TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Preparations for the 35th annual El Tour de Tucson are underway. It's one of the largest road bicycling events in the United States.
Tucson News Now has learned the racing attendance numbers are down this year.
El Tour President Richard DeBernardis said they were hoping to break a record of having 9,200 cyclists but this year they're looking at 7,000 riders for the outdoor race. He believes the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida may have played a role in the lower turnout. The race attracts riders from all over the world. One racer just got to Tucson from Italy.
"We changed two planes, from Bologna to Heathrow (Airport in London); Heathrow to Phoenix; and then we rented a car to drive down to Tucson," cyclist Silvia Pasolini said.
The historic ride brings in big names. Among the riders will be Nelson Vails, the first African American to win an Olympic medal in cycling for the U.S. But he said he won't be in race mode on Saturday.
"With my talent, it's nice to ride with the recreational side of the people now and I'll offer some cycling tips," Vails said.
Amateur riders are also gearing up for the race.
"A group of us are getting together to eat pasta. I understand you have to carb-load the night before," cyclist Carla Carpenter said.
One Tucson cyclist will be tackling the 106-mile course for the first time and will have one goal on his mind.
"Ah, just finishing," Matt Nelson said.
Lauren Jones, half of a father-daughter duo riding a tandem bike in the 54-mile race said, "I'm hoping I don't get too tired."
When it was suggested she could put her feet up and have Dad take over, she said, "Yeah usually!"
DeBernardis said security and keeping both spectators and cyclists safe is a top priority, especially in light of recent events around the country.
"We have anywhere between 350 to 400 police officers all over the route – every place," DeBernardis said.
Everyone is looking forward to a fast and fun ride.
"Just everyone bring your smile and enjoy it with your family," Vails said.
Last year cyclists in El Tour raised more than $12 million for 45 nonprofit organizations. Event organizers are hoping to generate between $8 million and $10 million for charities this year.