Saturday, May 07, 2011

Tour d'Oconee brings hundreds of bicyclists to Watkinsville

 Watkinsville received an early Saturday morning wake up call before the supposed Grand Opening of Oconee County Farmers Market even set up with the inaugural Tour d'Oconee bringing bunches of bicyclists to Oconee County with cars coming from Norcross and LaGrange and other areas all over Georgia.

Volunteers from the Democratic Party of Oconee greeted the cars as they came down 441 and State Route 53 and directed them to park behind the Oconee County Courthouse, the Virginia Wells Building and Ashford Memorial Church.

Husband and wife combination including vice chair Ann Stoneburner and Robert Wyatt were positioned at opposite ends of the continuum from Experiment Station Road to Harden Hill Road, pointing the arriving throng to the awaiting parking lots. Pat Adams and chair Dan Matthews dealt with folks coming from behind the courthouse parking lots and pointing them down Third Street past Eagle Tavern to find their pre-race packet.

We met lots of really nice people from all over Georgia ready to ride the street of Watkinsville out into the countryside and beautiful clean air of Oconee County hills and valleys. Everyone was extremely polite and willing to park and secure their vehicles exactly where and how we asked.

Lycra was indeed the fashionable fabric on this chilly morning for those saddling up on their expensive yet simple machines down the School Street catwalk. Watkinsville was the hip happening place for more than 250 bicyclists this sunrise Saturday.

Watkinsville Police Chief Lee O'Dillon set up some pylons to slow down traffic as cyclists arrived and had to cross the busy Main Street.   They were pointed toward the registration area at the back of Rocket Field in a parking lot probably belonging to OCAF.

 The parade was slow at 6:30 am but cars came pouring in by 7:00 am. The cool weather disappeared quickly to a picture perfect day for the large peloton.  More than one of the out of town guests complimented the first time efforts of the Oconee County Cycling Organization saying this bike ride was organized much better than the long standing complimentary ride to the Twilight Criterium called The Gambler.

Oconee organizers such as Jimmy Marbut, Kathleen Fitzgerald, Patrick Beall, and Tony Glenn gave their best efforts in getting the riders registered and on their way down Barnett Shoals Road in remarkably quick time for the three to four hour ride some 62 miles or less from the Courthouse to Bostwick in Morgan County and back in a remarkably quick time.

After the ride was over the riders and volunteers relaxed and recuperated with carbs and whatnot with specials from Chops and Hops among other restaurants. Clearly this eatery was overwhelmed by the reaction from the mass onslaught of hungry cyclists clamoring for calories to replace what they had burned in the previous 62 (or less) miles.
 All these photos were taken by Dan Matthews. Any reproduction or reuse with express written approval is strictly forbidden. If any of the folks who are in the photographs would like to borrow them, then I have no problem with that usage
Oconee County has now become a destination for the serious, semi-serious and not-so-serious bicyclists. Businesses like Sunshine Cycles run quite welll by Marbut increase their commerce and repairs in registration the night before.  They would even quickly repair bikes brought in that were going to have no part in the race with a smile and understanding on the night before the race. They have plenty of every kind of bicycle including new electric hybird bike on sale to entice the commuting possibilities up the treacherous Simonton Bridge/Whitehall Road that now features a "Ride Single File" sign also by the efforts of the Oconee County Cycling.

This ride went through Bishop and near North High Shoals without incident and with the assistance of the Oconee County Sheriff's Department in crossing 441. Thank you very much to the deputies of Sheriff Scott Berry for their assistance.

Already the organizers have targeted Cinco de Mayo 2012 for the next Tour d'Oconee.  I saw at least four sets of tandem cyclists which makes sense for sixty miles of pedaling.

Some folks freelanced and started after the main group to go at their own pace. The ride was universally praised by all those who participated and volunteered. No traffic mishaps or any other accidents occurred to the best of my knowledge.  These riders obviously have the highest metabolism of anyone eating in Oconee County, and I can only hope the local restaurants will be better staffed next year.
Pat Adams of the Oconee County Democratic Committee welcomes a couple of friendly riders outside of the Oconee County Courthouse crosswalk Saturday morning in Watkinsville.

The average bike being ridden on this ride costs a couple of grand, and the outfits are a couple hundred more when you factor in the helmets, shoes, jackets and riding outfits. The riders are a dedicated bunch who know how to have fun and prepare for these jaunts like any serious athlete. I would wager the average age of this bunch was late 40s if not older. I definitely saw some folks who were 20 and 30 years older than me, and in much better shape too.

This can continue to be an economic boon to Oconee County if the government continues to support cycling with bike paths and signage to help  the riders. I would strongly suggest that this is a campaign issue for anyone wanting to succeed in an elected office here locally in the next several cycles.

Patrick Beall did an excellent job stenciling the route with an unmistakable "TdO" and concise directions for all. Many participants had rode here before in smaller groups. This could well be the lowest impact, highest yield sporting event held locally, even outdoing most softball tournaments at Veterans Park and elsewhere.

The Farmers Market seemed to flow smoothly and without incident or problem with the extra couple hundred cyclists coming through on Third Street. For the amount of advertising they spent on NewsTalk 1340 WGAU radio, I did not see very big crowds on the early part of the morning.  The bathrooms at Eagle Tavern were greatly appreciated by this volunteer at least.

I did not stick around to watch the gathering there as we picked up garbage up and down Thrasher Drive and assorted side streets off Main in business district 441.

As best anyone could tell, the Oconee County Republicans and Democratic party pickers of litter tied in number of trash haulers each in nine, and we gathered a whole lot more recycling.  Thanks to the Mayor Joe Walter for the water, gloves, bags and constant collection of bags. The biggest mess I found was at Chuck Williams mother's property, not a good omen for his nascent campaign for the House District 113 slot.

We shall see if Oconee County voters want to elect someone with failed banks and shady real estate dealings.

Bicyclists by in large are an extremely considerate bunch and did not impact traffic or the countryside very long if at all.

I hope every rider had as good a time as I did working at the Courthouse pointing people toward the start/finish area. The organizers were flexible with helping their riders with whatever they needed. Will Oconee County cyclists become the next major player in the political power structure of local government dealings?  I think they already have become exactly that and so much more.
 Taqueria La Parrilla gave out coupons for free cheese dip in the packets. Your Pie provided Buy One, Get One free cards for the riders.

The shirts are covered collectors items already. There is really no better way to truly check out the wide and varied nature of Oconee County except by bicycle.  Even if you have driven a particular route dozens of times, the first time you do it on bike or picking up garbage you notice the undulations of the terrain a whole lot better.

 Maybe next year the Board of Commissioners can approve this ride a little sooner to help the promoters advertise and market the ride a little longer and wider to get more people to check out what an amazing place Oconee County really is.  This can only help sell this area in the mind and social media of the participants to want to come back to Oconee County again and again and maybe even more here. Economic development always seems to be the most important issue of any local government, and this should continue to be a win-win for all those involved if they see how this makes Oconee County a much better and safer place to live and visit.

Tandem bikes were very trendy this year.

Some people brought dogs, others brought kids, and runners and the SAG wagon were ready to do what was needed by anyone.
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