Every May, an invasion hits Brandywine Park and Market Street as approximately 300 bike racers compete in the Wilmington Grand Prix, this year on Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19.
And that invasion spreads into the city’s neighborhoods as well where as many as 40 racers stay for a night or two with local residents.
“We absolutely love hosting; this will be our third year,” says Karen Houser, whose husband and two daughters make room in their house in the Triangle neighborhood for up to three riders.
“These guys are no trouble, easy to host and very laid back,” Karen says. “And I’m so impressed by how mature and grateful they are. We can’t wait til they get here.”
Race director and participant Laura Van Gilder explains that in both the US and abroad, local host housing is fairly common for professional cycling events with as many as half the competitors lodging with locals.
Laura says that bike racing budgets are traditionally very tight. Just as important, in private homes these athletes get access to kitchens. “We really like to have some control over our own nutrition. Kitchen privileges allow us to prepare foods high in protein… in a hotel, we can’t get that.”
Bryan Lewis, who is currently competing in races internationally, won the Monkey Hill Time Trial in last year’s Wilmington Grand Prix. He too values kitchen access to make those high protein meals, adding “one skill I’ve picked up over the years is a unique ability to track down cooking utensils in houses I’ve never been in.”
Bryan also cites such benefits as the opportunity to drive a host’s Tesla, being greeted by a giant “welcome” sign, enjoying awesome conversations and “some amazing home-cooked meals.”
Personal relationships are a somewhat unexpected benefit of hosting say boyth local hosts and traveling racers. “I have maintained friendships with my host families for over 20 years, watching children grow up and feeling like an adopted family member,” Laura says. I value these relationships and they have given me a greater appreciation for the communities I visit and race in.”
Karen and her family have formed such a tight bond with their guests that they have met each others’ extended families and even traveled to other cities to watch races.
“We feel motivated and inspired by these guys,” Karen says. “I’m riding more, my husband races and my young daughters are asking “when are the racers coming back?”
Don Gouge lives near Trolley Square, just a block off Lovering Avenue where competitors pass in the Monkey Hill Time Trial. “First, I like to support the city and second, they are very easy going and low maintenance. I know they’re good guests.”
Full disclosure here, I too have been housing racers for the past five years in my Cool Spring house. Early on, I hosted a team of four guys including Dan Harm, winner of the first Monkey Hill Time Trial. I’m still in touch with Dan and really, he inspired me to become an Air BnB host a few years later.
Every year no matter who stays here, yes, they make themselves at home in my kitchen and no, there’s no sign they were ever here… same is true in my extra bedrooms. They bring a certain energy and buzz that I miss when they’re gone.
Two forces motivate me and other hosts: these young people inspire us. They’re chasing a dream in a sport I consider the most challenging yet they receive little recognition. So I’m glad to share my extra rooms for a night or two. And every year, without fail, I find myself riding my bike harder and longer in the days after their visit… wondering just how they do it.
If you’re interested in hosting, please contact Gabrielle Reichert at [email protected].