Despite a gloomy economic climate, El Tour de Tucson officials have been pleased with registration numbers for Saturday's bicycle events.
As of Thursday evening, 8,000 had registered for the 28th annual El Tour events, which include rides of 109, 79, 66 and 40 miles. The trademark 109-mile ride circles the perimeter of Tucson and will begin and finish downtown at Church Avenue between Alameda and Pennington streets.
"Considering the economy, it's very good," Perimeter Bicycling president and CEO Richard DeBernardis said of the figures.
Last year, 8,245 cyclists participated for the fourth-highest total.
Once again, the event has attracted a talented field. For the last three years, a rider from the P&S Specialized team from Hermosillo has won the 109-mile ride. Last year, Rafael Escarcega finished first in 4 hours 17 minutes 5 seconds. David Salomon won in 2008, and Carlos Hernandez was victorious in 2007. Those three are expected back.
Also returning is 2009 women's champion Robin Farina of Charlotte, N.C. She placed first in 4 hours 31 minutes 9 seconds and will be riding for Team Vera Bradley Foundation.
"I really love what El Tour is all about, the philanthropies it touches," Farina said. "It's about growing the cycling community, awareness. It's one of the biggest rides in the country, so it brings people from all over."
The 2008 women's champion Erica Allar also will ride Saturday and has moved to Tucson from Fogelsville, Pa. She did not finish last year's race because of a mechanical problem.
"I was very disappointed and am looking forward to Saturday's ride and hopefully won't encounter any more bad luck," she said.
Other top cyclists expected are Rahsaan Bahati, the 2008 U.S. Pro Criterium National Champion, Kirk Carlsen and Ron Jensen and three-time El Tour champion Jame Carney.
"It looks like it's going to be a sunny day and not too hot but pretty windy, and we're all racing for Ride Clean, so hopefully we'll be able to put a good challenge for the team Mexico," Carney said. "They're really good."
• What: El Tour de Tucson bicycle race (109, 79, 66 and 40 miles)
• Where: Around the perimeter of Tucson
• When: Saturday
• More info: perimeterbicycling.com