody, but it’s a great sport for kids who might not enjoy traditional sports as much,” said Morgan Rueckert, a coach with CCAP.
“Many people don’t realize cycling is a team sport,” Charles said.
Aiden Wyskiewicz, 10, from New Britain, fell in love with cycling at an early age.
It was his first Nutmeg Games, but he had been in three or four other races.
Aiden raced for Team ERRACE, part of CCAP, which benefits cancer research. He said he loves racing for the competitiveness, but also likes taking rides with his dad to explore new places.
“It’s really just being able to get out and breathe and enjoy the fresh air,” said Jim Wyskiewicz, Aiden’s father, who also raced in the criterium. “You’re exploring up front the beauty of Connecticut.”
The Nutmeg State Games are the official state games of Connecticut and are recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Michelle Jalbert can be reached at email@example.com.