El Tour Returns to Downtown for the 20th Year

November 6, 2012

By Teya Vitu

This marks the 20th year for El Tour de Tucson starting and finishing the region’s grandest bicycle event in Downtown.

El Tour de Tucson will have a kids fun ride that starts at Armory Park.

El Tour itself celebrates its 30th anniversary as hardy bicyclists get ready to challenge the 111-mile course around Tucson’s perimeter on Nov. 17.

Nearly all of El Tour’s miles – no matter whether the 111-mile Main Event, 85-mile, 60-mile or 42-mile race – run along the edges of Tucson.

But the start line for the main event and the shorter fun run rides, and the HSL Properties Finish Line for all races is in the heart of the city: Downtown – for the second year in a row on 6th Avenue at Armory Park.

“It’s great. You know why?” Richard DeBernardis, chief executive of Perimeter Bicycling, which stages El Tour de Tucson offered. “6th Avenue is wide enough. We always had to bring kid activities down. We don’t have to do it now because we have the Children’s Museum. Armory Park is ideal. It’s so open and wide enough to hold everything.”

The Children’s Museum will have free admission on race day and a variety of children’s activities.

El Tour’s start and home sprint will be on 6th Avenue between 13th Street and 22nd Street.

The course then heads west on 22nd Street to the freeway frontage road on the west side of Interstate 10.

The Diamond Children’s El Tour Fun Rides of one-quarter, 5 and 10 miles will also start on 6th Avenue at 13th Street.

The 85-mile El Tour, the Intuit 60-mile El Tour and the Sanofi 42-mile El Tour will all start elsewhere in town. But eventually everybody ends up at Armory Park with the fastest riders starting to arrive at about 11:15 a.m., and the other roughly 9,000 bicyclists streaming in throughout the afternoon.

Armory Park will have festivities and activities all day long.

Armory Park exhibitors and vendors include: Arizona Stage Coach, Aviva Children’s Services, AZ1 DMAT, Beads of Courage, Bike Patrol Medallions, Broadway Bikes, Casino Del Sol Resort Fruit & Water, CITI, Cortiva Institute – Massage Therapy, El Charro Sir Vezas, HSL Properties, Indoor El Tour, Intuit, Isabella’s Ice Cream, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma, McDonald’s, Michelob Ultra, Old Pueblo Grill, Pizza Hut, Polar Bottle, Rotary, Sabbar Shrine Temple, The Haven, Tu Nidito Children & Family Services, Walgreens, Water for People

As early as 4 a.m., McDonald’s will be serving free coffee. A tribal blessing commences the event at 6:15 a.m., followed by a Tu Nidito El Tour Light Show at 6:30 a.m.

The anticipation builds up with the National Anthem at 6:55 a.m. and a Ben’s Bells “Be Kind” send off at 6:58 a.m.

A mass of cyclists heads south on 6th Avenue at 7 a.m. for the 111-mile tour.

Once the marathon cyclists clear away, fun ride registration starts at 7:30 a.m. along with welcomes for Wilbur and Wilma, Ronald McDonald and the Geico Gecko.

The 5- and 10-mile fun rides set off at 8:30 a.m. and the quarter-mile fun ride starts at 9 a.m.

The Children’s Museum opens at 10 a.m. with free admission for all. The museum will have face painting and cookie frosting at 10:30 a.m. and a coloring contest at 11 a.m.

The Michelob Ultra Garden opens at 11:05 a.m. with the first 111-mile cyclists expected back at Armory Park at about 11:15 a.m.

El Tour de Tucson started in 1983 at Sabino Canyon with 198 cyclists. The start-finish line moved to the Sheraton El Conquistador Resort from 1987 to 1983, and since 1993 has been at various locations Downtown.

“The City of Tucson asked us to move to Downtown,” DeBernardis said. “The City’s been extremely cooperative in helping us find a place.”

But El Tour embraces all of Tucson – and the world.

“When you go around the community, you reach every single aspect,” De Bernardis said. “El Tour brings 14 different countries here. We’re all bicycling. That makes us all equal.”

About 9,000 riders are expected.

The motto this year is “The Spirit of the West Rides On.”

“What does that mean? Tucson is a very important geographic area,” he said. “People started out walking. Then we went by wheel by way of the stage coach, then we went to bicycles (in the late 19th century), then we transitioned to cars. We’re back to the bicycle again.”

The race is dedicated to Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, the nation’s leading bicycling advocacy organization. Clarke first road El Tour in 2001 and this year will be back for his fifth circuit.

“I first came to Tucson in 1988,” Clarke said. “It really felt like the Wild West. Everything was so unique and captivating. That’s why I keep coming back.”

The League confers the color-coded bicycle friendly community awards to cities. Tucson is one of 16 gold-rated cities, the second highest level. Tucson is the third biggest city with a gold rating behind San Francisco and Seattle. Only three cities have the top platinum rating: Portland, Ore., Davis, Calif., and Boulder, Colo.

“We have applied for platinum four times,” DeBernardis said. “We get what we deserve: gold. We need to achieve a little more to achieve platinum.”