Taking the tour: local cyclists gear up for the 36th

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By Gabriel Vasquez

The New Mexico cycling community is in for a treat.

The Roadrunners Cycling Club will host the longest-running bicycle race in the state July 20: the 36th annual Tour de Los Alamos.

The 27-mile open highway race that traverses the Hill and White Rock is a “beautiful and challenging course,” as one local volunteer organizer puts it.

“It’s probably one of the most picturesque races,” said organizer Carolyn Zerkle. “It’s challenging, you have to climb up the truck route, and there are some very challenging curves in Ancho Canyon.”

The projected field for this year’s race is 200 cyclists, 40 percent local and 60 percent from other parts of the state, and a select few from around the country.

All top finishers in the various categories will receive monetary prizes. There will be a total purse of around $1,200 for all riders.

Elite cyclists are scheduled for three laps, Intermediate cyclists will race two laps, and citizen participants will race one.

Beginners in the race typically range in age from 12-80.

“Young kids and old folks should do this together,” Zerkle said. “I’ve been just a watcher but it’s very exciting. I’ve been the wife on the side of the road waving and cheering with my kids.”

High-caliber cyclists that have pedaled their way across Los Alamos canyons include senior Olympian Frank Pabian; Clay Moseley, a Pan American Games gold-medalist; and Todd Gogulski, who rode on the same teams as Tour de France winners Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong.

Tom Danielson, winner of the 2002 Tour de Los Alamos and also one of Armstrong’s former teammates, will most likely ride in this year’s Tour de France.

“Some of us believe if you look at his statistics, that (the Tour de Los Alamos) was his first professional win and the race that put him on the map,” Zerkle said. “He’s now one of the best American racers.”

Aside from accomplished riders, the race also attracts community members, often amateurs looking for their shot at the big time or looking to try their hand at a new hobby.

Former county councilor Morris Pongratz has participated in the event for the past 13 years and said the event is a good opportunity to bring together the local cycling community.

“We have a lot of bicyclers here in town and it gives them a chance to get together and ride together,” Pongratz said. “It’s also a great test point to see what kind of shape you’re in.”

Local politician Michael Wismer has also raced in years past and is happy to do so ride again later this month.

“It’s challenging, very well-organized and fun,” Wismer said. “It brings riders from around the country that get to see our community. It gives them a good impression of what we can do, what resources we have, and the beauty that surrounds us that allows us for rides like this.”

He added that volunteer organizers with a passion for the event have helped keep the tour running strong over the years.

“They’ve gone all out to make this a world-class event and I would personally encourage anyone to come out and do it.”

Several father-and-son duos, including Tom and Gabriel Intrator, and Nathan and Ted Romero, also plan to ride.

Elizabeth Turner and her father Tom Turner have taken their participation a step further and plan to ride the course on a tandem bicycle.

John Turner, who has led the efforts to organize the event for the past four years, said the Tour de Los Alamos differs from other races in New Mexico because it combines both distance and elevation.

“Some of the other races are pure climbing or are relatively flat,” he said. “The Los Alamos course is really good because it has a mixture of climbing and distance.”

Registration and check-in for the race will be at 6:30 a.m. at 15th and Trinity, and there will be an escorted neutral parade from downtown to the start of the race near the fire station on West Jemez Road.

Registration for all participants is $20 prior to the event and $25 the morning of the race, and an additional $10 is required for those who need to purchase a one-day ACA license.

Free T-shirts will be available for the first 100 pre-registered racers.

Those who wish to register early can do so online at tour-de-los-alamos.org or at Los Alamos National Bank the night prior to the event.

The race begins at Casa Grande Drive, then proceeds  on West Jemez Road toward the Jemez Mountains, N.M. 4 to White Rock and then up East Jemez Road (the truck route).

The race finishes at West Road and all riders should be off the course by noon.

Although traffic safety assistance will be provided by the Los Alamos Police Department and State Highway Patrol at several intervals throughout the race, event organizers urge drivers in the area to use caution when traveling through these streets and be aware that cyclists will permeate the area until noon.

Sponsors for the event include the Monitor, LANB, LANS, North Wind, Pet Pangaea and SOC Los Alamos.

“The volunteers and sponsors are so nice and very supportive of us,” Zerkle said. “It is out of the goodness of their hearts that we can have this event.”

For questions or comments contact Astrid Turner at 505-672-1111 or by e-mail at astrid.turner@pobox.com.