Tour of Walla Walla a big draw

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This is the second of what has become a monthly spot offered by the Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club about different aspects of cycling in the Walla Walla Valley.

The tag line “Walla Walla Valley” represents many well-known branded items and events that have a large economic impact on our home town.

Simply the mention of Walla Walla peaks the interest of many people.

There are a myriad of reasons why someone feels a connection to our town: born and raised here; a graduate of one of our fine colleges; or a frequent and loyal visitor.

That and more forges a bond over great distances and into many generations. We are now connecting with people in another growth area: cycling tourism.

Some of Walla Walla’s prominence came from the early days of wheat production, the seasonal work of canneries and the importance of Walla Walla crops such as sweet peas.

Sweet onions are a common sight in cars of tourists after summer visits.

Wineries and vineyards fill the valley while the annual visit of hot air balloons sprinkle the spring skies with color.

Taste of Walla Walla, the car show, the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days and numerous sporting events also increase the tourism profile of the community.

There are many more reasons for people to associate themselves with our town, and the reasons are growing.

One of these is the Tour of Walla Walla bike race, bringing toward 600 cyclists from places such as Arizona, Utah, California, British Columbia and Montana. This race is an important source of revenue for us and the surrounding area, drawing spectators, race officials and media attention from around the nation.

The Tour of Walla Walla, the Pacific Northwest’s largest bicycle race, will be celebrating its 17th year this April.

The Tour of Walla Walla is a four-stage race over the course of three days. As with all major races (such as the Tour de France), a rider’s finish time is accumulated after each stage. The winner is the rider with fastest overall time.

At our local event we offer an individual time trial, criterium and for some, two road races; others, just one road race.

The time trial is called the purist race, just the rider racing against the clock over a prescribed course.

The criterium, or “crit”, is a group race over a closed course. In the Tour of Walla Walla the course is in the downtown area. Each group has a time limit and riders race round and round.

This stage is the most spectator friendly and we encourage you to come downtown for this one! Our crit will start Saturday, April 20th, at 2:15 p.m. and run through the afternoon/evening until 7 p.m. Watch for the schedule of events for that morning; we will be offering kids races for those riding everything, including three wheelers.

The road race is what most people associate with bicycle racing, open road and lots of miles. This takes place on the hilly roads north of Waitsburg. The route is a loop of up to 97 miles for the elite men and usually takes approximately 3½ hours to complete. All groups will complete the road race, but with different mileage geared toward their level of ability. The riders are divided into categories (Cat) that reflect experience and ability. Pro 1-2 or elite men are just that. Cat 3 is made up of advanced racers on their way to the elite ranks. Cat 4 men are at an intermediate level; Cat 5 is beginning level men riders. Women’s categories are similar, but the beginning level starts with Cat 4.

This event takes place in different parts of the county. Realizing at times there are inconveniences for residents of our valley, we do our best to lessen the impact. With so many events geared toward promoting our community, drivers might have to alter personal routines for parts of a day during the Tour. Patience and understanding can lessen the impact of interruptions, mostly dealing with traffic situations.

Given the substantial benefits of tourism we can all easily do our part promoting the Tour by simply slowing down, waving from our cars and inviting our guests back to enjoy Walla Walla again.

All community events share common threads, a couple being boosting our local economy, and the need for volunteers.

Yes, volunteers!

That word that can cause panic in many. How many times have you been asked to support a group by volunteering?

Better question is how many times have you said “yes”?

By answering “yes” you are giving back to the community, not to mention the knowledge and understanding you will gain about the organization you are helping.

The Tour of Walla Walla has need for up to 200 volunteers — not an easy number to achieve. But the benefits to Walla Walla are evident as the success and positive exposure of our town continues to grow. When we can showcase our area and provide well-run events we will see the economic returns in tourism, and this can only happen with the help of our neighbors.

Walla Walla has been put on the map as a cycling destination, much of the result of cyclists coming here for events. Experiencing the good roads, courteous drivers and night life we have to offer, many return time and time again. Let’s work on getting people here the first time knowing they will be back.

Walla Walla’s bike shops are a great resource for information on cycling events, either for participating or volunteering.

Volunteering a few hours for the Tour of Walla Walla is a great gift to those who work so hard organizing and planning these community events. It might take a few to “set it up,” but it takes many more to run it.

We welcome any and all volunteers for this great Walla Walla event!

Michael Austin is co-owner of Allegro Cyclery and race director of the Tour of Walla Walla. He can be contacted at 509-525-4949 or mike@allegrocyclery.com.

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