Photo: Cyclists check out the Tour de Hernando race course in a recent pre-ride. (Courtesy photo)
Competitive cycling comes to DeSoto County for the first time the weekend of June 24-25 with the inaugural Tour de Hernando.
On Saturday, June 24 cyclists will be riding the roads around Grays Creek Baptist Church near Hernando for races in several categories and distances. Sunday, June 25 the event moves to Hernando Hills Elementary School and a closed course there where the action becomes more “high octane” and fast, considered more spectator friendly.
Organizer Shawn McKinney said the race is attracting a lot of interest as it will be the only road cycling race in the Memphis and Mid-South area this year.
“The Memphis area is one of the largest endurance sports communities as far as athletes in general,” McKinney said. “Right now we have about 60 participants total and we’re hoping to have about 120-150 take part for the Saturday race and the Sunday race.”
And the number, if it sounds low, may be because the road racing the Tour de Hernando event will feature is a unique brand of sporting event. But it’s a good number for a first-time race for McKinney.
“This type of racing is specialized and unique so it’s not like you’ll get a huge turnout like you might with some of the other types of races,” McKinney said. “We’ll have 10 different groups throughout the day racing different distances specific to their race category.”
The Saturday course is a nine-mile loop on county roads south of Grays Creek Baptist Church and is considered a road race-style event. McKinney said cycling, while appearing to be individual, can be a team sport with certain cyclists doing certain things during the race for the team, such as pace, sprinting, or attacking through and breaking up other team groups.
Tour de Hernando has been about four months in planning and support from the county and city has been welcomed.
“On Saturday we have the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department involved,” McKinney said. “The course has three major turns and there will be a traffic officer at each of the turns to keep the cyclists safe. In addition to the traffic cops, each of the groups on the race course will have a ‘follow truck’ following the whole group to protect the back of them.”
McKinney said that road races are becoming more rare because it’s become more challenging to navigate those race routes and getting support from the city or county.
“This has been well-received and so we are very much looking forward to doing this again next year and to grow it to be more successful next year,” he said.
For McKinney, the event continues his interest and passion for what he calls “endurance sports.” He’s done triathlons, events that feature cycling, swimming and running, and he’s hosted bike events for youngsters before.
“Cycling was always my favorite of the triathlon sports and I’ve shifted my focus over the years toward cycling,” McKinney said.
Registration for Tour de Hernando is done online at the Bike Registration website and more information is found on the Tour de Hernando Facebook page.