On Sunday, a collection of bicycling teams will carry on a ride that has raised money – and awareness – for diabetes research and prevention for a quarter century.
Some 2,000 cyclists are scheduled to enter the annual Napa Valley Tour de Cure, which begins at 6:45 a.m. at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville. Embarking on routes from 10 to 100 miles through the wine country and as far as Sonoma County, the riders will be culminating an annual fundraising effort – one of the oldest of about 80 Tour de Cure events nationwide – which organizers say will produce at least $1 million locally for the American Diabetes Association.
The Napa County ride has attracted devoted local volunteers like Jamie Taylor-Priess, who began helping at the event shortly after she was diagnosed with diabetes in 2010 at age 36. Originally a helper with event-day registration and other duties, she first took to the course in May 2015, training for several months to pedal the longest, 100-mile loop as one of the Tour’s Red Riders, the estimated 10 percent of cyclists who are diabetic.
“At the end it was a wonderful feeling, to know I accomplished my goal,” Taylor-Priess, a Napa resident who has raised more than $14,800 in donations this year, recalled Wednesday. “It wasn’t easy; it was a long day, but I did it. That was the most rewarding feeling – not just thinking that I can, but knowing I can.
“I have family and close friends with diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2. So I ride for friends and family; they are my inspiration. Being diabetic myself, I do everything that I can.”
“For me, it’s about the people who have diabetes who are involved with the event, the 10 percent of riders with diabetes,” said Tom Hall, the Napa Valley Tour coordinator who has worked with the event for 17 years. “We have a few of those people for whom the event has really made a difference in their lives, people who have been turned on by cycling and exercise – where it’s made an important lifestyle difference for them.”
Launched in 1991 with four rides, the Tour de Cure circuit now includes local events that featured more than 60,000 riders in 44 states in 2014, raising $29 million, according to the diabetes association. Those signing up to ride are given online tools to promote the event to relatives, friends and others, enabling them to make donations the nonprofit uses for its diabetes research, prevention and educational programs.
Riders can choose courses of five different lengths, from an abbreviated 10-mile circuit around the Yountville Hills to a full 100-mile loop extending Upvalley and through Healdsburg and Jimtown in Sonoma County before returning to Yountville.
Looking after the welfare of cyclists is the job of another Napan, Tom MacDonald, who has volunteered at the Napa Valley Tour for 17 years.
“We prepare things so nothing goes wrong, and then act if it does,” said MacDonald, who directs the Yountville event’s operations center. “We set up multiple lines of communication for when something goes wrong on the course – whether it’s a flat tire or rider exhaustion.”
A former logistics worker for United Airlines, MacDonald said he draws on that experience to help volunteers look after hundreds of cyclists. Using ham radio, cellphones and GPS apps, his team identifies riders in distress and helps deploy support vehicles to come to their aid.
Though a non-rider who laughingly admitted he “would even think twice about trying the 10-mile course,” MacDonald, a diabetic, has steadily devoted more time to the Tour de Cure since moving to Napa in 2001 and now starts the ride’s support planning each August, several months in advance.
“When I was first diagnosed, this seemed the right thing to do,” he said.