Breaking Away in the Big Apple

updated 11/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

New York's Finest agree: Central Park is no place to be during the predawn hours. But the threat of muggers was not enough to deter 157 cyclists who showed up one recent 6 a.m. to race in the third annual 50-mile New York Grand Prix—eight laps around the park's winding inner roadway. Racers from as far away as Ireland were vying for glory more than money—the single top prize was $500.

A popular sport in Europe, competitive cycling has only begun to catch on stateside, in large part due to the popularity of the 1979 film Breaking Away. Among the competitors were 20-year-old triplets—Robert, Charles and John Whalen—and a married couple, Leonard and Leslie Nitz, who were runners-up in their respective men's and women's divisions. Leonard was less than 40 feet behind the overall winner, Steve Pyle, 24. His time: one hour, 49 minutes and one second.

After they had pedaled down the homestretch, many of the cylists strapped their bikes onto the roofs of their cars and sped off to compete in another event 90 miles away in Kingston, N.Y. Pyle, who was an alternate on the 1980 U.S. Olympic squad, hopes to make the 1984 team. Meantime, he says his $200 portion of the prize money (the rest goes to his bike club and allows him to retain amateur status) will "help me get to the next race. It goes right back into racing equipment, things like that. I'm not," he notes ruefully, "getting rich doing this."

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