Blount County by bicycle

Tour unveils new routes, renewed optimism for 25th edition

The Tour de Blount bicycle rally passes through some of Blount County’s most scenic areas.

Sponsored by the Foothills Striders, the annual gathering had lost some of its relaxed, “family-friendly” atmosphere through the years with the group letting a third party operate the event, Striders cycling director Ernie Frey said. So, with this year’s edition, the club resumed full control.

Close to 350 riders left the Blount County Courthouse early last Saturday morning for rides of 25, 62 and 70 miles. Most came away pleased with the new routes the tour had to offer this year. There’s still some work to do to return the event to the 700 riders it drew for much of its first 25 years, Frey said, but Saturday’s ride was encouraging.

“What we found out, after we’d given it over to a promoter for a few years, was it didn’t have that personal touch the club wanted anymore,” Frey said. “So we decided to take it back.”

Most riders tackled the 25-mile distance, with fitter cyclists opting for the metric century. The hardiest of the lot went the distance, the 75-mile leg smasher coming complete with a trip over South Blount County’s infamous “Wall,” a 3-mile climb over Happy Valley Road at an average gradient of 13 percent.

The goal next year is to get the numbers back where they were, and that’ll require a little tweaking of some of the routes, Frey said, but, as the event enters its second 25 years, it’s full speed ahead.

“We need to make something that’s a little more family friendly,” he said, “and we need to get them off Wilkinson Pike and find another way to bring (the riders) back in to town.”

Reviving a committee that worked with local governments to help make Blount County more cycling friendly is the group’s next goal, Frey said.

“Hopefully, we’ll bring that committee back and get to some common ground,” he said.

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