Vermont Challenge brings in cyclists from all over

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MANCHESTER — Vermont has always been known as a tourist spot because of its appeal to skiers. Summer, also known as the shoulder season, offers a different event. Today marks the start of the sixth annual Vermont Challenge Cycling Tour.

The tour features two days of biking in the valleys of Manchester and two days on the mountains, starting on Stratton Mountain. Notably, the challenge includes a century ride (a 100-mile ride), on Saturday.

"I feel that this is the perfect event for this area," said Joseph Wagner, who is working with the challenge. "From a tourism standpoint, we have found that skiers are usually cyclists too. Our town is set up for these tourists."

The challenge has grown popular within the cycling community as the event has been featured in the Cycling Industry magazine as one of the 10 best rides in the country and has also been featured in Active Cyclist.

"My wife and I ride so we have the opportunity to talk with other people that ride," Wagner said. "We asked why they were [in Vermont] and they told us they really liked the Vermont Challenge. They made a point to come back and ride before they went out to college. This is exactly what my ears wanted to hear."

John and Donna Sohikian, the organizers of the challenge are expecting about 200 riders for today's event with that number ballooning more than 300 once the weekend begins. Riders have traveled to Vermont from 38 states and even Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia to compete in the four-day event.

"We have terrific roads and riding conditions for cyclists," Wagner explained. "You can point your bike in any direction and just ride. Everywhere you go you will find a charming little town that is warm and welcoming."

Registration for the challenge is $30, which goes to the Stratton Foundation. The Stratton Foundation then uses that money to help the Grace Cottage Hospital, the Jamaica-Wardsboro Community Food Pantry, Bennington County Meals on Wheels, and the Carlos Otis Clinic at Stratton Mountain.

For Thursday's race, the riders will assemble at Dana Thompson Park. Starting at 8 a.m. they will be heading into town and then heading south on Route 7A. The 200 or so bikers will travel at a controlled slow pace through town with a police escort. Once they get past the Equinox Hotel and make it onto River Road, they will be given the green light to ride at their own pace.

To learn more about the challenge, sign up to ride, or volunteer visit vtchallenge.com.

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