El Tour’s Global Reach

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

El Tour People … We Get Around!

El Tour Riders Come From All Around The World So They  Can Ride Around Tucson Together

Canadian Cyclists Flock to El Tour

By Lorry Levine

Dawn Kalsbeek had a great time at the Special Olympics 32nd El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino Del Sol Resort. So, of course, he’s coming back.

 Dawn Kalsbeek traveled from Canada   to ride El Tour. Marathon Photo Photo

Dawn Kalsbeek traveled from Canada
to ride El Tour. Marathon Photo Photo

So are many of his Canadian friends and countrymen.

But return customers have been a staple of El Tour, one of the premier rides in the United States.

It’s global … and it’s good.

For 32 years, El Tour has attracted a growing number of international cyclists for obvious reasons – sun, fun and a riding and rolling party.

Kalsbeek’s first ride in November proved to be all of that – and more. She wanted to end her cycling season with a century ride in a warm climate.

“People were super friendly,” Kalsbeek said. “In the pre-dawn chilly air, while waiting for El Tour to start, a fellow cyclist lent me his blanket to keep warm. It was a very convivial atmosphere at the start line … We weren’t sure what to expect with the river crossings. What we found was they made the ride different and certainly adventuresome.”

She loved the mariachi band, the “perfectly spaced aid stations” and “the enthusiastic volunteers.”

And the 104-mile distances was, OK, too.

“I was concerned but I think the layout of the course and the spacing of the aid stations are what made it eminently doable,” Kalsbeek said. “We came to the event (our first of this distance) with a sense of adventure in mind and it lived up to our expectations. We’re coming back next year with others from our local cycling group.”

Good to know. Bart Denie of Pinchers Creek, Alberta, Canada, is too. He rode for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) crew.

Back in Canada, a number of JDRF riders did the El Tour indoor, but he wanted to participate in the actual ride.

“I chose Tucson because it looked like the most fun,” Denie said. “How often can you be part of a ride with multiple thousands strong? The support crew (law enforcement) were great at keeping us going and when they did stop us, it had minimal effect on our ride.”

He continued: “there was such a great attitude from all the riders. I met some terrific people and had a great time. I commend the organizers of El Tour. They did an amazing job. I’ll be back next year.”

Michael Meeres, of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada makes it a point to return. This was his fourth El Tour, but his first attempt at 104 miles.

“I live in a much cooler climate than Tucson and do cyclocross races in the fall so it was a pleasure to come to the warmth of Tucson and challenge myself with the longer distances,” Meeres reflects. “I think the riding around Tucson is exceptional, so much so, that three years ago we purchased a vacation home there.”

The diversion through Canyon Ranch, law enforcement support and the fun and spirited El Tour Expo were memorable moments for all three cyclists.

“Whether you’re super competitive or just trying to finish your chosen distance,” Meeres said, “El Tour has something for everybody.”

El Tour Riders come from all over the United States

By Javier Morales

 Jamie Revord of Chicago rode El Tour for  Rotary International Photo Courtesy Jamie Revord

Jamie Revord of Chicago rode El Tour for
Rotary International Photo Courtesy Jamie Revord

This year the Special Olympics 32nd

El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino Del Sol Resort featured more than 9,600 riders in its many events from multiple states across the country, including Alaska, Hawaii, and, of course, Washington, D.C.

Jamie Revord and her husband Brian Hettinger traveled to Tucson from Chicago for the first time to take part in El Tour.

“We figured the weather would be warm and pleasant compared to Chicago in November, and knew we could help promote the cause of polio eradication while cycling and enjoying ourselves,” said Revord, who along with her husband work for Rotary International.

Rotary International general secretary John Hewko, who rode in the 104-mile ride, encouraged Revord, Hettinger and others to take part in El Tour to raise contributions to help end polio around the world as part of Rotary’s “Miles To End Polio” initiative. It raised a record $7.2 million.

“The ride was awesome,” Revord said. “The route was beautiful, easy to follow, and always in sight of beautiful mountains in the distance.

“The start was very cold, so I was a little miserable until I could feel my hands and toes again … around 9 a.m. But once it warmed up, the day was perfect for riding – dry, sunny and pleasant. … The temperature change was dramatic, starting at 42 degrees and rising to the low 70s, I can’t recall this drastic of a temperature change during a ride in the Midwest.”

Jay Epstein, an anesthesiologist from Pinellas Park, Fla., also rode in the 104-mile event. Epstein has plenty of experience riding in Tucson and participating in the El Tour.

“I have family in Tucson and I have ridden in the El Tour seven times to honor my Uncle Larry, who passed away several years ago,” Epstein said. “He was a cyclist who rode the Tour in the 80s. His restored bike, a late 70’s model Nishiki, hangs proudly in my garage.”

The riders who participated in the El Tour welcomed the dry conditions this year as opposed to the wet course from the rain last year. He finished in four hours and 33 minutes – 15 minutes off his time from the 2013 ride.

“The conditions were close to ideal when compared to last year’s slog through the rain and cold,” Epstein said. “The washes are always interesting. The second wash I was able to ride straight through without dismounting, which was a first for me.

“For the last 40 miles, about eight guys were able to thankfully share the work into the wind. It was amusing to see that by the end, the group grew to about 50 to 70. And of course, everyone’s a sprinter in the last 250 meters.”

Linda Holzer was one of two riders from Kensington, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Holzer, a member of Team RWB (Red, White and Blue, a veteran non-profit organization), rode in Tucson for the first time at the request of a friend.

