Even with the oppressive Georgia heat, July remains many a cycling fan’s favorite time of year.
“This particular time of the year is a magical one for cyclists,” laughed local attorney and cyclist Jim Ellington, “with the biggest bicycle race going on in France right now.”
Ellington is, of course, talking about the Tour de France, a 21-stage race taking place over 23 days. Teams of professional cyclists will cover a wide array of terrains and about 2,000 miles during the race, which turns the serene French countryside into something resembling a brightly colored circus.
Most amateur cyclists and sports fans dream of seeing a Tour de France stage in person, but Ellington and other members of local cycling advocacy group Wheel Movement know that’s not always possible. So, last year, they decided to hold their own celebration called Taste of the Tour.
“People can’t necessarily travel to France to enjoy all the festivities that go along with the Tour de France, so what we’ve done is put together a little gathering which will allow us to perhaps introduce people to cycling, but we wanted to focus on some of the wines that are available along the route this year and have a food and wine pairing,” Ellington, president of Wheel Movement, said. “We think it’s a great opportunity to gather together and celebrate the sport and celebrate the many things that can be enjoyed about the sport.”
This year’s Taste of the Tour is coming up on Saturday, July 23, and Wheel Movement member and Augusta Canal Authority employee Russell Foster is chair and organizer of the event that will be held at the Enterprise Mill Discovery Center. Foster said that while the event definitely has a cycling theme, those attending definitely don’t have to be cyclists to enjoy it.
“You just have to like wine and people and food,” he said. “I suppose if you’re an introvert this might not be your event, but the wine could loosen you up.”
This year, the four wines included in the tasting are not only from France, but they’re from wineries located along the Tour de France’s route. A white, a sparkling, a red and a dessert wine will all be included and, once they were chosen, they were sent to Chef Havird Usry of Fat Man’s so he could come up with food pairings.
As participants in the event approach each station, they’ll find out about the wines, the food and the stage of the race that took riders past the winery.
Of course, they riders will have already passed each of the stages. In fact, the Tour de France will, for all intents and purposes, be over the night the Taste of the Tour is held. The final day of the race is Sunday, July 24, but it consists of riding into Paris and, except for the final sprint, is a mere formality for the riders. The last real day of racing is Saturday.
“The event itself is the same day as the penultimate day of the tour, so essentially, if you’re an avid cyclist and you care about the tour, you already know who has won,” Foster said. “But we’ll DVR it and it’ll be playing in the theatre we have here. That ended up being really popular last year, and there were 30 or 40 people in there watching it on the huge screen.”
Money raised from Taste of the Tour will go to help fund the programs and initiatives of Wheel Movement, which Randy DuTeau founded in 2010 after his good friend Dr. Matthew Burke died after being struck by an SUV driven by Daniel Johnson while on a group ride. Four other cyclists were injured, and Burke was in a coma for several months between the time of the wreck and his death.
Johnson receive a 90-day jail sentence, followed by five years probation and a suspended drivers license.
Around that same time, DuTeau said, the CSRA was beginning to benefit from hosting a number of cycling events like the International Mountain Biking Association Summit and Ironman 70.3 Augusta. Still, there was a segment of the area’s population that didn’t care for cyclists.
“The word that always kind of stuck in my mind was when someone referred to cyclists as lycra-clad eco-terrorists,” he said of some of the comments surrounding Burke’s death. “There was just such a deep-seeded resentment toward people who road bicycles. When there’s this nasty tone, then people have resentment toward cyclists so they’re going to take less care, try to buzz cyclists. We wanted to be smart about how we promoted cycling and cycling safety.”
The aim of Wheel Movement is to promote and support the local cycling community through education, outreach and advocacy.
“Education was real important to us,” he said. “We wanted to educate the public about the laws of cycling but then also, at the same time, make sure cyclists understood what their role was in safe cycling. In Matt’s case it was strictly on the driver, but, at the same time, it doesn’t give cyclists permission to go out and not pay attention to laws.”
The fact of the matter is bicycles are vehicles and, as such, have every legal right to be on the road. Ellington, who went to one of Wheel Movement’s early community meetings and got involved when they asked if there was a lawyer in the room, said that cyclists are required to follow the same rules as cars are.
“Bicycles are vehicles, held to the same rules of the road that those who drive cars or trucks are required to follow,” he explained. “Yes, we are vehicles out there, and I mean cyclists.”
And though, in Georgia, the law only requires helmets up to age 16 (South Carolina doesn’t require helmets at all), Ellington thinks that helmets should be worn by everyone.
“I think it is incumbent on parents to make sure their kids use bicycle helmets when they ride their bikes and, not only that, for parents to be good examples for their children and use bicycle helmets when they ride their bikes as well,” he said. “I have two friends who would be severely injured today had it not been for bicycle helmets and it’s something that takes very little effort to put on your head and make sure it’s properly used. In fact, we’ve had several kids cycling clinics where we try and make sure that kids and parents are properly instructed on the importance of wearing helmets.”
These are the kinds of outreach and educational programs Wheel Movement focuses on. In the future, they’d like to work on becoming a certified bicycle friendly community through the League of American Bicyclists and help update the area’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.
Right now, though, they just want to focus on having a great time while celebrating one of the biggest cycling events in the world.
“It’s great that we can put the organization out there and people who may not know about us will get exposed,” DuTeau said. “But, at the same time, if you’re someone who just likes great food and loves great wine, you can come and it’s not so cycling centric that you can’t just go in there and have a really good time.”
Taste of the Tour is at the Enterprise Mill Discovery Center Saturday, July 23, from 7-9 p.m. It is $40, singles; $75, couples, with a deadline of Wednesday, July 20, to purchase tickets. Visit tasteofthetour2016.eventbrite.com/.
What’s on the menu?
Taste of the Tour will feature four French wines, picked because they come from regions of the country through which the Tour de France passes. Chef Havird Usry of Fat Man’s Mill Café then created a dish to go with each of the wines.
At the event, guests will be offered wine and food and will have a chance to see which stage of the Tour de France went through the region from which the wine came. Here’s what they can expect.
Wine: Louis Latour Pouilly Fuisee (Chardonnay)
Dish: Fig and prosciutto flatbread
Tour Stage: Moirans En-Montagne to Berne (16)
Wine: Clos de Quarterons Cremant de Loire (80 percent Chenin Blanc, 20 percent Chardonnay, sparkling)
Dish: Atlantic blue crab and herb stuffed mushrooms
Tour Stage: Saumur to Limoges (4)
Wine: Chateau Beaucastel Coudoulet de Beaucastel en Primeur Rouge (30 percent Grenache, 30 percent Mourvedre, 20 percent Syrah, 20 percent Cinsault)
Dish: Smokey pulled pork samosa with South Carolina peach barbecue sauce
Tour Stage: Montpellier to Mont Ventoux (12)
Wine: M. Chapoutier Banyuls (Grenache, dessert)
Dish: Turtle caramel drizzled brownie
Tour Stage: Carcassonne to Montpellier (11)