Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bicycling: Tour de Paris... Texas

(ABOVE: Russ McCaskey and me pose for a CORNY picture.)

KJRH news anchor Russ McCaskey approached me a few weeks back about the possibility of riding bicycles through Paris. Ahhh, wow! Imagine the views of the Eiffel Tower, the vistas and city streets of downtown Paris. The idea of carving your way thru the city's historic structures while the Tour de France is also ongoing.

Well, maybe someday I can do the above in Paris, France. But for now, you can do all of those things in Paris, Texas...with the joy of 100 degree Texas heat!

Tour de Paris is a non-competitive bicycle ride which begins and ends in Paris, TX at the civic center.

Paris is less than 3 hours away from Tulsa, and it's the closest cycling event in Texas from Tulsa.

Scheduled the third Saturday in July, the ride's timing coincides with the Tour de France ongoing overseas.

About 1,000 cyclists participate in Tour de Paris with rides ranging from 20 to 68 miles. The 30 year old event has grown into a big deal for the town: We listened to local radio promoting it while signs and banners welcomed bicyclers.

Russ and me, along with his brother Lance chose the 57 miler, one of four lengths offered.

The ride begins on the south side of Paris near Love Civic Center. After a detour to circle downtown, the ride turns southwestward making a figure 8 pattern in rural Lamar county before returning to town.


About our day:

Russ and I left Tulsa near 4am and arrived in Paris for breakfast before 7am. We then drove to and registered at the Civic Center. It didn't take long to register.

The staging area for each distance was well marked on the street outside the civic center. Cyclists gathered accordingly.

Tour de Paris began sharply at 8am. Drummers from the high school band pounded out rhythms along the starting line. We were sweating before we started pedaling as the morning temperature was already a warm 78 degrees.

A clean start to the ride... Our herd of bicycles steered northward toward downtown.

This was really cool.... We circled the Paris city square as the downtown district embraced the ride.

Hundreds of locals gathered in downtown to watch us on our bicycles. Folks of all ages waved little American flags, and couples smiled from their lawn chairs-- I've never seen so many folks from the "general public" come out to watch a non-competitive ride! The cheery, parade-like atmosphere made me smile too.

After circling downtown we accelerated and headed toward the country.

(BELOW PICS: After a non-heart healthy breakfast and pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower (notice the cowboy hat on the tower), the Tour de Paris begins with a tour of Paris)

We left town, trekking southwest along State Highway 19/24. For safety, the highway was narrowed so that cyclists could enjoy a wide shoulder plus one lane of traffic-- we had no issues with cars the entire route. We left the highway after several miles and cycled down Farm to Market roads. (FM roads are secondary, mostly smooth roads.) Only local traffic was allowed, so we didn't feel like we were competing with cars.

Lots of police.... state, county and city officers protected highway intersections for the entire route- that's nice to see; you don't see that on every ride!

There were a bunch of rest stops! After the ride got into the country, stops were offered about every 7-10 miles (instead of every 10-15 miles like most events).

The stops were quite welcomed too as temperatures climbed. Local scouts, civic groups and churches volunteered....extremely well supported, very impressive! A few unmanned, intermediate stops also popped up.

The course was well marked. Easy to read signs and arrows pointed where to go. Signs also marked how far you were to the next rest stop.

We saw plenty of brown grass (see pics) and dry, rocky creeks due to the drought. The FM roads across the farmland offered little to no shade. Plenty of corn though!

Our 57 mile course was generally flat with only small rises and valleys. The middle 10 miles proved the most hilly, but the steepest climb registered only 4-6% grade. The climbs I'm used to around Tulsa can be tougher than 10-12%.

The biggest downhill was just after the mile 40 rest stop. I coasted to 32 mph during the near 100 foot drop. The last half of the ride heads generally north, so a south wind provided a tail wind.
At the half way mark my average speed was in my comfort zone of 17mph. Wind wasn't a big deal, but the heat was brutal. The temperature read out on my bike computer climbed toward the upper 80s by 10am.

