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Board mulls tourism idea 75-mile bicycle race planned for spring 2016
October 22, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Bicyclists may see an exciting new event planned for next spring that could be a big tourism draw for 2016.

Matt Hutt with the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club spoke with county commissioners Monday about a 75-mile bicycle race over the county’s gravel roads, planned for May 7, 2016.

“Our club has put on a number of events so far and we want this to become our marquee event,” Hutt told commissioners. “The 75-mile gravel route starts and ends at Five Rocks Amphitheater and runs up and down Robidoux Road.”

Along the way, the route crosses numerous county roads, including Carter Canyon Road, Wright’s Gap Road, Stegall Highway and Rifle Sight Pass, returning though Mitchell Pass.

Former Gering Police Chief Mel Griggs, who is also a cyclist, said there’s usually not a traffic problem with these events, as the average rider is going about 12 mph. He cited similar rides such as the YMCA’s Monument to Monument ride from Scotts Bluff to Agate Fossil Beds and back. Hutt said gravel races are one of the fasting growing segments of bicycle racing. Starting about six years ago in Emporia, Kan., that event drew only a handful of riders for the first event. Since then, the field has grown to 2,000 riders last year. He said the club would like to limit the local event at 200 riders for the first year to determine what response they’ll get.

There will be prizes for first, second and third places in both men’s and women’s divisions in the timed event. Hutt estimates the first racers will complete the course in just under four hours. The rest of the field should complete the course within six hours. All entrants must wear helmets and other appropriate gear, as well as obey all county traffic signs. “We want to be good neighbors to everyone living along the route,” Hutt said.
“We’re considering going door to door to let people know about the event.”

Hutt added the group has already contacted Brenda Leisy with the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau to jointly promote the event.

“I see no reason why this event won’t take off and grow,” Hutt said. “The county has great gravel roads and the course will be fast. Plus the scenery is wonderful.”

Griggs said he attends cycling events throughout region, and none of them has the scenery our local area has. People would flock here if there were somewhere to ride. Plus with the exposure, bicyclists would return to the area at other time of the year to ride.

“A lot of pavement riding is kind of dangerous now,” Hutt said.
“The nice thing about a gravel ride is that it separates riders from traffic. When I’m out riding around Stegall, I might see one car during the entire time.”

Hutt said the course traverses almost the entire county from east to west. Most members of the bicycling club have ridden those roads regularly. For the May race, they plan to invite cyclists from around the region, including the Front Range, Lincoln and North Platte.

“Gravel racing is a Midwest thing,” he said. “It started in Kansas and eastern Nebraska, then spread out to other areas.”

Although liability and logistical issues will need to be worked out, commissioners agreed in principle to staging the event.
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