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Friday, September 19, 2008

Tour de Coal slated for Sept. 27

The Coal Country Chamber of Commerce will present the 3rd annual Tour de Coal Bicycle Ride on Saturday, Sept. 27, in Benld, Ill.

The Tour de Coal is for riders of all ages and abilities who have an interest in cycling in the Macoupin County area. As a native of Macoupin County, I'm proud to do what I can to promote cycling in the county. Many people are trying to develop trails in the county, with the long-term goal of creating a network of bicycle trails that will link St. Louis to Springfield, Ill.

Registration will be from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. at Benld Elementary School, 100 E Dorsey St. in Benld, on the morning of the event. Day-of-ride registration costs $20 per person or $50 for a household of three or more people, but you can save money by signing up in advance by mail or through Active.com. Pre-registration is $15 per person or $40 for a household of three or more. You can fill out a form at the Tour de Coal Web site, and registration fliers are available at many St. Louis-area bicycle shops.

Choose from a 15-mile family ride, a mid-length 30-mile ride or a metric century. The terrain is flat to rolling with some hills in the rural countryside surrounding Benld and Gillespie. The Benld-Gillespie area is about 50 miles north of St. Louis, roughly halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, Ill.

This year's metric century route is a bit different than in the past. The course will head north of Gillespie, then south through Dorchester, Bunker Hill, Staunton and Mount Olive. For the most part, the route between Staunton and Mount Olive will be on an old alignment of Route 66, and the course passes the gravesite of Mother Jones, a major labor leader in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Last year, ride organizers were disappointed that many of the roads were freshly oil-and-chipped in the days before the ride. This year, we have received commitments from township highway supervisors that fresh oil-and-chip will not be placed on the roads in the days before the ride. (Note: This is not an absolute guarantee, but every effort has been made to avoid the problems we faced last year.) Although new oil-and-chip will be placed on a couple of the roads early this month, they should be packed down enough by the end of the month that cyclists will be able to safely navigate the course.

The ride will be held in conjunction with the 10th annual Fall Festival held at the Benld City Park, a family-oriented festival.

Proceeds from Tour de Coal and the Fall Festival will be used for community projects in Benld, Gillespie and other nearby communities.

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