John F. Kennedy once said that nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike. Well, he never got to partake in the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough, with its wide variety of distances, 'Cry Baby Hill' and its intense races.
Tulsans love their bicycles; and if you are ever driving down Riverside Drive, you'll see a vast variety of bicycles whiz up and down the trails throughout the day and well into the evening hours.
If you are a bicycle enthusiast, you are in for an upcoming treat. Entering its seventh year, Saint Francis Tulsa Tough is coming back this June, bigger and better than ever. "The difference between the 2008 Tulsa Tough and this year's event is that the quality of the field in the pro races has increased dramatically," said Malcolm McCollam, Executive Director of the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough. "The biggest changes, though, are to our recreational rides, which take place on Saturday and Sunday, June 9 & 10. Weekend warriors can ride distances ranging from 24 to 127 miles in the countryside around Tulsa. They return to the race venues to an incredible post-ride meal provided by the McNellie's Group along with other amenities."
How could you beat that?
Creating any type of new event can be quite challenging, but Tulsa entrepreneur, Chris Zenthoefer, was up it. "Chris Zenthoefer, who at the time was a Tulsa Sports Commission board member, approached several local cyclists with the idea of creating a cycling event to help promote economic development in the City of Tulsa and create a mass participation event that would promote the adoption of healthy lifestyles," McCollam said. After some brainstorming, Zenthoefer and a small group of local cyclists came together and were able to focus on the type of events and locations they wanted to shine a spotlight on: the downtown arts, entertainment districts and the Arkansas River corridor. The rest, you could say, is history!
Although the process of creating Tulsa Tough didn't happen immediately, the three-day event has been able to engage bicycle fans, volunteers, huge crowds and the community. It hasn't hurt the event that there is hefty prize money to be awarded either! "Saint Francis Tulsa Tough offers spectators and riders events for everyone with professional and amateur races, mass participation GranFondos, a family ride and an expo with vendors and exhibitors in one action-packed weekend," McCollam said. "It is recognized as a top tier event by USA Cycling and features one of the largest prize money purses in the nation." With $100,000 being awarded, the races are sure to be both competitive and exciting.
With $100,000 on the line and the Tulsa Tough being a three-day event, there are a lot of races to ride in and racers, young or old, will have a variety to pick from. If you were to cruise Tulsa Tough's website, you would notice that there are four main events the Tulsa Tough specializes in and they are all dandies.
First, we have the Criterium, which McCollam refers to as "NASCAR on bikes" -- a race that consists of multiple loops on city streets and racer participation in some pavement surfing. "The Criterium is a mass-start event with large (up to 120 at once) packs," McCollam said. "The courses for this race, which are determined by experience level, are all less than a mile long and they generally last from thirty to ninety minutes. Less experienced amateurs race a shorter time than the pros."
If you aren't into that kind of competition and like taking the scenic route, the GranFondo will be right up your alley. You and your 1,432 closest bicycle riding friends will enjoy this long distance ride. This event is catered to riders who just want to finish the race, or just want to challenge themselves. "To get an idea of what the two consecutive days of recreational GranFondo riding are like," McCollam said, "think of mixing cyclists ranging from pros to eighty-years old, and rolling in roving and fixed mechanical and medical support. Then add feed zones manned by cheerful volunteers serving up sandwiches, fruit, and drinks, and traffic halted at intersections to let you pass." While this Italian phenomenon sounds fun, this adventure isn't for the faint of heart. It'll last anywhere between 24 to 127 miles. "Topping this energetic, exciting race is the coverage by major cycling magazines." Now this is the event for the celebrity in all of us!
If you aren't into scenic routes and like things that are free and easy as you go down the road, then you too are in luck. The Tulsa Townie event is an eight-mile ride that is designed to be a family activity. The path marked for this ride will let you explore the neighborhoods along Riverside Drive. "This can be enjoyed regardless of fitness level or cycling experience. This is a fantastic way to rediscover the joy of cycling," McCollam said.
One other event to enjoy is the Festival. Keep in mind that the venue moves everyday and you will be able to enjoy food and refreshments, and two huge JumboTrons will keep you up to date with all the race action. "The event takes place from the Blue Doom District to the Brady Arts District, the River Parks and Riverview neighborhood," McCollam said. If you have kids, there is a kids' area and the best part is that it's free.
Tulsa Tough is also known for its 'Cry Baby Hill.' This is the grand finale, a gargantuan task, the "coup de grace" of the entire event. This hill may not look like it's steep, but after riding it for the 40th time, you'll be singing a different tune.
This hill definitely lives up to its name. "The racers must ride up an insanely steep hill from Riverside Drive into the Riverview Neighborhood," McCollum said. "Enthusiastic spectators -- think the crazy fans that line the course along the Tour de France -- scream at the top of their lungs while lining the course as it nears the top of the hill. It even has its own band, The Cry Baby Hill Band, consisting of a group of local musicians who come together once a year on race day."
"Legend has it," McCollum said, "that a local club owner who shall be unnamed (okay, it was Josh Gifford) was the one who came up with the name after something along the lines of 'There is no crying in bike racing' was uttered. Try as I might words will never adequately describe Cry Baby Hill."
While this event is focused on having a good time with thousands of other bicycle enthusiasts, promoting a healthy lifestyle is also at the center of its purpose. The fact is, Oklahoma and the word "healthy" usually aren't found in the same sentence. "Saint Francis Health System got involved with Tulsa Tough because Oklahoma ranks so poorly nationally in areas like smoking, heart disease and obesity and we want to encourage Oklahomans to be able to adapt to a healthier lifestyle," McCollam said. "Saint Francis is actively engaged in making a difference and doing what it can to improve the lives of others." That's good for all Tulsans.
The madness goes down June 8-10. Deadlines to sign up vary from June 8 for the GranFondo rides to the event day for the races. Registration is open now online. You can register for the Townie online or even on event day. So, what are you waiting for? Dust off those bikes you have hanging in your garage and sign up for Tulsa Tough today!
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