Cycling: Safety is top priority for 2009 Tour

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By Mike Cote

Following a recent bicycle-riding accident near Technical Area-16, safety measures for the upcoming Tour de Los Alamos have been ramped up.

The Tour de Los Alamos, celebrating it 37th running this year, will be held Sunday along N.M. 501, N.M. 502 and N.M. 4.

Approximately 200 riders are expected to take part in the road race.

Due to the accident involving a biker — who was scheduled to take part in the race — and a minivan, which occurred June 29, organizers are taking a good, long look at safety along the route.

“One positive thing that we’ve had is that a lot of volunteers have come out to be on the course,” race official Carolyn Zerkle said.

Zerkle said approximately 150 people have volunteered during the race, which starts at 8:20 a.m. Sunday. That’s half-again more than the number of volunteers than the Tour de Los Alamos typically has.

The spike in volunteerism, Zerkle said, is due in no small part to the June 29 accident.

The accident is currently under investigation by local police and will be turned over to the District Attorney’s office for review, the police department has told the Monitor.

“Everybody’s on heightened alert,” Zerkle said. “A lot of bikers are out right now preparing for the race and they’re very concerned about safety.”

For this year’s Tour, a fund-raiser will be held to help the accident victim pay for repairs to his bicycle. Other post-race fund-raisers may be held, as well.

Along with extra volunteers monitoring the course this year, Zerkle said more signage along the course route will be used.

The course, especially in the neighborhood of Ancho Canyon, has several relatively sharp curves where motorists may have trouble seeing competing cyclists.

Other potential road hazards are being looked into right now, as well.

Debris on the roads near Bandelier National Monument had to be shoveled off Wednesday by race officials after it had been blown onto the pavement by Monday’s hailstorm.

Zerkle said she hopes the entire path will be debris-free by Sunday and should be so long as the weather cooperates.

But traffic issues continue to be the main concern. Roads will remain fully open throughout the race — some participants will do as many as 81 miles on the roads — and volunteers won’t be able to do much more than wave down traffic in more hazardous areas.

While motivation is high right now to keep the area safe for cyclists, Zerkle said she’s hoping the extra efforts won’t be just a passing fancy, but will promote real safety for road racers.

“It’s not going to be just one day a year, but 365 days a year,” she said. “I’ve had friends tell me they’re not going to race on the road anymore. They’re getting their mountain bikes out and ride the mountain bike races.”

So far, about 100 riders have registered online for the Tour de Los Alamos. Officials are expecting another 100 to sign up either the day of the race at the start line (Central Ave. and 20th St.) or at the registration session Saturday at Los Alamos National Bank from 7-8 p.m.

Monitor Managing Editor Carol A. Clark contributed to this story.