MANCHESTER -- Around 8:30 a.m., with the morning sun high in the sky, riders participating in the Vermont Challenge Bike Tour circled the roundabout before making a loop near Shaw's Supermarket and returning to the Park House at Dana L. Thompson Park.
The morning excursion was the beginning of the second day of the tour, which will see 150 riders travel either 52 or 65 miles, depending on whether they take the long or the short route.
The Vermont Challenge is three different events rolled into one as riders have the option of taking part in either a four, three or one-day challenge.
The concept of the Vermont Challenge derived from conversations between event founder John Sohikian -- a part-time Vermont resident -- and Stratton Mountain president Sky Foulkes with the idea of putting together a bike challenge that would connect southern and central Vermont.
Thursday was the first day of the challenge as 100 riders began at Stratton and wound their way through the Battenkill Valley -- covering either 46 or 54 miles depending on the route -- before ending at the Park House.
The first day of the tour was an experience that some of the riders, like Jesse and Ruth Wagner from Glastonbury, Conn. -- who were competing in the event for the first time -- enjoyed.
"We like that it's a fundraiser. That's a good part you're having fun and you're doing something good," said Jesse Wagner.
New Jersey residents John O'Brien and Jim Breagy both participated in the challenge last year and decided to return for another year.
"We made a lot of good friends last year and the places that we stayed at were great and just the scenery and the roads, it was all good. It was a lot of fun. So, we decided to do it again," said O'Brien.
On Sunday -- the fourth and final day of the tour -- the 150 multiday riders will travel from Killington back to Stratton, up to 103 miles.
The event, a charity ride now in its second year -- has grown significantly. This year, nearly 250 riders are participating in the event compared to 170 last year.
The increased number of participants has not only been beneficial for communities and businesses throughout Southern Vermont.
"Here in Manchester, we have three hotels completely sold out tonight," Sohikian said. "Besides feeding people who need help, we're also contributing to the economies of each of these towns so that's really kind of the whole idea."
In a survey taken at the end of the race last year, Berta Maginniss, the executive director of the Manchester regional Chamber of Commerce, said people indicated that Manchester was the most welcoming, had the most amenities, and was the community they would most likely return. So next year, the race will be headquartered in Manchester.
"I think it will in part because it's the community that people really like," Maginniss said. "As I said, the survey says ‘we like Manchester the best.' I can't tell you exactly why, but it speaks to the fact that that's the place people want to be of the five."
With the growing numbers and gaining new sponsors, Sohikian said he is both pleased to see the hard work pay off and hopes the event will continue to grow.
"Most people don't realize how much work goes into planning an event. It's like planning a wedding," he said. "It's just really exciting to [hear] great route, great day, great food. So, all the work starts to pay off and like I said that sort of builds on itself. You know when you think about 100 riders a year and the economic impact of those riders, now multiply that 10 times over and it becomes a weekend event for the town of Manchester that really puts money back into the community."
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