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Challenge Start In Westport A Win For Riders

WESTPORT, Conn. – The Connecticut Challenge moved its start and finish point for last year’s ride to the Fairfield County Hunt Club in Westport. The transition was a win-win for riders and organizers.

In addition to more parking and a larger facility, cyclists in the 50-mile ride now finish downhill. Riders in the 10- and 25-mile rides find the hill in the middle. In previous years, when the race started at Greenfield Hills Church in Fairfield, riders finished riding up the same hill. The eighth edition of the annual ride begins at 7 a.m. Saturday.

“The riders loved it,’’ said Bob Mazzone, the chief operating officer of the Connecticut Challenge. “It made sense to flip the course. It all worked out beautifully. Most of the casual riders aren't accustomed to grinding it out on hills.”

If a cyclist wants hills, however, he or she can find them on the 75- and 100-mile rides in the event. The 100-miler has been billed “New England’s Toughest Century.”

“The 100-mile course has stayed the same for the most part,’’ Mazzone said. “We've made some tweaks over the year for safety reasons. We’re trying to make it an attractive course, and we’re trying to ride on relatively quiet roads. They tend to be hilly, but we want it be safe, too. We don’t want narrow roads that go downhill to a stop sign.”

In the first few years, some riders said the race was too hard. Since then, however, riders seem to enjoy the challenge. “We can’t change the hills, we can’t move the roads,’’ Mazzone said. “We just tell people it’s the hardest century in New England so people know what they’re getting into. Since we've given it that nickname, people seem to embrace it.”

Ridership in the event has grown steadily, with nearly 1,100 cyclists expected this year. Nearly 250 of them participate in the 100-mile event. With the move last year, Mazzone said the event has room for growth. In the end, however, the goal is raise money for cancer survivorship programs.

“The number of riders is not as important as the amount we raised,’’ Mazzone said. “We had about $1.5 million last year, and I think we’ll be right there again this year.”

Riders still can register for the event at bike.ctchallenge.org.

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