“I was already familiar with the roads, so I was truly able to enjoy the ride, the sunshine and the cheering from the spectators at different areas,” Holzer said. “The conditions of the ride were a complete opposite of my conditions in Maryland and D.C. The altitude in the D.C. area is considered sea-level, whereas Tucson is mountainous.”

Another element of the ride new to those outside Tucson was the course itself, the large number of participants and the city’s involvement.

“The size of this ride, particularly the number of people riding the 104-mile distance, was much larger than anything I’ve completed in Chicago or the Midwest,” Revord said. “Centuries I’ve completed in the Midwest rarely, if ever, have police assisting at major turns or intersections, and roads are seldom closed or divided for any portion of the rides I’ve done, so that was a nice touch.”

English Cyclists Ride El Tour For Children With Cancer

By Michael Murphy

A group of cyclists from England turned the Special Olympics 32nd El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino Del Sol Resort into a fundraiser to help children battling cancer.

Englishmen (left to right) Gavin Richardson, Derek Richardson,  Kevin Musgrave, Doug McKinnon and Mike Grisethwaite.  Photo Courtesy Doug McKinnon

Englishmen (left to right) Gavin Richardson, Derek Richardson,
Kevin Musgrave, Doug McKinnon and Mike Grisethwaite.
Photo Courtesy Doug McKinnon

Doug McKinnon, Kevin Musgrave, Gavin Richardson and Mike Grisethwaite rode the 104-route in support of Cyclists Fighting Cancer, an organization that provides new bikes, tandems and specially adapted tricycles to children and young people who have been affected by cancer throughout the UK. 

“They don’t just stop at the kids, though,” explained McKinnnon. “If mum and dad don’t have bikes and sometimes other siblings, then they get bikes also. This has an amazing effect on not just the child being treated but the family also.”

Several studies have shown exercise to be one of the most effective ways of improving physical and mental wellness for people surviving cancer.  Cyclists Fighting Cancer encourages cycling as the best form of exercise-based rehabilitation, especially for children. The organization was founded in 2005 by Grisenthwait, who, at age 37, was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Grisenthwait, a triathlete and cyclist, competed in the Lanzarote Ironman Triathlon six months after completing treatment.

El Tour was the first exposure to the Sonoran Desert and Tucson for McKinnon, an avid cyclists who lives near Brighton in the Sussex countryside.

“I’ll tell you what, I have never felt so cold getting to the start of the ride. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the desert to be cold. But that was soon forgotten as the sun came up and we enjoyed the coffee,” he said.

McKinnon, 54, has only praise for his first El Tour experience.

“The lasting memory I will have is two-fold: the friendliest people I have come across at rest stops that had loads of smiling happy faces and the fantastic support by the roadside. And although maybe they don’t know it, every cheer helps you go just that little bit faster and smile that little bit wider. It was fantastic.”

The four Englishmen also got their first taste of Mariachi music.

“Who would have thought that having to carry your bike through a water bed would be so much fun?” McKinnon said. “We had to stop and listen. It brought a big bloody smile to my face I can tell you.”

Aussies Travel 8,000 Miles to Savor El Tour

By Michael Murphy

Belinda McKay(l) and Cindy Parrill (r)prerace in El Tour. Marathon Photo Photo

Belinda McKay(l) and Cindy Parrill (r)prerace in El Tour.
Marathon Photo Photo

How contagious is El Tour? Consider Belinda McKay and her partner, Cindy Parrill, traveled more than 8,000 miles from Australia to participate in the 104-mile route.

“El Tour is completely unlike any other century for road riders,” explained McKay, who lives in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. “It captures the special character of Tucson through the start and finish in the historic barrio, the route through saguaro forests and foothills, and the crossing of the two washes. It’s worth travelling 8,000 miles to experience something unique, and to share it with friends.”

McKay, 60, picked up her passion for El Tour from Parrill, who is originally from the Old Pueblo. They completed the century ride several times in previous years on “Bike Fridays,” but this year brought their sleek Specialized road bikes. After arriving in Los Angeles, they rented a large SUV to haul their bikes and luggage to Tucson.

“It’s a big commitment but El Tour is worth it,” said McKay, an avid cyclist who belongs to the road racing Kangaroo Point Cycling Club.  

McKay and Parrill shared another milestone this year – each achieved Platinum status.

The unique character of Tucson’s Sonoran Desert – a far cry from the hot, humid rainforests of Queensland – also is a strong draw for the Aussies.

“Having mariachis at the two washes was uplifting and underlines the uniqueness of El Tour as an event that couldn’t take place anywhere but Tucson,” McKay said. “The police and all the volunteers did a fabulous job, and the pride they take in the event and their city also makes El Tour special.”

Parrill, 57, first rode El Tour in the early 1990s when she lived in Tucson. She moved to Australia in 1996.

For Parrill, returning to Arizona for El Tour is a natural migration.

“I love El Tour de Tucson,” she explained. “Since I grew up and lived most my life in Tucson, I enjoy coming back to Tucson to visit friends especially in November so we can ride El Tour.”

She added: “I guess the biggest highlight was coming in with Belinda in Platinum time.  I always wanted to better my earlier Platinum time when I was 19 years younger and we did!”

Despite the distance, they plan to return to Tucson for another Tour.

“The fact that El Tour always supports a cause is a reason to participate,” McKay said. “El Tour also provides a good excuse to visit beautiful Tucson where we have dear friends. This year, I especially wanted to ride El Tour as a 60th birthday present to myself. My 60th birthday party earlier in the year had a cowgirl theme and I used the El Tour 2012 poster for the decoration on my cake.”

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