COLUMBIANA-Motorists passing through Columbiana County on Saturday will have some company. They will share the road with hundreds of pro and amateur cyclists as the fifth annual Tour of the Valley makes its return.
The race, which is put on by the Appalachian Bicycle Racing Association, is the largest competitive cycling event in Ohio, routinely drawing in the neighborhood of 400 participants over the course of three days.
After taking part in time trials on Friday at the Mastropierto Winery in Ellsworth Township, racers will move into Columbiana County on Saturday for the event's road race, before finishing up Sunday with a one-mile criterium course through downtown Youngstown.
ABRA Race Director J.R. Petsko runs dozens of races during the summer throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but said this one stands out from the rest.
"I feel the Tour of the Valley definitely is the biggest race we put on," Petsko said. "It's a three-day event that requires a number of volenteers and provides a great showcase for the area as a whole."
Saturday's race promises to be the event's most gruling stretch, covering 26 miles of winding, hilly road.
Racers will begin in the parking lot at Columbiana High School and ride south towards Lisbon before turning north through East Fairfield and New Waterford and eventually winding up back at the high school.
"We feel the road course through Columbiana County provides a nice test," Petsko said. "The are several good-sized hills."
Columbiana has served as the start and finish line for all four of the previous races. Prior to last year, racers began and completed their day running down Main Street, before heavy construction forced everyone to the high school last year. Petsko said things ran so smoothly that it was decided to stage the event there again this year.
"Starting at the high school seems to work out better for everybody," Petsko said. "We don't interfere nearly as much with traffic and we are still really close to downtown if the racers want to go eat after finishng up. That part is really big for local businesses."
Petsko also said that a cooperative relationship with local government has made Columbiana an ideal staging area.
"I have found coordinating with the police in Columbiana and New Waterford to be very easy," Petsko said. "The local government has also been more than willing to assist us with EMS and everything else we might need. They also do a nice job at getting the word out to motorists who may want to avoid the area."
Petsko said that while most of the nearly 400 entries will be pro cyclists, he expects a handful of local enthusiasts to also sign up.
"We ususally get about 40 to 50 avid local cyclists that enter," Petsko said. "It's always great to see people who might not have played competive sports since high school come out and compete."
Registration will be open until 15 minutes prior to any of the three events. Anyone looking for more information can visit tourofthevalley.com.