ALBANY -- Michele Moulton and Kent Wheeler have different motivations for having taken up cycling as a hobby. Even so, they have at least one thing in common.
They do it to become faster and stronger.
Moulton and Wheeler, both residents of the Albany area, will be competing in a national race in Anniston, Ala., dubbed the Sunny King Criterium, set to take place Saturday and Sunday.
Wheeler, 43, played soccer when he was in college and eventually joined the Marine Corps. When he blew his ankle out 15 years ago, his physician recommended he ride a bike. He is now connected to the Bicycle Warehouse team based in Atlanta.
"I did fairly well in my first race, and I've been doing it ever since," he said.
Moulton, 38, is a single mother of two. She was encouraged to go into cycling two years ago while working as an aerobics instructor. She is now part of the team formed by the Pecan City Pedalers, which goes by the name Project Cannibal Peloton.
"I started riding here locally, met Kent and started racing," she said.
The pair trains up to 20 hours a week, and they have been in races every weekend for the last two months.
Cyclists are grouped into categories. Men start at Category 5 and work up to Category 1. Women start at Category 4 and work their way up from there. The next step after Category 1 is the professional level.
Cyclists advance via a point system, with the points being earned depending on the type of race, number of racers and where they place. The farther one advances, the more points there are needed to get to the next level.
Wheeler is a Cat 1 rider. Moulton is a Cat 2.
To qualify for a National Racing Calendar (NRC) event, cyclists will generally need to be at the professional level, or at Cat 1 or Cat 2 -- as is the case with the upcoming race in Alabama.
The race's classification as a criterium means all the cyclists start at the same time on a course a mile or less in length.
"It's like NASCAR, but on two wheels," Wheeler said.
An actual road race is set up differently.
"A road race is 65 miles; it's a huge loop, and it is all based on distance," Moulton said.
In order to keep in shape, the two participate in group rides of about 35-40 miles in length during the week. On the weekends, they do training rides up to 80 miles long.
"We usually have one good, long day," Wheeler said.
Wheeler said cycling is a hobby worth doing for him because of the thrill that goes with it.
"I just enjoy it," he said. "I enjoy the competition; I love the speed. This is my hobby. I ride a bike, and I race it."
Moulton is a newcomer to the NRC community, and the road to get to this point has not been easy for her.
"This is my first NRC race," she said. "I have sacrificed a lot of time and dedication. I didn't want to take all this time and energy and not reap the benefits."
The Sunny King race is expected to have a total of 150 participants riding at average speeds of roughly 25-30 mph. Males are expected to be a Cat 1 or at the professional level, while the female participants are supposed to be either a Cat 1 or Cat 2.
"It's a challenge, but I know where I belong in that type of race," Wheeler said.
"The biggest qualification is being at the proper category. It takes a few years to figure out how to race a bike."
If nothing else, Wheeler said he is expecting to come out of the race a faster cyclist.
"I do the races not so much to win them, but to be faster and do better in the regional races," he said. "Mentally, you come out a stronger cyclist."
Moulton's mindset going into the race is similar.
"I hope to come out of it faster and stronger," she said. "These girls will push me to a higher level. I hope to be able to read races better. I have a lot to learn from a tactical standpoint."
To follow the blog of the Albany cycling team, visit pcpraceteam.wordpress.com.