When the Nogales Bicycle Classic launched nine years ago, its organizers didn’t realize how big of an impact one cycling event could have on support for ending domestic violence.
“We just wanted to bring something new and exciting to Nogales, Arizona,” said Katalina Olea, who works for Circles of Peace, a local nonprofit domestic violence services program that organizes the race/ride and benefits from its proceeds.
Since then, the event has attracted hundreds of participants from both sides of the border and has become a confluence of serious bike racing and gran fondo fun riding with a finish line fiesta at the end.
It’s also provided funding to give countless people affected by domestic violence the resources they need to rise above it, which is why this year’s Nogales Bicycle Classic will focus on “Ending Violence 1 Mile at a Time.”
The event will support the vision and determination not only to end domestic violence, but other forms of violence as well: violence against women, self-violence in the form of substance abuse and violence within communities.
Circles of Peace uses funds raised from the Nogales Bicycle Classic to reduce violent behaviors in families and offer innovative treatment options that contribute to ending the cycle of abuse for individuals, families and communities (more information below).
Ride or race?: The best of both worlds
The Nogales Bicycle Classic welcomes bike racers and non-competitive riders equally.
“Our event originally started as a fun ride, but as the Nogales Bicycle Classic has grown, we have seen more and more professional riders participate,” said Olea said. “So, you can expect a little of both. We have teams who use this event to race and compete with other teams, and we have beginners who are trying to reach their own personal goals.”
With waves of riders pooled together by the distance they select, the ride/race separates itself naturally, with elite riders forming their own groups on the road, especially with a short climb at the beginning.
From there, it’s game on for bike racers, who will compete to be the first across the line.
For non-competitive riders, the event is a beautiful ride, a way to make new friends and to challenge yourself.
For both, it’s a way to support a great cause.
The courses: ‘Everything a cyclist dreams about’
The Nogales Bicycle Classic courses, situated between two nature preserves, provide one of the most beautifully scenic routes in Arizona that you’ve likely never ridden before.
Starting out from Nogales, Ariz., you head northeast toward Patagonia on State Route 82. Every distance – 11, 20, 40, 60 and 87 miles – starts in this direction. Then at 5.5 miles, all but the 87 milers turn northwest toward Rio Rico.
The long-distance riders keep pedaling toward Patagonia before eventually coming back to turn toward Rio Rico as well. From there, it’s an out and back with varying distances.
Roads are closed to traffic in town, and farther out, sheriff’s deputies aid in protecting cyclists from vehicles.
Edgardo Muñoz (0S3 Movement and 0S3 Reptilians Cycling Team) describes the course as fun and challenging.
“This course has everything a cyclist dreams about, [which is] what makes it very attractive and desirable,” Muñoz said. “The first 3 miles are powerful, and it would be good to know that you have to manage your energy well because this road has everything – fluid drops and heavy slopes, excellent straight roads for a good sprint.”
Lynn Orchard (Tolero Racing), the race director of the Tolero Criterium, rode in the Nogales Bicycle Classic for the first time last year.
“Most of the course is on rural back roads that wind through farms and ranches and even some mesquite forest in the foothills near the border,” he said. “There were huge stretches where there were zero cars, so it was super peaceful.”
The atmosphere: A huge fiesta
With the twin cities of Nogales, Ariz. and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico situated right next to each other, coming together for a big finish line party is a given.
Local vendors serve up food you can’t wait to stuff in your face after a ride – street tacos, Sonoran-style hot dogs, and don’t worry, you can find healthy items too – almost everything at the “Little” Mercado Farmer’s Market in Nogales, Ariz. is organic and freshly made.
The event also has helped pump life back into Nogales, Ariz.’s historic downtown, bringing patrons to shop for authentic food like pastries, salsa, tortillas, jellies, tamales and queso fresco among other things like handmade purses and soaps, all at the farmer’s market.
And Circles of Peace’s women’s support group, Entre Amigas (or Between Friends), also will be selling homemade goodies at the event. Some of the women in the group have left domestic violence situations and are learning to become financially independent.
Riding in the Nogales Bicycle Classic also is an opportunity to practice your Spanish skills in a welcoming and bilingual environment where you can gain cultural experience and make new friends. And if you bring your passport, you can walk across the border and go shopping for authentic Mexican gifts.
“This event takes place and truly begins in a border city,” Muñoz said. “The course is in the county of Santa Cruz with a wonderful typographical diversity and cultural experience that would be very interesting for a cyclist who does not know this region. The fun and entertainment are 100% guaranteed.”
Orchard said any perception of the U.S.-Mexico border being dangerous is a stark contrast from reality.
“There was no sense of conflict or division,” Orchard said. “We met tons of families who were doing the ride from both sides of the fence and we were impressed by the genuine community feeling while we were in Nogales. I suspect a big reason the promoters put on this event is to highlight the good things that are happening in the border region, and they accomplished that.”
The cause: Ending domestic violence
The Nogales Bicycle Classic supports Circles of Peace to rehabilitate domestic violence offenders, making it less likely they will become repeat offenders.
“We want participants to know that their own community is here to offer support and bring to light that these offenses not only affect their relationship, but their community as well,” Olea said.
Through their programs like Therapeutic Pretrial Justice and Restorative Justice Circle, Circles of Peace works directly with domestic violence offenders. They make sure offenders attend their court dates and avoid new criminal activity and help them enroll in substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment or school. They also offer a “circle,” similar to a support group, that includes members from the organization, community and other offenders.
Although its main focus is domestic violence, Circles of Peace doesn’t stop there when it comes to real work that makes communities better; in their Entre Amigas program, they work with women and families to strengthen communication, and they have a preventative specialist who works with local schools to keep kids away from drugs.
They also play a big role in social justice for a variety of offenders with an overarching goal of breaking the cycle of individuals falling into the criminal justice system.
When you register for the Nogales Bicycle Classic, you have an option to make an impact with an additional donation to Circles of Peace. Your donation will strengthen families, help end domestic violence and promote social justice.
Photos by Precious Dreams Photography, Santos Yescas, R.A. Valdez and Carlos Valdez Medina.