"Most Beautiful" ride around Tahoe sees largest turnout
On Sunday, June 6, the 13th Annual Americas Most Beautiful Bike Ride around Lake Tahoe sustained the largest turnout in its history.All but a few of the 3,500 participants were bicyclists, with a handful of unicyclists completing the ride and even a man who kicked his way to the finish on a scooter.The event also signified the largest turnout for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Societys signature fund-raising organization Team-in-Training (TNT) since it became involved in the ride in the mid-90s.
Participants from over 50 chapters around the country rode in support of funding the mission to find a cure and enhance medical treatment of the blood-related cancers leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkins disease and melanoma. For the Tahoe ride alone, TNT raised $6.5 million toward its cause.We have 1,900 riders (here today), said Liza Munson, the national director of TNT. Team-in-Training has raised so much money, and the money has enabled us to fund really important research and move forward with great treatments like Gleevec, which is a drug that targets certain types of cells.Munson has been the national director for four years and has been involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for nine. Munson used to be a coach of one of the many cycling chapters that exist before she accepted a national position.The ride around Tahoe is the biggest cycling event for TNT, but there are also walking and running events that occur annually. Munson said that TNT raises about $82 million a year.Some TNT riders were victims or survivors of cancer, but most were participating because they knew someone that had been stricken by one of the diseases.Karen OConnor was representing a chapter from Pennsylvania and said the unfortunate fate of a co-worker influenced her to join TNT and come to Tahoe.Im doing it in honor of my friend Jackie, OConnor said while she ate lunch at the Kings Beach rest stop. She came down with leukemia last fall. Shes 27 years old, and she just had a stem cell transplant about three months ago.OConnors method of raising money was sending out letters to people she knew and asking for donations. She called TNT a wonderful organization. From the town of Hanover, the 43-year-old OConnor was participating in the ride and seeing Lake Tahoe for the first time. She was captivated by the lake and even confronted a little pre-race intimidation.Ill tell you when I got up here (I thought) this is beautiful, she said. Im ready to move (here). But I looked at (the lake), and I said, Were riding around the whole thing?OConnors love-at-first-site reaction to Lake Tahoe is one event director Curtis Fong envisioned people having when he created Americas Most Beautiful Bike Ride in 1991. He calls it a natural visitor attraction, and the sheer number of 2004 riders is a testament to the events popularity growth since its inception. Fong said there were just 500 riders in 1991, and, according to a 2000 Sierra Sun article, there were just over 2,000 riders in the ninth annual event.It was a few years after Fong created the event that TNT came calling, literally. After receiving a phone call from TNT representatives about eight or nine years ago, he said, Fong had no qualms about letting TNT use his event to attract people to join its fund raising program.I welcomed them to come, he said, and we built a very good relationship ever since.One of the founding fathers of the Alta Alpina Cycling Club of Lake Tahoe, Fong was once an avid bicyclist himself. Fong admits the enormous workload of such an event takes its toll, but the satisfaction for him is the normally positive reaction of the participants.Its a tremendous amount of work coordinating this event for this many people and all these jurisdictions, Fong said as he peered out at the post-race celebration in the Horizon Casino Resort parking lot. But the real reward is when someone comes up to me and says, Thanks for a great ride. Thats what gets me going.
Starting at the Horizon Casino Resort at Stateline on the South Shore, the ride circumnavigates the highways (89, 28, and 50) that run clockwise around Lake Tahoe. The loop around the lake is 72 miles, but the event offers riders the chance of biking 40, 72 or 100 miles. Most of the TNT riders opted for the century route, adding mileage by taking Highway 89 North to Truckee and turning around. The TNT and other century riders started between 6 and 7 a.m., and the rest started after 7. There are five major rest stop areas along the way, providing nourishment and fluids to racers, including a lunch break at Kings Beach.For riders who want to test their athletic ability, its about the challenge. For riders who arent accustomed to the beauty of Tahoe, its about enjoying the pristine views. For many, its a combination of both.One of the most grueling sections of the race climbs nearly 500 feet in a three-mile uphill on Highway 89 overlooking Emerald Bay. Starting at mile 10, a series of switchbacks makes the climb extremely difficult.If youve made Emerald Bay, youve made it, said Bob Centanni, a 64-year-old bicyclist from Genoa, Nev. Thats the hardest for me because its the steepest. Centanni felt relieved as he rested at Vikingsholm rest stop at the 14-mile mark. Centanni is an experienced rider of 10 years who completed the Lake Tahoe loop last September. Riding experience helps, but some riders like Monica Kohs attacked the course with little street biking background.Kohs, a 41-year-old rider who splits her residency between Lake Tahoe and Maui, hadnt ridden a bike of any kind in three years and hadnt been on a road bike in 15. At the 26-mile mark the second organized rest stop at Homewood Mountain Resort Kohs said she felt OK, but a pain reliever was in order.My necks a little sore, but I just took two ibuprofen. I should be good, she said. Kohs said the scenery and the challenge of the ride attracted her, but the social aspect of the race was also appealing.Another sort of inexperience affected Alex MacDonald, 69, from San Francisco. MacDonald had taken a 20-mile test run a day before in Reno, but it did not adequately prepare him for the high elevation of Tahoe.I knew it would be different, but I didnt know how different, he said at the Kings Beach rest stop. On a small hill about five miles into the race I wondered, Whats happening to me. Am I dying? he laughed.MacDonald had done a seven-day, 500-mile ride in Los Angeles around his 65th birthday, but the elevation got the best of him on Sunday. Like many, MacDonald was forced to hitch a ride on the SAG vehicle at Kings Beach in order to bypass the most physically strenuous stretch of road a brutal eight-mile incline on Highway 28 that climbs nearly 1,000 feet in elevation and ends at Spooner Junction. At 7,004 feet, the junction connecting Highway 50 and 28 marked the last major rest stop for riders.From there, 12 mostly downhill miles awaited worn out riders, but there were a few challenging uphills remaining in the waning miles before riders were greeted by cheering friends and family at the finish line in the parking lot of the Horizon. It is emphasized that the event is not a race, but riders took anywhere from four to 10 hours to finish.
A few of the more dazzling finishers were a group of four unicyclists. Among them, Nathan Hoover and Scot Cooper completed the 72-mile race, while Hoovers wife and son Grace Fleming and Beau Hoover took the 40-mile route.Hoover and his family are from Los Gatos, Calif., and Cooper hails from Capitola, Calif. Besides the added challenge compared to riding a bicycle, Hoover said riding a unicycle around Tahoe added an element of uniqueness to the event sprinkled in with the mass numbers of bikers.If youre in a field of 3,000 bikes, youre just one more bike, Hoover said. Were giving everybody something different to look at. For more information about Team-in-Training, visit http://www.teamintraining.org/hm_tnt. For more information about Americas Most Beautiful Bike Ride, visit http://www.bikethewest.com/AMBRR.html.