Riders racing past an airfield during El Tour de Tucson. Courtesy of El Tour de Tucson.
By Gracie Sleeman, El Inde Arizona
USA Today recently named El Tour de Tucson, which returns to downtown Tucson on Saturday, Nov. 18, the No.1 best bike ride in the country.
El Tour de Tucson began in 1983 with around 200 riders and has expanded to over 7,500 yearly participants. Sponsored by Banner University Medicine, El Tour is a charity event and has raised over $110 million for nonprofit organizations and beneficiaries.
“We consider ourselves the biggest bike ride in the country,” said Steve Rivera, 59, El Tour de Tucson’s media director.
The ride could host as many as 9,000 participants this year from all over the United States and the world.
“We bring a lot of people from all over the country. In fact, a few countries. Mexico, we have a few riders; Canada, we have a few riders. Germany brings some,” Rivera said. “We’ve had a number of other countries come in for the weekend to ride in this big event. It’s kinda a global event.”
In fact, according to statistics by El Tour, 32% of riders are from outside of Arizona, with all 50 states represented, and 13 countries have been represented.
The event also has devoted fans.
El Tour de Tucson was voted by readers as the No.1 Road Cycling Event of 2023 by USA TODAY. This comes as no surprise because of the magnitude and inclusivity of the event.
El Tour offers multiple race distances for every skill of rider, from the 102-mile Century race to the Metric Century clocking in at 62 miles (100 kilometers). The Half Metric Century is 32 miles (50 kilometers), and the fun rides are one or three miles. There also will be a 5k (3.1 mile) run and walk hosted by Run Tucson.
All rides will start and finish at the Tucson Convention Center (TCC) in downtown Tucson.
Riders celebrating at the Casino del Sol Expo and Fiesta after their race at El Tour de Tucson. Courtesy of El Tour de Tucson.
Along with the rides, there is also a three-day Expo and Fiesta at the Tucson Convention Center sponsored by Casino del Sol. There will be exhibitors, non-profit organizations, businesses, shopping, giveaways, food, music, entertainment and a beer garden hosted by Dragoon Brewing.
The Expo is free and open to the public. The Tucson Convention Center is located at 260 S. Church Ave, and the event runs from noon-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, and Friday, Nov. 17. and from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday.
“For three days it’s a huge event downtown…and the day of the event, if there’s let’s say 8,000 riders, you can probably estimate that we have around 13,000 total down there,” said Rivera.
This amount of people impacts the Tucson community and over 70 charities involved in the event in a major way. Each of these charities has their own story, their own mission and a way to help those around them.
Part of the outdoor sector of the Casino del Sol Expo and Fiesta at El Tour de Tucson. Courtesy of El Tour de Tucson.
One local organization raising money through El Tour is the Homestretch Foundation, founded in 2016 by Kathryn Bertine, 48, a former professional cyclist.
Bertine has an extensive history in athletics including figure skating, running, rowing, triathlon and cycling. She raced professionally from 2012-17 for Saint Kitts and Nevis and achieved three Caribbean Championships and six Saint Kitts and Nevis National Championships. While competing at the UCI level (Union Cycliste Internationale), Bertine represented team Colavita, Wiggle-Honda, BMW and Cylance.
Bertine was inspired to continue advocating for women cyclists by both the other athletes and the strange inequity in the sport.
“Cycling was very behind the times,” said Bertine, who in addition to being an athlete is an author, advocate, activist and filmmaker. “Why is this sport so wonderful and incredible, but also so backward?”
The Homestretch Foundation is an organization that provides free housing and other resources to professional female athletes. Today, the house, located in Tucson, has hosted almost 90 athletes from 18 countries and six Olympians. Within the house, Homestretch even pairs newer, younger athletes with more experienced ones in a kind of mentorship program.
Along with housing, the foundation works to “level the playing field of salary discrepancy in sport, so that female professional athletes have the same wages and equal opportunities as male professional athletes,” according to the foundation.
“I believed, I believed if anyone could do it it would be Kathryn,” said Bertine’s “bestie” Lauren Hall, 44, who also competed as a professional cyclist against Bertine.
Today, women cyclists have a base salary at the World Tour level, comparable to the major league, but are still working on a base salary at the Pro-Continental level, comparable to the minor league. Men currently have base salaries at both levels.
Two Homestretch athletes from last season are Rebecca Richards, 25, and Siobhan Kelly, 27, also known as “stretchies.”
Richards, a second-year alumni with Homestretch, races in the road division, but is not paid a wage.
“I think, for me, (Homestretch) allows me to even my training with the professionals,” she said. “I get to come out here and train professionally, even though I don’t make a salary.”
“I race cyclocross on gravel,” Kelly said. “I love it. I stuck with it because it’s my calling and I love it, but there’s no salary for it,” said Kelly, a third-year alumni of Homestretch.
In cyclocross, “the teams are very minimal, so I have what’s called a privateer program, so I manage all my own sponsors,” she added.
Both of these women are dependent on Homestretch to maintain their cycling status. Without it, they would not be able to afford training. They also love it here.
“It’s nice because you’re surrounded by peers. We’re all training hard,” Kelly said. “I’ve found such great friendships.”
It’s nice to be around like-minded people especially because “the level keeps going up, you’re always chasing your tail,” said Richards.
“Riding here we have a great community, it’s not just the house,” she said.
Kelly agreed, saying, “I can train so much harder here, Tucson is just my favorite training space.”
The Homestretch Foundation is a non-profit organization part of El Tour de Tucson. Riders can be part of the Homestretch team and raise money for the organization throughout their participation!
“I’m interested to see if this is only the beginning,” said Hall.
Registered 501(c)3 organizations wishing to become a beneficiary can contact El Tour at (520) 745-2033 or email@example.com. Non-profit organizations wishing to have an El Tour team can sign-up at eltourdetucson.org.2023-El-Tour-de-Tucson-Road-Closures
102 mile (Century) Course Map courtesy of El Tour de Tucson.
63 mile (Metric Century) Course Map courtesy of El Tour de Tucson.
32 mile (Half Metric Century) Course Map courtesy of El Tour de Tucson.