Route Tweaks, Cycling Greats Mark the 2022 Race
By Valerie Vinyard
As the Banner-University Medicine El Tour de Tucson prepares for its 39th year, it’s even more noteworthy to consider its charitable impact: more than $100 million raised for local and international charity organizations since 1983.
It’s a crowning achievement for a signature event that draws over 7,000 cyclists to Southern Arizona each year to traverse our rugged, beautiful city.
The milestone, a goal of El Tour organizer Perimeter Bicycling for many years, was reached after 35 nonprofits raised $5.8 million in 2019. And the economic impact is just as impressive.
Felipe Garcia, president of Visit Tucson, noted that last year, riders and spectators spent over $1 million on restaurants, retail and transportation here. Thousands of hotel rooms are already booked for 2022.
“This is an event for destination visitors,” Garcia said. “The tour is just a celebration of Tucson. It brings people from all over the country, and Mexico as well, and some from Canada. They’re staying in our hotels, paying taxes, buying souvenirs, it’s new fresh money coming into our community, everyone in Tucson benefits from it.”
Thanks to executive director TJ Juskiewicz, an esteemed list of cycling greats will participate this year.
To help attract new riders and spectators, Juskiewicz has created new events, including a Prologue, or sort of VIP ride, before the big day on Nov. 19. He described the event as “a mini camp, if you will.” The Holualoa Companies Prologue will feature 50 riders, including pro-cyclists George Hincapie, Kristin Armstrong and Christian Vande Velde among others.
“We’re doing a Prologue for the first time this year,” he said. “It’s really kind of a who’s who in the cycling world. They’re also going to ride the event, which brings a lot of clout.”
“That’s exclusive, it’s just a little extra,” said Juskiewicz, who used his connections to bring them to Tucson. “It brings a little star power to the event. People like seeing these people.”
He said this year’s 102-mile route also has a few tweaks. “Our goal was to get the roads in the best shape as possible,” he said.
Other changes include moving the start of the event from Armory Park to the Tucson Convention Center, where the Rio Nuevo tax increment finance district invested $65 million for a renovation that resulted in, among many upgrades, new fountains and parking lots.
Tucson Realtor Damion Alexander hasn’t missed an El Tour since 2008. The cyclist shoots photos during the event and estimates he has amassed 50,000 images over the years.
“It’s been a part of my life always,” said Alexander. “The great thing about this year is the route keeps getting better. Roads have improved; the route is just smoother asphalt every year.”
He believes El Tour will continue to attract new riders, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. Alexander also noted that this year’s event already has 50 nonprofit charitable partners.
“With COVID, people recognize the value of being outside,” he said. “Bikes were the avenue that a lot of people chose during the pandemic. I think we’ll continue to see growth.”
There’s certainly no dearth of positive reviews of the event. As one reviewer wrote on the El Tour website: “Tucson is an incredible city and beautiful location for a large cycling event. El Tour brings together cyclists from all over the world and promotes cycling, personal fitness, and community engagement.”
For people who haven’t participated in El Tour, Alexander has some advice.
“I would say come out and watch, or even better, volunteer at an aid station, give out water,” he said. “You’re probably gonna see a friend. It’s a super fun thing that our community has. It’s also a major economic driver; it brings a lot of tax dollars.
“There are so many ways to volunteer. Come out and make your community a better place.”
Garcia also had a suggestion:
“Wear sunscreen,” he said, chuckling. “I got burned.”
Pictured above from left – El Tour de Tucson Board of Directors and staff, from left – Pat Lopez, Troy Jacobson, Shawna Ruboyianes, Damion Alexander, Dr. Sam Keim, Amy Orchard, TJ Juskiewicz, Charlie Bowles and Christina Benson. Photo by Brent G. Mathis. Not pictured: John Cole, Lee Walker, Bobby Verenna, Steve Morganstern, Charlene Grabowski and Andy Guerrero