MANCHESTER - Around 8:30 a.m., with the morning sun high in the sky, riders participating in the Vermont Challenge Bike Tour circled the roundabout before making a loop at the roundabout near Shaw's Supermarket and returning to the Park House at Dana L. Thompson Park.

The brief morning excursion was the beginning of the second day of the tour, which will see 150 riders travel either 52 or 65 miles, depending on whether they take the long or the short route.

The Vermont Challenge is three different events rolled into one as riders have the option of taking part in either a four, three or one day challenge.

The concept of the Vermont Challenge derived from conversations between the founder of the event John Sohikian - a part-time Vermont resident - and Stratton Mountain President Sky Foulkes with the idea of putting together a bike challenge that would connect southern and central Vermont. Thursday, Aug. 15, was the first day of the challenge during which 100 riders began at Stratton and wound their way through the Batten Kill Valley - covering either 46 or 54 miles depending on the route - before ending at the Park House.

The first day of the tour was an experience that some of the riders, like Jesse and Ruth Wagner from Glastonbury, Conn. - who were competing in the event for the first time - enjoyed.

"We like that it's a fundraiser.


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That's a good part you're having fun and you're doing something good," said Jesse Wagner.

John O'Brien of Lambertville, N.J. and and his friend Jim Breagy of South Orange, N.J. both participated in the challenge last year and decided to return for another year.

"We made a lot of good friends last year and the places that we stayed at were great and just the scenery and the roads, it was all good. It was a lot of fun. So, we decided to do it again," said O'Brien.

On Sunday, Aug. 18 - the fourth and final day of the tour - the 150 multiday riders will travel from Killington back to Stratton, which for those taking the longer route is 103 miles.

The event - a charity ride that is now in its second year - has grown significantly since last year. This year 250 riders are participating in the event compared to 170 last year.

The increased number of participants has not only been beneficial for non profits like Black River Good Neighbor Services, Inc., Jamaica-Wardsboro Food Pantry, BROC Community Action Rutland United Methodist Church Feed the Freezer and Meals on Wheels of Bennington, but the communities the tour runs through as well.

"We try to use local establishments. Like the lunch is being catered today by Cherries Cafe. So that puts money back into the community. Here in Manchester we have three hotels completely sold out tonight that's Casablanca, Palmer House and the Town Houses at Equinox," said Sohikian on Thursday. "Besides feeding people who need help, we're also contributing to the economies of each of these towns so that's really kind of the whole idea.."

During the inaugural event last year, Executive Director of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce, Berta Maginniss, said that three of the town's hotels or motels were used to house the bikers. That number doubled this year.

In a survey taken at the end of the race last year, Maginniss said people indicated that Manchester was the most welcoming, had the most ammenities, and was the community they would most likely return to.

Next year, instead of being headquartered in Stratton, the race will be headquartered in Manchester.

"I think [it will be headquartered in Manchester] in part it's because it's the community that people really like," said Maginniss. "As I said, the survey says 'we like Manchester the best.' I can't tell you exactly why, but it speaks to the fact that that's the place people want to be of the five."

One difference this year was that the Vermont Country Store became a major sponsor of the race. The route was also adjusted slightly, in part to stop at the Vermont Country Store's headquarters.

With the growing numbers they have seen since last year and gaining new sponsors, Sohikian said he is both pleased to see the hard work pay off and hopes the event will continue to grow.

"Most people don't realize how much work goes into planning an event. It's like planning a wedding," he said. "It's just really exciting to [hear] great route, great day, great food. So, all the work starts to pay off and like I said that sort of builds on itself. You know when you think about 100 riders a year and the economic impact of those riders, now multiply that 10 times over and it becomes a weekend event for the town of Manchester that really puts money back into the community."

Follow on Twitter @Brandon Canevari