Valley Bicycling Makes News on Roads – And on Trails

Officials give details of the race at the Gran Fondo announcement.

It’s called the Virginia’s Blue Ridge “Gran Fondo” translated from Italian as “Big Ride,” and it’s coming to the Roanoke Valley on October 13 during the Go Fest weekend. 3 non-competitive bicycle rides, at 30, 50 and 80 miles long, designed for people at various levels of proficiency and endurance.

The Gran Fondo rides will start and end at Ballast Point Brewing in Daleville, and was announced with great fanfare by Botetourt County officials, Roanoke Outside and Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge recently.

It’s designed to draw more attention to the area’s growing reputation as a biking destination – and to attract out of towners who may decide they want to return to live, work and play in the valley.  Pete Eshelman called pairing the VBR Gran Fondo with Roanoke Outside “a perfect fit.  We envisioned [Go Outside] to be a platform for other events [and] that other areas could leverage to their benefit.”

Eshelman said the Salem Half Marathon saw that vision when it debuted several years ago and also scheduled it on the Go Outside Festival weekend. “It’s a win-win for all the events. We can create so much going on that weekend.” People are talking about the valley as a bike riding center more and more said Eshelman. A cycling camp brings 60-70 bikers to Craig County every summer; that’s been happening for years he adds. “There’s a lot of momentum. By focusing on cycling you get more trails [for everyone] and better infrastructure on bike lanes. I think it’s one of our greatest strengths.”

Tim Miller and his Muddy Squirrel outdoor adventure company will organize the VBR Gran Fondo in October (register online; there are early bird discounts for the guided rides; rates start at $50). Miller picked up the ball and ran with it after someone else conceived the idea but never went forward with it. He says a novice rider with a less then top of the line bike can handle the 30 miler. “We have a route for everybody.  With a little bit of training – it’s a little hilly … but not too hard.”

He’s hoping to see at least 200 come out for the first year event.  “We’re hoping it will [then] grow over time. We’re super excited especially with all of the different partners involved”

Meanwhile after a two year survey and evaluation period the International Mountain Bicycling Association has named the valley a “Silver Level Ride Center” – one of only 15 worldwide and the only one on the east coast.

Assets like the mountain biking trails at Carvins Cove are one major reason – but so are amenities like the brewpubs, restaurants and the cultural scene here when those bikers are not riding said IMBA executive director Dave Weins, who came to Roanoke from Colorado to make the big announcement. “It’s never one thing, it’s the entire package,” he said.

Weins spent time riding some of the local trails and said it would take visitors “days to exhaust the supply” of mountain biking trails in the valley. “Having that variety of opportunities and the community to back it up … just fit the bill in all the categories.”

Kristine McCormack is the local IMBA chapter president: “Now we have international recognition for the work our volunteers have really done to grow mountain biking in the area.” There are 160 IMBA chapter dues paying members at various levels of skill said McCormack, who noted that local trails can accommodate all of those riders.  She hopes the designation will also provide momentum for the 40 miles of trails still on the drawing board at Carvins Cove.  “Our trails are huge asset for our community,” said McCormack – and not just for mountain bikers she adds.

Gene Marrano

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