MANCHESTER >> Whether it was a valley stage or a mountain one, the Vermont Challenge gave riders from all over the U.S. and Canada a chance to see a picturesque Southern Vermont landscape.
The Challenge, which took place from August 11 to 14 between Manchester, Ludlow and Stratton, had two days of valley stages — one that left Dana Thompson Park in Manchester — and two days of mountain stages that started from Stratton Mountain Resort or from Bondville.
"We set it up with two days in Stratton and two in Manchester, so riders can get a feel for the countryside," said race organizer John Sohikian. "[Some of the routes] go down the Battenkill, through Pawlet and Rupert and back through Manchester."
More than 300 riders took part in the fifth annual event from 26 states, along with Puerto Rico, Canada and Israel. The event was presented by Stratton Mountain Resort and is considered one of the premier cycling events in the Northeast.
"It's all about the comments we get from the riders," Sohikian said. "They love the route and scenery and we try to showcase Vermont the best we can."
The event raises money for five food banks in Southern Vermont, along with Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend and Stratton Urgent Care. The two medical facilities are the main ones in the areas of the ride.
On Saturday, there were five different race lengths. The Gran — for elite riders — is 107 miles, while the Medio is 70.3 or 62.3 miles. The Gran Piccolo was 45.8 miles, while the Piccolo was 26.5 miles, giving riders of many different skill levels a plethora of options. On the other days, there were short, medium and long loops as well.
"The last 17 miles is going up Stratton from Jamaica, we set up a rest stop before they start that last section," Sohikian said.
Dozens of people work as volunteers including local people, spouses and significant others of riders and a contingent of the Sohikians' friends from Connecticut.
"A lot of people told me how good the volunteers were, which is great to hear," Sohikian said.
Sohikian said one 72-year-old rider was the epitome of the event.
"I was in a support vehicle and she was stopped on the side of the road.
I asked her if she wanted a boost and she said 'No, I'm going to make it if it kills me,'" Sohikian said. "She made it to the top [of the hill] and to the finish and I gave her a high five when she came in and I said, 'I hope I can do that at 72.'
Sohikian estimates the Vermont Challenge is a $400,000 boon to the area economy.
"One goal was to open up our neck of the woods and we did that," Sohikian said.
"The second one is to give back to the community to support the benefactors."
For more information on the Vermont Challenge, go to vtchallenge.com