About 1,000 cyclists from around Arkansas and the Southern region will be riding through Central Arkansas on June 3.
John Hardee of Arkadelphia and his son Dr. Matthew Hardee, avid cyclists themselves, are co-chairing the event -- the 20th Tour de Rock benefiting CARTI.
John, a retired professor of chemistry and retired dean of the Ellis College of Arts and Sciences at Henderson State University, began riding bikes when he wanted to crosstrain as a marathon runner. He says it was something a little different from running and he wound up really liking it. It led him from doing marathons to triathlons and Iron Man competitions.
Matthew is medical director of radiation oncology for CARTI, an independent nonprofit cancer care provider. He began riding when he moved back to Arkansas 12 years ago after medical school and a residency. He explains that his dad wanted to upgrade and get a new bike and he started riding when he got his dad's hand-me-down.
"We started riding when it was a 62-mile ride only," John says. "And then we started doing the hundreds. But then the last couple of years, we did the 62s. We want to do the 100 again this year."
This is the 20th year of Tour de Rock which has 25-, 50-, 62- and 100-mile routes. There are no trophies handed out at the end of the ride. It is not a competitive event.
"There is a pace group," explains Matthew, "which is kind of the upper echelon of the riders that ride the 100 mile, but for everyone else, it's a fun ride."
The pace group is dedicated to finishing the 100-mile ride in under five hours. They have a premier starting spot and a team of experienced coaches and elite racers leading them. They also receive a special edition jersey, training tips and participate in a pre-ride seminar.
"There are people that have goals," John adds, saying that they'll have someone who will pace the riders so they can accomplish that. "But that's not really competitive. That's just personal goals."
"It's the fastest century ride in the South. It's flat the whole way," John explains about the route, "and that attracts a lot of people. It is well run, well supported, there's plenty of signs -- you don't get lost. And it's a great celebration at the end with the food and beer and a great feeling of accomplishment."
The real competition is between the volunteers who man the rest stops along the routes.
"Well you know, each one has its own unique personality," says Matthew about the stops. "There's actually a competition here at CARTI and there's a vote to see who has the best rest stop and awards for the volunteers. There are different themes at different stops and they have different snacks and drinks and all kinds of stuff. So it's very welcoming. Not only refreshmentwise, but also their energy and positivity," he says about the volunteers, many of whom are CARTI employees.
"You get to those rest stops," John says, "and you're hungry and you're thirsty. And they tend to really treat you well. They come out and they'll hold your bike, they'll bring you ice and they'll bring you whatever you want. And it's just fun."
This year's rest stops will have a birthday party theme in honor of the ride's 20th year. The winner of the best rest stop will be announced at the after-party. Traditionally, the stops have music, snacks, drinks, costumes, unique backdrops and giveaways.
As for being chairmen of the event, Matthew says they both think it is a win-win.
"It's a really well organized ride, obviously he's ridden it more times than I," he says about his father, "but we've both ridden many times. It's really fun, the rest stops are great. And the cause is fantastic, right?"
Money raised from the ride goes to CARTI's Patient Assistance Program. "It doesn't get a whole lot better in terms of where the money is going. It's a great cause," Matthew says.
"I was treated for prostate cancer here [CARTI] about three years ago. And I ride with him," John says of his son. "He's a radiation oncologist and so we're two bikers who have a really good connection to CARTI and real appreciation for CARTI."
Matthew says the program helps with, "assistance for lodging, transportation, decreasing barriers and stress associated with treatments, whether it's radiation treatments, chemotherapy, or really any of the services."
"When I was getting treated," says John, "I talked to some other patients who were getting radiation treatments as well. And two of them were provided lodging by the program. They may not have had treatments if they couldn't have had that lodging, so they were very appreciative that."
Tour de Rock is Saturday, June 3. After the race, there will be an after-party until 4 p.m. at Heifer International Pavilion, with food by 42 Bar and Table and Edwards Food Giant and craft beers from local breweries. Nonriders can buy an after-party-only ticket for $25. Online registration at carti.ejoinme.org/TDR2023 ends on June 1. Limited registration is available onsite on June 2 and 3. For more information, visit CARTI.com.