Larry Rhoton did finish his first foray at Tour de Palm Springs, but he admits with a smile that there were not too many witnesses. “They were rolling up the event when I finally managed to finish,” says Rhoton, a realtor with Re/Max consultants in Palm Desert.
The 60-year-old Palm Desert realtor first rode in the event in 2003, setting his sights that year on “a century” — the Tour’s 100-mile ride. (There are also 9-mile, 26-mile, and 51-mile rides.) And he made it … though it did take him nine-plus hours.
Rhoton hasn’t missed a year since that debut 16 years ago. He’s ready to tackle the 2019 edition set for Feb. 9 in downtown Palm Springs. That personal challenge is one reason he keeps coming back.
“There’s something for everybody, in terms of the physical test of the ride,” he says. “You can pick what pushes you. Go for the next distance up, for instance: if you can do 9 miles, try for the 26-miler. And if you want to try for the 100-miler, it’s good to know that it’s a ride with a minimal amount of climbing involved.”
Rhoton’s loyalty to the Tour is also due to the support for riders. “It is one of the best-organized, best-supplied rides there is,” explains Rhoton, who has ridden in many other cycling competitions. “And it’s always well-staffed, with lots of kids bringing lots of energy to it.” Finally, there’s the social side — that Valley-wide party.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY LARRY RHOTON
Larry Rhoton has participated in Tour de Palm Springs since 2003.
Finally, there’s the social side — that Valley-wide party.
“Social is a huge reason to ride in the Tour,” Rhoton says. “I get asked all the time: ‘Why should I pay to ride roads I ride all the time?” And I say it’s because you’re joining something more meaningful than just yourself. Plus it’s a great group-ride, for the fun of it, with all the hoopla. I mean, with the band and cheerleaders at the end — I don’t care how bad you feel, by the time you get through that finish-line gauntlet you feel like a superstar.”
The 21st annual Tour de Palm Springs is expected to attract 5,000 to 6,000 cyclists from across the U.S. and several other countries. In addition to the items Rohton mentioned, at the heart of the Tour is its charitable purpose.
“This is all about the community,” says Michael Stearns, executive director of CVSPIN — Coachella Valley Serving People in Need — the non-profit that operates the Tour. “Exercise is important, and when you can exercise for the good of the community it sounds like a good equation for success.”
Since its founding in 1999 by Tim Esser and his mother, Fran, CVSPIN, which Stearns describes as “a lean, mean charity machine that exists for the sole purpose of making the Coachella Valley a better place,” has raised more than $3.25 million for scores of desert charities through the Tour de Palm Springs and, more recently, the Patriot Ride for Our Heroes in October.
“Every dollar raised in the valley stays in the valley,” Stearns says.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY TOUR DE PALM SPRINGS
On Feb. 8-9, there is a vendor expo on North Palm Canyon between Tahquitz Canyon Way and Alejo Road.
“I get asked all the time: ‘Why should I pay to ride roads I ride all the time?” And I say it’s because you’re joining something more meaningful than just yourself."
— Larry Rhoton
Local charities benefitting from the Tour de Palm Springs include the Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley, Desert Legal Aid, Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Friends of the Desert Mountains, Guide Dogs of the Desert, Joshua Tree National Park Association, and Palm Springs Search and Rescue. United Cerebral Palsy has the most significant charity presence, with approximately 200 children participating.
“UCP has done an amazing job of bringing their mission into the ride,” says Stearns.
Since CVSPIN has only two employees, it relies on a big contribution from the community to keep the Tour’s organizational wheels spinning smoothly.
“I’ve been blown away by the cooperation of every government agency in the Valley,” says Stearns, whose tenure at the helm of the Tour began in 2017.
If you’re considering participating in the Tour de Palm Springs, know that both Stearns and Rhoton assure the curious that the Tour is a seriously safe ride — “that’s always our priority” — and, they add, “nine miles should not be a problem for anybody” who is in reasonably good shape.
Online registration closes at 11:30 p.m. Feb. 3. On-site registration begins at noon Feb. 8 and runs to 8 p.m., then resumes pre-ride at 6 a.m. Feb.9. On both days, there is a vendor expo on North Palm Canyon between Tahquitz Canyon Way and Alejo Road.
In addition to welcoming more riders to sign up, Stearns invites volunteers to get in touch with him, as well as “organizations that want to raise money with us.”
For more details, visit tourdepalmsprings.com.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY TOUR DE PALM SPRINGS
Tour de Palm Springs has 9-mile, 26-mile, 51-mile, and 100-mile rides.