Bike race could "rival Tour de France"

By Julia Green
“What has 1,000 legs, rolls, and is green from start to finish? It’s the Catskills Aqueduct Tour: the proposed bike race that will launch a five-year plan to turn New York State – and, more specifically, the Catskills Watershed Area – into the cycling capital of our nation.”
That was the lead-in at a meeting held last Tuesday about the prospect of starting a bike race in the Catskill watershed area that could, “rival the Tour de France.”
John Fitzgerald, president of Fitzgerald Burnetti Inc. Productions, a Manhattan-based advertising firm, was on hand to present a proposal for the Empire State Challenge (ESC), the world’s first “green” cycling competition that would use cycling as a launching pad to make the Catskills “a model of ‘green’ economic development.”
Also in attendance were Jim Waters, executive director of The Catskill Forest Association and vice president of the Greater Margaretville Chamber of Commerce (GMCC); John Riedl, president of the GMCC; Carol O’Beirne, GMCC executive director; Laszlo Vajtay, owner of Ski Plattekill and several other community members.
“There’s nothing like biking in this area – it’s so beautiful,” said Lucci Kelly, who attended the meeting. “I think we have the most undiscovered beauty here that is absolutely primed for bicycling.”
The mission is to promote Delaware County and the greater Catskills Region as an ideal location for “green” economic opportunities and eco-friendly businesses that will enrich the lives of residents and highlight New York’s commitment to maintaining and improving the environment for all state residents. Additionally, cycling can attract wide-ranging eco-friendly tourism to the area and help create the infrastructure that will make the region a leader in “green” industry, recreation and transportation.
The plan for the ESC is to build and manage the race in stages, to involve as many people in the state as possible, to engage every county, to create jobs upstate and downstate, and to “avoid the pitfalls of anonymity and allow the state to own this race forever,” Fitzgerald said.
He cited other races that have become defunct due to what he called a “lack of vision,” including the Tour de Trump, which was held in 1989 and 1990, and the Tour DuPont, which began in 1991 and ran until 1996, when DuPont dropped its sponsorship.
The five-year plan for the ESC would kick off with the Catskills Aqueduct Tour (CAT), a professional-level, four-day bike race in the most scenic and challenging regions of the Watershed area. That race would also establish prerequisites necessary to deem future events “points races,” which would make them eligible for entry on the international cycling calendar.
Following the inaugural race, each year the race will expand to include new areas of the state, though it will always begin or end in the Catskills “to maintain the focus on this area.”
Following the inaugural CAT race, proposed future courses could include: ESCape from New York, a race from Long Island to the Catskills; ESCape to the Mountains, from New York City to the Adirondacks to the Catskills; ESCape over the falls, from Niagara through Buffalo and through the Catskills and The Great ESCape, a statewide race covering all major areas of New York.
The fifth-year stage race is projected to rival similar events such as the Tour of California and the Tour de Georgia that draw millions of spectators and tourism dollars each year.
The race is anticipated to take place in September, when the international racing calendar has no conflicting events, and when the climate would be ideal for such an event in the Catskill Region. Organizers are aiming for 2010 to get the race off the ground, and estimate that it would take at least $2.5 million to get it going.
“We want to rally New Yorkers around a bike race worth winning,” Fitzgerald said. He cited the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing, prior to which the city will be enforcing a two-month construction ban in an attempt to reduce the pollution in the city and during which clean, safe drinking water will have to be pumped in.
This race, he said, “would be one to celebrate its environment, unlike the Olympics.”
He also cited the number of marketing opportunities, charity affiliations and community events that could surround such an event, including art contests, food fairs, events about litter and recycling awareness, music festivals, film festivals, bike expos, and children’s bike clinics.
“We’re trying to fine-tune the plan and get grassroots support,” he said. “Nothing like this ever happens without grassroots support. People say it’s too big. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I took it to another level and I did it on purpose, because I don’t think little ideas go anywhere.”
“I’m for green energy and I think cycling is a catalyst for that.”
A follow-up meeting will be scheduled at a future date; for more information, or to get involved, contact Jim Waters at 586-3054.