BOSTON (AP) – Some of the athletes struggling up Heartbreak Hill on Monday won’t be on two legs.

They’ll be on two wheels.

Hundreds of Boston area bicyclists have quietly created an underground tradition of riding the Boston Marathon route on Patriots Day, while the runners are waiting to start. The cyclists take advantage of a day off from work and an unusually quiet course in an area where they’re typically dodging heavy traffic and parked cars.

“The whole route is closed down, so it’s a great chance to tear through a closed-down set of streets,” said Shane Jordan, director of education and outreach for the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. “I’ve heard people even cheer for you.”

MassBike doesn’t organize or sanction the ride, though Jordan plans to join it this year. Nor does the biggest local cycling group, with whom Senator John Kerry sometimes rides; spokeswoman Kimberly Fitch said many in the 1,200-member group do it on their own.

Veteran riders said what started as a trickle of cyclists who wanted to participate in the marathon’s 100th running in 1996 has swelled to a large, if still little-known, circle.

“There are hundreds of people who do it now,” said Larry Alford, who has ridden the marathon route 12 times – including before that 100th rendition – and run it twice.

“We decided, let’s be as much a part of it as we can,” said Alford, who grew up on the race route and still lives on it. “The Boston Marathon is uniquely ours.”

Alford’s group, called Crack O Dawn, rides daily year-round, and on Monday will set off on the marathon route at 5:45 a.m. The runners start at 10 a.m.

The ultimate appeal, he said, is those closed streets, which the cyclists share with only a few walkers, early arriving spectators, and vendors setting up for the day. The marathon is always held on Patriots Day, a holiday in Massachusetts that commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord that began the American Revolutionary War.

“We get to act like kids,” Alford said. “We can zoom through Kenmore Square on our bikes without thinking about it. Sometimes we sprint across the finish line.”

Several other cycling groups also ride the route, including the Boston Triathlon Team and a cycling advocacy organization called Rushin’ Revolution. Most go from Boston or the close-in suburbs to the starting line and back for a total of 52.4 miles.

The only drawback, cyclists said, is a road surface far harder to ride than run. Bicycles, they said, are more sensitive to potholes, cracks, and railroad tracks.

“It may be one of the ugliest bike rides you can go on,” Alford said. “I can’t believe this is a world-class running event with some of the conditions.”

The Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the marathon, declined to comment about the guerrilla ride. Authorities along the route said it hasn’t caused any problems.

“I have never heard of that being an issue,” said Sgt. Charles Walsh, spokesman for the police department in Hopkinton, where the marathon begins.

“You see people on bicycles, you see kids on skateboards, you see people on roller skates,” said Lt. Bruce Apotheker, police spokesman in Newton. “I don’t recall any incidents where they impeded it. We have enough personnel that if we see a problem with it we can tell them to get off the road. Our concern is making sure that the runners get through OK.”

MassBike’s Watson said some cyclists this year also planned to ride the course on Sunday night. He said the very last cyclists try to leave Hopkinton no less than 15 to 20 minutes before the marathon’s wheelchair competitors do at 9:22 a.m. Monday

“They go as fast as they can because those wheelchair guys are very fast,” he said.

AP-ES-04-16-09 1435EDT

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