Challenge continues to grow

MANCHESTER - On Friday morning about 150 riders will set out from the Manchester Rec Park for Ludlow on the second day of the Vermont Challenge Bike Tour.

Now in it's third year, the number of participants has been steadily increasing. Founder of the event John Sohikian, said he expects about 250 riders to take part in the Vermont Challenge over the course of the four day event - an increase over the 175 total riders they had in the first year of the event and the 210 riders that participated last year.

Riders from 16 states and two Canadian provinces will be participating in this year's Challenge and Sohikian felt there were several factors that contributed to the allure of the tour.

"Because it's a four day event it gives people who are cyclists an opportunity to have kind of a mini vacation. We've noticed over the years we've had people who are [on] a longer vacation and put this on their calendar to do as part of their overall vacation," said Sohikian. "It really does give the riders a really great opportunity to see a nice slice of Vermont because the four day riders travel 275 miles starting from Stratton."

The tour begins on Thursday at Stratton when riders will bike either 54 or 46 miles - depending on whether they choose the long or the short route - to Manchester. Just before 8 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 15, the riders will gather at the Manchester Rec Center and ride through the roundabouts and down Route 7A to the Shaw's traffic circle and back before beginning the 50 or 65 mile journey to Ludlow. The arrival of Saturday also brings with it perhaps the most grueling day of the tour. Some of the riders who signed up for the 3- and 4-day tours will participate in what is known as The Gran Fondo Gap Century - 102 miles with 7,708 feet of climbing extending from Ludlow to Killington. Others taking part in the 3- and 4-day tour will participate in the 1/2 Century - 55 miles of riding with 3,765 feet of climbing from the towns of Ludlow to Killington. Saturday also boasts three one-day events - The Metric Century (62 miles), 3/4 Century (74 miles) and Gran Fondo Legendary Century (103 miles). The tour concludes on Sunday with those participating in the long route riding 65 miles from Killington to Stratton and those taking part in the short route traveling from Killington to the Vermont Country Store in Weston.

The event has also proved to be beneficial to the communities it passes through.

"It all puts money back into the economy, which is wonderful," said Sohikian.

Last year alone, $100,000 was pumped into the local economies involved in the tour.

Regarding Manchester specifically, while she did not have an exact number, Executive Director of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce Berta Maginniss said that riders are spending more time in Manchester - both on Thursday night, Friday morning and on the way back on Sunday - which only benefits the town.

"I think anytime you can get a group of 300 people that are coming to our community and staying overnight and taking part in whatever we have going on, patronizing our restaurants, our farmers' market and the rest, it's a good thing," said Maginniss.

Last year when the Vermont Council on Rural Development hosted the Manchester 2020 Community Visit one of the four goals identified for Manchester's future by those who attended the meetings was to make Manchester a biking destination. As a result, the Manchester 2020 Bike Committee has become involved with the event.

"This is the third year of the event and it's been my theory, even before this task force was formed, that this was an opportunity for Manchester to put it's good face forward," said Joe Wagner, a member of the committee. "That you have a substantial number of people coming into town for cycling and that any good impression would lead to the cyclists wanting to come back and cycle in the area on other occassions, that was the theory right from the beginning with this."

While Wagner and his wife were out marking roads for the Vermont Challenge they came across four young cyclists. In the course of conversation, Wagner learned that one of them had ridden in the Vermont Challenge last year and had returned to participate in it again this year with four of his friends as a final outing before they all returned to school.

The story of the bikers - who were all from Pennslyvania - Maginniss said, speaks to the appeal of the area to visitors.

"I think that's just exemplary of what happens to people who come here. Somebody comes here, they're pleasantly surprised. They're overwhelmed with what they can do. They go back home. They come back the next year," Maginnis said. "These are the kinds of people that return, return, return and it's generally because they come for something like this or they come to the Maple Leaf (Half Marathon) or they come here at Christmas time and that's what we want. It's building loyalties from a visitor that will come back many times."


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