This year's Tour de France, cycling's biggest race, is in its final week. After sixteen stages of (often less than inspiring) racing, every pedal pusher across the Valley should be itching to get out and see how they measure up.
Regardless if you are a rookie to an organized ride or a categorized speed demon, very few experiences on a bike equal lining up and pushing out with a number pinned to the back of the jersey. And, this being one of the great things about cycling, anyone can do it.
While the rest of the world starts to wind down its cycling season in the fall, Arizona's cycling season is just gearing up again. And several of the Valley's - and state's - best races or rides are looming on the calendar, meaning it's time to get registered and start training. Here are five of the fall's best to give riders their own Tour de France experience locally.
2011 Arizona State Road Racing Championships (Aug. 21)
Sponsored by the White Mountain Road Club, this races awards the best in the state across 34 different age and sex categories, for any rider from age 10 to over-70. Distances vary from 25 miles for junior riders to 84 miles for the highest rated male racers and will be raced on roads outside of Wickenburg. Entry fee for any category is $30 ($15 for juniors) and all participants are required to have a USAC license.
Scottsdale Cycling Festival (Oct. 1 and 2)
This two-day festival originated around the Tour de Scottsdale, a 70-mile benefit ride around the McDowell Mountain Preserve to support the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. Now, the race offers a pro purse in addition to the benefit rides of 70 and 30 miles. Also added is the Criterium at DC Ranch, a circuit race that goes around a one kilometer course through the shopping center at DC Ranch. Entry fees run from $30 to 120 depending on the event and registration date.
Show Low Bluff Tour of the White Mountains (Oct. 1)
If road riding is not your thing, go spin some fat knobbies among the cool pines in Show Low. This ride benefits the Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center and offers routes of 10, 15, 35 and 60 miles. The courses all run along some nice singletrack through the Apache-Sitgreaves national Forest, and even though there are some challenges, the ride is geared to be fun. Registration fees are $40 to 60 plus a mandatory minimum $5 contribution to the medical center fund.
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Trek Women Breast Cancer Awareness Ride (Oct. 8)
Truly a ride more than a race, proceeds from this event support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Now in its sixth year, the ride sponsored by Southwest Bicycles Cycling Club starts from Arrowhead Mall and allows participants to ride anywhere from 5 to 25 miles along the flat, west side terrain. Registration is $25.
El Tour De Tucson (Nov. 19)
The granddaddy of mass races/rides in Arizona, El Tour is one of the most noted and respected races in the country. Pros such as Greg Lemond, Chris Horner and Robbie Ventura have joined the thousands of others to ride around the perimeter of Tucson (including through sandy wash basins) along the 109 mile course traditionally run the weekend before Thanksgiving. Distances of 79, 66, 40 and other short fun rides are also offered. This ride is always as much a party as a race, and was named by Bicycling Magazine as one of the three best fund raiser rides in the country for its support of the University Medical Center. Entry fees run from $105 and up and include access to multiple events over the course of the weekend.