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Marshalltown rolled out red carpet for RAGBRAI XL

Town enthusiastically greeted thousands of visitors

December 30, 2012
By MIKE DONAHEY - Staff Writer (mdonahey@timesrepublican.com) , Times-Republican

RAGBRAI rolled into Marshalltown July 26 for an overnight stop along with a crowd estimated at between 22,000 to 25,000 people. Made up of bicyclists, drivers of support vehicles, law enforcement personnel and others - they began arriving early in the morning to rest and recreate.

Many veteran and non-veteran cyclists alike immediately headed for the shade, showers or air conditioning to cool off, despite leaving at the crack of dawn from Webster City.

The day was hot and humid - typical of many days in the summer of 2012.

Article Photos

T-R FILE PHOTO
A RAGBRAI XL rider is shown giving a “thumbs up” signal as others follow into Marshalltown, July 25. The event brought an estimated 22,000 to 25,000 visitors, according to Shannon Espenscheid, director, Marshalltown Convention & Visitors Bureau. The total included cyclists, support teams and law enforcement.

"You can train for the mileage, hills and everything else connected with RAGBRAI except the heat and wind," Bruce Gelhorn of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada said while sitting under a shade tree in Anson Park. Joining Gelhorn is his assessment of the 100-degree temperatures and strong winds which confronted riders since Monday - the ride's first day - were Gelhorn's teammates from various Canadian locales.

Despite the heat, many of the riders and locals congregated at the courthouse square for entertainment.

However, a severe thunderstorm hit at approximately 8:45 p.m., sending those outdoors at the courthouse lawn seeking shelter.

Many were waiting for the Little River Band to play - the group headlining the day's entertainment activities.

But it was not to be.

The storm's winds and lightning were dangerous and the act - despite being moved up one hour - was canceled for safety reasons.

RAGBRAI riders who were camping out around town were sent to shelters at their campsites and also shuttled by bus to safe havens including the Coliseum, Salvation Army and local churches.

No one was injured, but strong winds dislodged a number of tents at Riverview Park, Central Iowa Fairgrounds and elsewhere.

The riders, who had fought intense heat, humidity and high winds since day one, took the storm in stride.

"We were hoping it (the storm) would hold off and come after midnight, said Shannon Espenscheid, director of the Marshalltown Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We're disappointed but we wanted to make sure everyone was safe."

Marshalltown had hosted RAGBRAI on two previous occasions, but RAGBRAI XL was the largest and many of the riders were in a festive mood.

It was RAGBRAI XL - celebrating the 40th running of the event started in 1972 Des Moines Register columnists Donald Kaul and John Karras, along with a group of other hardy souls, who made the first trek on bicycles across Iowa.

The event grew and grew in popularity, attracting rookie and serious bicyclists alike, from all over the U.S. and beyond.

RAGBRAI evolved into a state icon, taking its place among the state's noted corn, cattle, hogs and soybeans.

A local super committee of appropriately, 40, headed by Espenscheid and four committee co-chairs began meeting shortly after Marshalltown was awarded overnight status earlier in the year.

The committee and 400 volunteers worked aggressively to ensure the cyclists and support teams had a pleasant and safe time

Hundreds of Marshalltownians rolled out their versions of a red carpet by greeting the cyclists, handing out water, playing music or waving as they came into town.

"The people in Iowa are the nicest people you will ever meet," said rider Randy Frey, of Indianapolis.

Frey was riding with his 19-year-old daughter, Abigail.

Both said cycling is a great way to see Iowa's rolling hills and windmills.

There would be plenty of cold water, food and music for all until the last riders departed Marshalltown July 27 headed for Cedar Rapids.

Espenscheid said she was grateful for the town's support.

"Everything came together, thanks to the work of several city departments and a host of volunteers," she said. "We heard many compliments from the riders about how well we were prepared. We had a great time and we would do it again."

Espenscheid said the committee budgeted $100,000 for the event and "ended up in the black."

Part of event revenue was an $8,000 donation by the Register.

City Administrator Randy Wetmore echoed Espenscheid's remarks.

"The police, street and parks and recreation departments all had major responsibilities with RAGBRAI and handled them well," he said. "Every rider I met was courteous, and many complimented Marshalltown on our hospitality and preparedness. I was impressed with the commitment by many of the volunteers from beginning to end."

Dakota Curley of Marshalltown may wish RAGBRAI stopped every year.

Curley won $350 in the RAGBRAI XL kid's art contest.

He designed and assembled a 3-D sculpture.

"I was surprised and happy," he said.

Dakota's colorful work featured the historic Marshall County Courthouse, public library, a bike path with rider and a baseball diamond with players.

A banner over the library read: "Marshalltown, you are my friend."

 
 

 

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