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Racing for the World’s Greatest

Much can be made of transportation around Elk Grove. Multiple planes a minute fly to and from the nearby O'Hare Airport, once widely known as the busiest airport in the world.

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Interstate Highways 90, 290 and 355 all have a presence nearby as well, featuring Chicago's notoriously fast drivers slowing down only to accommodate traffic during rush hours. Even Pace buses abound to help people get around town and around the acclaimed industrial park with efficient speed. None of the above, however, compare to the way people race around Elk Grove on their bikes, many taking inspiration from and training for the widely known Alexian Brothers InternationalCycling Classic Tour of Elk Grove.

Going on its third consecutive year, the Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove has transformed into a three-day event for cyclists of all ages, sizes and skill levels. For 2008, the newly increased combined purse for the event totals $225,000, making it the single largest men's three-day cycling competition in the entire world. Against competition like the widely televised Tour de France, Elk Grove's own cycling competition still manages to garner international attention.

The event's inception began with brainstorming for Elk Grove's 50th anniversary celebration, when the village made an effort to somehow celebrate the occasion with events in months throughout the year. Groups like REO Speedwagon came out to Elk Grove and performed for the residents, and Mayor Craig Johnson, longtime resident of Elk Grove and continually working on ways to improve the community, wanted to top even that. Much of the village's residential area already had plans for renewal in time for the anniversary, as did the industrial park. Mayor Johnson wanted something impressive to commemorate the occasion, and knowing he “couldn't get the Chicago Bears to play on the high school football field,” he thought to give a different group of athletes an opportunity—cyclists. Fortunately, it turned out to be a perfectly plausible alternative.

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In tandem with Alexian Brothers, a major healthcare provider employing around 2,200 within Elk Grove, the village managed to put together the race with much fanfare. During the inaugural year, the Alexian Brothers Tour even drew the attention of ESPN, Floyd Landis, Fred Rodriguez and Christian Vande Velde, among others. By all accounts, the latter two have pledged to return every year for a chance at Elk Grove's bountiful prizes. Conversely, children are welcome to race during the Tour, as well. Young ones have the opportunity to compete in the unique Big Wheel Race, without having to pay any entry fee, and even with the luxury of a number of bikes loaned out for free during the race, too. Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Johnson, the Alexian Brothers and all of Elk Grove, the Midwest has an annual event to celebrate improved health, going green and perhaps more obviously, having fun while racing.

This year, though, the race goes toward much more than rewarding winners of each event or even allowing people of all ages to have fun. Elk Grove has lost a higher percentage of its youthful soldiers to the War on Terrorism than any other city or village in the entire country. Consequently, residents have placed a large focus on recognizing those within the village who have sacrificed their lives and their respective families. So far, a statue has already been erected in memory of those fallen soldiers. In addition, funds from this year's Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove will go toward scholarships given out to students in the names of the four soldiers from Elk Grove who lost their lives over a 13-month period. Part of the funds will also go toward supporting the families of those who have loved ones currently in combat, to alleviate some of the myriad difficulties that having a family member away from home can bring.

Clearly, cycling has become a major event and help to the Elk Grove community. Residents have the chance to illustrate their honed skills, to rub shoulders with some the world's greatest cyclists and perhaps even more substantially, to commemorate the greatest sacrifices in the War on Terror, those of the soldiers lost abroad and their suffering families. With the race accomplishing so much good, it is sure to last many years in Elk Grove, and to improve the area all the while.

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