The last 15 miles were the least fun. Our speed dropped as we melted in the heat. Temperatures climbed north of 90 degrees. The black asphalt did a fabulous job of absorbing sunlight and reflecting the heat into our face... not sure I've ever sweated so much! Russ and I agreed later that this was the highest index we've ever cycled.

(BELOW: Tour de Paris tours the countryside of Lamar county in northeast Texas. Cyclists are given the entire lane to ride. Officers make sure the intersections are bicycle friendly. Plenty of smiling faces at rest stops.)

The last rest stop was at mile 50, and we remained there the longest-- we really didn't want to leave the giant box fans and portable air conditioners!

Every support person seemed to enjoy the cycling atmosphere despite the heat. You could load up with plenty of ice, water, sports drinks and homemade snacks.

We continued to slow down (about 12-13 mph) during the last miles. Visible, rising thermals created wavy lines in our vision. It felt like riding across a fire pit! My on-board thermometer peaked at 108°! The temperature fluctuated as much as 10° depending on the color of the pavement.

We were briefly confused in the last miles as you are directed the "wrong way" (see below pic) on the shoulder. We rode back into town on Highway 19/24 going north in the southbound shoulder. Police and pylons kept cars separated from the bikes. This was done to prevent you from crossing the 75mph highway twice within a few miles. 

We finished the ride after nearly four hours. Cheerleaders from Paris High School celebrated and high-fived us at the finish line. Portable, outdoor, overhead sprinklers cooled us down in the civic center parking lot. Lance, Russ and me just stood there in the cool mist... we didn't want to leave!
The civic center offered a free lunch with smoothies after the ride. We enjoyed the air conditioning and gobbled up homemade burgers.


Overall, I give the Tour de Paris four out of five stars. The only demotion is that the generally flat terrain and open farmland isn't the most exciting. But overall, it's certainly more scenic than  "Hotter than Hell" in Wichita Falls.

Lets change the rating to a 4.5. The superb support, safety, smooth roads and smiling faces go along way-- I'll be back again. :)

Thanks for reading, George.


Event: Tour de Paris

When: third Saturday in July

Where: Paris, TX at Love Civic Center

Time: Mass start at 8am

Registration: on-line or on-site

Late registration: $35 (in 2011)

Course: mostly easy... flat course to easy rolling hills

Biggest climb: 100ft

Steepest climb: only 4-5%

Terrain: farmland, corn! very little shade

Timing/chipping/numbers: no timing. You wear numbers.

Restrooms: at Civic center for begin/end of ride. Porta-johns at rest stops.

You get: event t-shirt

Support: little provided-- change your own flat. Richardson BikeMart van was seen for big repairs.

Rest stops: very well supported! Pickle juice, fruit, homemade goodies. Water, sports drinks. Lots of volunteers Box fans to cool you down! Portable A/C at the last rest stops!

Traffic: no issues. Few to no cars on route. Local traffic only on FM roads.

End of ride: All you can eat burgers inside the air conditioned civic center.

Favorite things about the ride: high school band at starting line, circling downtown Paris in front of a crowd, the awesome rest stops with portable A/C, well marked course with police and sprinklers at end of ride.

 [On a unrelated personal note I remember Paris from years ago. Their high school defeated my high school (West Orange-Stark) in football for the 4A State Championship in 1988. I had a college friend named Jason Stephens who played for Paris, and he reminded me several times who won! (This is your Jason who played 3B for the Texas A&M baseball team if any Paris area folks are reading this.]

(BELOW: I've never seen dry creeks this far east. My thermometer registers 105° off the pavement at high Noon. Highway 19/24 is protected for cyclists. At the finish line, Lance, Russ and myself cooling down!)

(BELOW: Pickle juice!, An Aggie refusing shade under a Longhorn tent, and Russ McCaskey felt like death.)

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