The sixth annual Vermont Challenge, a four-day festival of bicycle touring, will bring more than 300 cyclists and 70 or so volunteers to the region. The event is not a competition, but a fundraiser meant to showcase the best of southern Vermont and bring riders of all abilities together.
“I do a lot of bike riding up here,” said founder John Sohikian. “I realized we don’t really have a multi-day event in the state.”
Sohikian, who splits time between homes in Jamaica and Westport, CT, said he approached resort officials at Stratton Mountain and the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. It was the initial support from them that helped get the event off the ground in 2012.
“The first couple of years the ride was point to point,” said Sohikian. “But that ended up being too much about handling luggage to be sustainable. Tags would get lost and bags mixed up. The riders didn’t like it. So we came up with a new idea, a grand tour concept.”
The tours are grand indeed. The first two days, Thursday and Friday, are valley stages. Riders leave from Dana Thompson Park in Manchester, and tour up and down the Northshire, with some brief swings into New York state on the longer rides. On Saturday and Sunday the mountains take center stage, with rides starting and ending in Stratton.
There are three routes each day, aptly titled long, medium, and short. They range in length from less than 30 miles to as much as 100 miles.
On Saturday, August 19, riders looking for the ultimate challenge can take part in the Gran Fondo, a 100.3-mile ride complete with mountain climbs that total 7,262 feet and descents that drop 7,256 feet. The route starts and ends at the Stratton Mountain base lodge. For less inclined riders, the short, or Piccolo, course travels 27 miles and features just over 2,000 feet of differential.
On Sunday, August 20, the peloton will roll through Stratton, Wardsboro, Dover, Newfane, Townshend, and Jamaica in the final stage of the challenge. The short courses start and end at the Stratton Recreation Center; the long ride uses the Stratton base lodge.
“This is the second year of that route,” said Sohikain. “We changed the routes. We used to ride out of the Vermont Country Store, but the group got too big. So we thought, let’s incorporate the valleys south of Stratton. It’s a lovely, challenging climb to Mount Snow. We’ll have a rest stop at Dover Town Park, then head over Grimes Hill to Route 30 and end up at the Four Columns Inn in Newfane for lunch. Then they start coming up Route 30 to Jamaica, turn onto Route 100 south, and finish by climbing up the backside of Stratton.”
Sohikian added, “People just absolutely love that route.”
The challenge is about more than rides. It’s a fundraiser that channels $30 of every registration to the Stratton Foundation. Recipients include Grace Cottage Hospital, the Jamaica-Wardsboro Community Food Pantry, Bennington County Meals on Wheels, and the Carlos Otis Clinic at Stratton Mountain. Aside from rider fees, a raffle during the challenge helps contribute to the charities.
The event has also become a draw for riders beyond New England. According to Sohikian, riders from 38 states and Canada will be rolling in for the rides.
When asked why so many Canadians, Sohikian said “We did some marketing in a sports magazine up there. They seem to like coming here, and they add a nice little ‘savoir-faire’ to the ride.”
He added that a number of volunteers help out with organizing and implementing the rides. He cited a dedicated group of bike club members from Connecticut and the members of the Bike Manchester group. More volunteers are always welcome, and those who volunteer for three days get to ride one of the days for no charge.
To learn more or to sign up to either ride or volunteer visit vtchallenge.com.