When the Nogales Bicycle Classic launched eight years ago, its organizers didn’t have a special reason for choosing cycling over other outdoor fitness events.
“We just wanted to bring something new and exciting to Nogales, Arizona,” said Katalina Olea, who works for Circles of Peace, a local nonprofit domestic violence services program that organizes the race/ride and benefits from its proceeds.
Since then, the event has attracted hundreds of participants from both sides of the border and has become a confluence of serious bike racing and gran fondo fun riding with a finish line fiesta at the end.
“Our event originally started as a fun ride, but as the Nogales Bicycle Classic has grown, we have seen more and more professional riders participate,” Olea said. “So, you can expect a little of both. We have teams who use this event to race and compete with other teams and we have beginners who are trying to reach their own personal goals.”
The courses: ‘Everything a cyclist dreams about’
The Nogales Bicycle Classic courses, situated between two nature preserves, provide one of the most beautifully scenic routes in Arizona that you’ve likely never ridden before.
Starting out from Nogales, Ariz., you head northeast toward Patagonia on State Route 82. Every distance – 11, 20, 40, 60 and 87 miles – starts in this direction. Then at 5.5 miles, all but the 87 milers turn northwest toward Rio Rico.
The long-distance riders keep pedaling toward Patagonia before eventually coming back to turn toward Rio Rico as well. From there, it’s an out and back with varying distances.
Roads are closed to traffic in town, and farther out, Sheriff’s deputies aid in protecting cyclists from vehicles.
Edgardo Muñoz (0S3 Movement and 0S3 Reptilians Cycling Team), whose team will ride in its fifth Nogales Bicycle Classic, describes the course as fun and challenging.
“This course has everything a cyclist dreams about, [which is] what makes it very attractive and desirable,” Muñoz said. “The first 3 miles are powerful, and it would be good to know that you have to manage your energy well because this road has everything – fluid drops and heavy slopes, excellent straight roads for a good sprint.”
The atmosphere: ‘A huge fiesta!’
With the twin cities of Nogales, Ariz. and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico situated right next to each other, coming together for a big finish line party is a given.
Local vendors serve up food you can’t wait to stuff in your face after a ride – street tacos, Sonoran-style hot dogs, and don’t worry, you can find healthy items too – almost everything at the “Little” Mercado Farmer’s Market in Nogales, Ariz. is organic and freshly made.
“Nogales Bicycle Classic has become a huge fiesta!” Olea said. “With people from Nogales, Mexico and Nogales, Arizona, the party is up and going early in the morning till the afternoon.”
The event also has helped pump life back into Nogales, Ariz.’s historic downtown, Olea said, bringing patrons to the “Little” Mercado Farmer’s Market where you can find authentic food like pastries, salsa, tortillas, jellies, tamales and queso fresco. They also have handmade purses and soaps.
Riding in the Nogales Bicycle Classic also is an opportunity to practice your Spanish skills in a welcoming and bilingual environment where you can gain cultural experience and make new friends, Olea said. And if you bring your passport, you can walk across the border and go shopping for authentic Mexican gifts.
“This event takes place and truly begins in a border city,” Muñoz said. “The course is in the county of Santa Cruz with a wonderful typographical diversity and cultural experience that would be very interesting for a cyclist who does not know this region. The fun and entertainment are 100 percent guaranteed.”
The cause: Ending domestic violence with Circles of Peace
The Nogales Bicycle Classic is also tied to an important cause: ending domestic violence.
Circles of Peace, the nonprofit organization who promotes the ride, benefits from your registration fees to rehabilitate domestic violence offenders, making it less likely they will become repeat offenders.
“We want participants to know that their own community is here to offer support and bring to light that these offenses not only affect their relationship, but their community as well,” Olea said.
Through their programs like Therapeutic Pretrial Justice and Restorative Justice Circle, Circles of Peace works directly with domestic violence offenders. They make sure offenders attend their court dates and avoid new criminal activity and help them enroll in substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment or school. They also offer a “circle,” similar to a support group, that includes members from the organization, community and other offenders.
Although its main focus is domestic violence, Circles of Peace doesn’t stop there when it comes to real work that makes communities better; in their Entre Amigas program, they work with women and families to strengthen communication and they have a preventative specialist who works with local schools to keep kids away from drugs.
They also play a big role in social justice for a variety of offenders with an overarching goal of breaking the cycle of individuals falling into the criminal justice system.
When you register for the Nogales Bicycle Classic, you have an option to make an impact with an additional donation to Circles of Peace. Your donation will strengthen families, help end domestic violence and promote social justice.
Photos by Precious Dreams Photography, Santos Yescas and Carlos Valdez Medina.