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Tour De Camden is May 7
Tour De Camden WEB
Riders prepare for the start of the Tour De Camden, which will take them on a trip through rural Southeastern Kershaw County for 30, 50, or 62 miles.

The Tour De Camden bicycle ride hits the Kershaw County back roads once again.

The ride, a fundraiser for the United Way of Kershaw County and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, is May 7. Now in its 11th running, the Tour De Camden is becoming a popular event for cyclists here in the midlands, organizer Bob Giangorgi said.

With that in mind, organizers are adding new elements to attract riders and spectators alike -- including a live band, local jam rockers Fair Jam, and a beer truck from Columbia’s Conquest Brewery.

"It’s a lot of fun and a really nice ride," Giangorgi said. "This year, though, we want to make it not only something for bike enthusiasts, but for everyone."

The Tour De Camden offers three rides, a metric century (62 miles), half-century, 50 miles, and a 30 mile ride. It starts and ends at Historic Camden, with the ride routes heading up U.S. 521, turning onto Black River Road, then Tickle Hill Road, then S.C. 34 before branching into the various loops throughout rural Southeastern Kershaw County.

This year, Giangorgi is testing a fourth route, a true 100 mile century ride. To that end, he has invited several experienced century riders to try this one out and give him feedback on it.

"We’re not quite ready to open it up to everyone -- a century does take some level of fitness and experience -- but hopefully this will be something we can add permanently," he said.

The Tour De Camden is not physically that demanding, although there are enough terrain changes to challenge most people sufficiently and make the rides even more fun and interesting, he said.

"This is not a race, but there is a competitive element," Giangorgi said. "You have riders of every level of ability who participate. Basically, it’s a very popular ride. Those who do it, love it -- we have people who have done it seven or eight times now."

The ride has typically attracted some 150 to 175 riders each year, with the vast majority coming from the area between Columbia and Florence. Last year, however, the ride enjoyed a record turnout -- more than 220 riders participated -- and it is hoped the turnout will match or even exceed last year, Giangori said. He said the first few Tour De Camden rides were held in the fall. The change to a spring date seems to have helped increase the numbers.

"I’m not sure why that is the case, but there may be several things working for us. For one, it’s a beautiful time of the year to ride -- the weather is just great -- and this ride is right before a couple of major regional rides such as the assault on Mt. Mitchell (an intense century ride in the high mountain country of N.C.). Some riders who do those rides may be preparing for those by doing this one," Giangorgi said.

Whatever the reason, organizers are glad to see the participation increase and would like to attract even more riders and hopefully even make the Tour De Camden a major tourism event, Giangorgi said. However, the Tour De Camden does have some competition.

"We obviously don’t have the resources some of some of the major ride events around the area have," Giangorgi said. "On the other hand, this is a different animal -- it’s a little more personalized, a little more relaxed than those events that have far more participants. We try to make it a little more homey -- and we try to really make the experience worth it to those who come."

For example, the riders are treated to a fun cook out at the end of the ride -- this year complete with live band and beer truck -- which they really seem to enjoy, as opposed to prepackaged box lunches. This will be on the grounds of Historic Camden, probably right around the area of the McCaa Tavern, he said.

"We think it’s a great venue for the event and the participants really seem to enjoy it," he said. "Hopefully, it will intrigue and interest more people to stick around and see what else Camden has to offer."

As always, safety is the top concern, Giangori said. All riders are required to wear approved cycling helmets and obey all traffic laws; the riders have law enforcement escorts pretty much throughout the ride, he said. Thankfully, there has only been one injury in the last nine years, he said.

The event relies heavily on volunteers, Giangorgi said. Local businesses individuals, and of course, major sponsors such as the city of Camden and Historic Camden, have stepped up to make the ride a truly fun, memorable, easy going, and well-organized affair, he said.

"People don’t realize how much effort it takes to make this work," Giangorgi said. "So we really can’t thank everyone enough for all that they do for us. It really is a team effort."

The Tour De Camden starts at Historic Camden at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 2. Registration is $40 per rider prior to ride day and $45 on the day of the ride. For more information call (803)424-2590 or email, or visit the Tour De Camden on Facebook.