In its 40th year, RAGBRAI will take more than 10,000 bike riders over the hill — several, actually — in a more leisurely route promising less legwork than last year but just as many memories.
The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — the world’s oldest, largest and longest tour of its kind — begins this year in Sioux Center and ends 471 miles later in Clinton.
In between, riders will stop overnight in Cherokee, Lake View, Webster City, Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids and Anamosa.
RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz described the massive undertaking as a state-wide celebration that connects riders from around the world with the hospitality and culture of Iowa.
“There are no beaches. No mountains,” he said. “We’re riding through corn and bean fields. And that’s OK, because when we come into these towns, it feels like you won the Tour de France.”
No word yet on whether past Tour de France winners and RAGBRAI participants Lance Armstrong and Greg LaMond will join in, but Juskiewicz expects about 60 percent of the riders to be from places outside Iowa, including some 20 countries.
This year’s ride is July 21-28.
The festival on wheels carries an economic boost for host cities, too. Juskiewicz said an economic study from the University of Northern Iowa two years ago found the festival brings $24 million in new spending to Iowa, or $3 million for each hosting town.
The event’s theme this year is “Celebrating 40 Years of Iowa,” and its less-intensive route should afford space to pause and reflect: The route is the 18th-shortest in RABRAI history and the 11th-flattest. Only eight routes since the ride’s 1973 inception have been easier.
Don’t expect it to be a total joyride, though: While riders of all ages and skill levels take part in RAGBRAI (the average age is 45), organizers discourage the untrained. Many participants, Juskiewicz said, will start prepping today.
Riders entering Webster City on July 24 will find a long-delayed homecoming: The city hasn’t hosted RAGBRAI since 1980 — 32 years ago. Cedar Rapids, the largest overnight town on the list, hasn’t put up riders since a 2008 flood ravaged the town in what some called “a tsunami of the prairie.”
While the precise number of towns that riders will pass through on their river-to-river run won’t be released until March, here’s what’s known about the route: Riders should pace themselves for the stretch between Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids. It will be their hilliest day with a 3,576-foot climb. At 84.8 miles, it will also be the longest.
Returning riders should feel confident, though; Despite a shorter distance, last year’s route featured more hill-climbing on day one than this year’s route does in the first three days.
Day-to-day breakdown of the route:
SIOUX CENTER, SATURDAY, JULY 21
The Siouxland town of 7,048 hosts RAGBRAI for the fourth time and the first time since 2002. It’s the home of Dordt College, a private liberal arts school, as well as the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra. Oh, and remember Vern Den Herder, the Miami Dolphins defensive end from the team’s 1972 undefeated season? That’s right: A Sioux Center native.
CHEROKEE, SUNDAY, JULY 22
Riders will first rest their weary legs in this northwestern Iowa town of 5,253 residents in the Little Sioux River Valley. The eponymous county seat, it hosts the Cherokee Fair, Cherokee Rodeo and a Jazz and Blues festival every year. It hasn’t hosted RAGBRAI, however, since 2002. Astronomically inclined riders will enjoy the town’s Sanform Museum and Planetarium, which features new events each month.
LAKE VIEW, MONDAY, JULY 23
Lake View is easily the smallest of small-town Iowa featured in this year’s RAGBRAI. The town’s a popular tourist destination, but its true population tallies at 1,142. Participants preferring a little off-road time can get lost on the Sauk Rail Trail, a 33-mile path between nearby Carroll’s Swan Lake and Black Hawk Lake, the nation’s southern-most natural glacial lake. The State of Iowa named Lake View its 2011 Tourism Community of the Year.
WEBSTER CITY, TUESDAY, JULY 24
RAGBRAI bicyclists rode through this 8,070-person town in 1994, but haven’t stopped to say hello since 1980. The seat of Hamilton County, Webster City sits along north-central Iowa’s Boone River and features numerous county parks connected by a multipurpose trail. The town annually hosts another two-wheeled traveler — the Doodle Bug motor-scooter — where they were produced in the 1940s.
MARSHALLTOWN, WEDNESDAY, JULY 25
This population 27,552 town is a relative metropolis on this year’s route. Riders needing calories to burn can visit the original Taylor’s Maid-Rite restaurant for a loose meat sandwich or Lillie Mae Chocolates for something sweeter. Fans of the non-edible arts can see sculptures at the Iowa Veterans Home or Impressionist paintings at the Fisher Community Center Art Gallery. Marshalltown hosts the ride for its fourth time in 2012, the first since 2004.
CEDAR RAPIDS, THURSDAY, JULY 26
The bright lights and big city of Cedar Rapids will lure in riders for the first time in 22 years. The Czech-heritage city is still recovering from 2008 flooding that saw the Cedar River rise to more than 31 feet. Several big names saw their start in Cedar Rapids, including PGA champ Zach Johnson, NFL Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner and actor Ashton Kutcher, who can be seen on television’s “Two and a Half Men” and in camera commercials.
ANAMOSA, FRIDAY, JULY 27
The Wapsipinicon River, called “Wapsi” by weary tongues, runs through this southeastern Iowa town of 5,533. By this point in the week, riders may yearn for the motorized bikes displayed at the National Motorcycle Museum. The town is also the birthplace of “American Gothic” painter Grant Wood and hosts a yearly festival honoring him. Anamosa hosted RAGBRAI two previous times, in 1991 and 2002.
CLINTON, SATURDAY, JULY 28
The 26,885 residents of Clinton open their city to riders for the fifth time. Riders dipped their tires in the Mississippi River here in 1978, 1985, 1994 and 2004. A Vision Iowa grant upped the beauty of the Riverview Park in Clinton, one of the first cities honored by the Department of Cultural Affair’s “Iowa Great Places” program. Finishing riders who’d rather see others hustle for a change can catch the minor-league baseball of the Clinton Lumberkings. They’re slated for a 6 p.m. ballgame.