MANCHESTER/BENNINGTON -- The cyclists are back! For the second year in a row, cyclists will descend on the Shires of Vermont for the Tour of the Dragons on May 5-6.
After a successful first year as the Bennington Race Weekend, the three-stage bicycle race has returned bigger and better than ever. This year, the race has been accepted as part of the Great American Cycling Series, which includes races such as the Tour of the Battenkill and races across New England and in Colorado.
The series brings a different level of professionalism and experience in running the race and has race Director Jim Marshall excited about what the Tour of the Dragons can bring to the local area in the future. The Great American Cycling Series is sponsored by Stan's Notubes.
"It's exciting that Tour of the Dragons is part of that venue," said Marshall. "There is a lot of recognition that goes along with it. There is increased participation and also for all the townships that participate, there is an increase in the level of the professionalism. We're working with a first class organization."
After 360 cyclists participated in last year's race, Marshall says that they are projecting around 550 riders participating this year. "We're maybe ahead of schedule in that regard," said Marshall. Last year, the Bennington Race Weekend was operated by the United Counseling Service, which Marshall said did a great job and helped explore the possibilities that a race like this could bring to the area.
"Last year was good, it was sort of a proof of concept," said Marshall. "We had a very, very successful event, but I saw that to raise the bar required the involvement of a group like the Great American Cycling Series." The other change in the race is the partnership with the United Counseling Service. Instead of continuing to team up with one organization, the Tour is operating a Group Give-Back Program.
Any not-for-profit organization can sign up to provide volunteers to the race. For every 10 volunteers an organization provides, the Tour will make a $300 contribution. For every 20 volunteers, the Tour will donate $750 to the organization.
"All ready we have six or seven not-for-profits who are signing people up," said Marshall. "That's exciting because when you look at it cumulatively, we are putting money into many, many not-for-profits. I like that model. I think it involves more people and touches more people in a positive way." While the name and some of the organization has changed, the course for the three events will remain the same. The event got such positive feedback after last year's event that Marshall decide to keep that part of the race the same.
"The participancy back was phenomenal," said Marshall. "Everybody was saying that the courses were more than they ever expected. They were tougher, more challenging, more beautiful, more incredible that they had imagined we had in this part of the world."
The first stage, the Individual Time Trial, will take place on Saturday, May 5, on South Stream Road in Bennington. The cyclists will start at 7:45 a.m., with each individual racer starting 30 seconds apart. The course, which is 11 miles long, will start at Beech Street, head along South Stream Road, turn onto Maple Grove Road, turn left onto Middle Pownal Road, head on Barber Pond Road, then north on South Stream Road to finish the course. This stage is judged solely on time, so the racers are going all out for the full 11 miles.
The second stage, the Warren "Chuck" Jenson Memorial Downtown Criterium, will take place on Saturday, May 5, in downtown Bennington. In this event, the cyclists will start in a large pack and go all out for the 1-kilometer distance of the course. The race will begin at 7:30 a.m. The course, which is rectangular, will start on Main Street, turn right onto Silver Street, turn right onto Hillside Street, right onto South Street and then a final right back to finish on Main Street.
The final event of the Tour of the Dragons, the Daniel J. Maneely Road Race, will take place on Sunday, May 6. The 62-mile road race will start at the Dana L. Thompson Rec Park in Manchester, head through parts of Dorset, Rupert, Pawlet, East Dorset, and Sunderland before heading back to Manchester for a finish at Burr and Burton Academy.
While most participants will do the 62-mile course, there is a 98-mile course for Men Pros. The race will begin at 8 a.m. and the last finisher should come in around 5 p.m. "The ripple effect of the race was that many people said ‘what a place to come back to for vacation,'" said Marshall. "Yeah, its going to draw a lot of people in, but its also an eye-opener to those people to say ‘southern Vermont is pretty special.'"
For directions and maps of all three courses, go to www.tourofthedragons.com.
To sign up an organization as part of the Group Give Back Program, go to www.tourofthedragons.com/volunteer.