By Jessica Lovell
While many local cycling lanes have almost disappeared under ever-widening snow banks, two-wheeled transportation remains at the top of mind for two local Rotary clubs.
The Rotary Club of Guelph South and the Rotary Club of Guelph Trillium are busy planning for their inaugural Tour De Guelph fundraiser, set to take place July 6. “It will be through the local countryside, and it will be for the benefit of the community, as well as the Guelph General Hospital,” said event co-chair Paul Fitzpatrick of Rotary Trillium.
The idea for the cycling event actually came from David Parr, a volunteer on the Foundation of the Guelph General Hospital’s Planned Giving Committee. Parr was inspired by foundation board member Terry Manning’s coast-to-cost fundraising ride last summer.“He raised something like $35,000 for the hospital last year. We just wanted to take that initiative and make it grow,” said Parr of Manning’s cross-country trek on his bicycle.
Parr envisioned an ongoing event that would appeal more readily to community members, most of whom couldn’t fathom taking on a 6,000-kilometre bike ride such as Manning’s.
In the Tour De Guelph, “there’s really something for riders of all levels,” said foundation president Suzanne Bone. It will include five-, 10-, 25-, 50- and 100-kilometre routes, and it will be not only a fundraiser, but also “a way to bring the community together and promote cycling and healthy community living.”
But while the hospital foundation was excited by the idea, it was a little bit overwhelmed by the work involved in organizing it, she said.
The Rotary clubs were enlisted together to run the event as a third-party fundraiser. Three-quarters of the money raised will go to the hospital, while the Rotary clubs will split the remainder.
“We fund a lot of local community groups and events,” said Fitzpatrick, noting Rotary’s share of the funds raised will be invested back into the community.
The event is being modelled after Cambridge’s Tour De Grand, a recreational bike ride that last year attracted more than 2,200 riders, said Fitzpatrick.
“We’re not going to be as big as they are,” he said, but the hope is to see the event grow year after year.
Currently, “there’s lots of work being done getting it organized, getting the routes chosen,” said Fitzpatrick. As the date gets closer, the organizers will put out the call for volunteers to help with things like directing the cycling traffic and manning rest areas and refreshment stations along the longer routes, he said.
The event’s home base is the University of Guelph campus, and the shorter routes – aimed at inexperienced or younger cyclists – will stay on campus.
The longer routes will see cyclists head south from campus, making a loop in the countryside southeast of Guelph and north of Highway 401. In the second half of the 100-km leg, riders will head east on Arkell Road before turning north in the start of a loop that will bring them back to the city just east of Guelph Lake.
“Anybody that’s a local cyclist will know that some of these routes have some challenges,” said Fitzpatrick, a cyclist himself, who has taken part in the Tour De Grand event.
But though there are some challenging hills, the roads have been chosen with safety in mind, he said. “They are quiet, good riding roads, but there’s also going to be a challenge,” because although it’s not a race, many of the cyclists who take part in these types of events are competitive and enjoy a challenge, he said.
For those newer to the sport, the Speed River Cycling Club has offered to hold tutorials on group rides, he said. “We’ve also had a tremendous amount of support from local cycling shops,” he said.
That includes George Vettor Cycle, which has donated a BMX bike as a prize for a younger rider, in memory of the business’s former owner who died last spring while out riding his bike, said Parr.
There will be an entry fee for riders to take part, and participants will also be encouraged to collect pledges, with the hope that the event will raise $40,000 in its first year, Parr said. Organizers hope to see around 500 participants this year.
“I want to encourage everybody to come out,” said Parr. “You don’t have to be a Tour De France rider.”
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By Jessica Lovell