ValleyCats are go!

Story by Taylor Kuether

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The fifth annual ValleyCat bike race is this weekend, bringing bike enthusiasts from all over the Chippewa Valley together. ValleyCat, which is modeled after the popular ‘Alleycat’ race style, combines a bike race with a scavenger hunt for a three-hour marathon bike ride.

“(It’s gotten) bigger and bigger every single year,” said Dave Smuhl, one of the event’s organizers and the sponsorship coordinator of the event.

From just 12 participants its first year, ValleyCat grew to nearly 80 riders last year.

“Everybody’s got an awesome attitude and everybody’s really positive and wants to have fun,” said Smuhl. “All we hope for every year is to have more people show up, because there’s never been such a thing as having too many racers or having too many people there.”

The race begins at Rod & Gun Park at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Participants should arrive at least an hour early to obtain their “manifests,” which are lists of checkpoints for the scavenger hunt. The riders must plan their own course to bike from checkpoint to checkpoint, where there will be a volunteer waiting to stamp their manifest.

There are five to eight checkpoints, Smuhl said, and the volunteer at each point has the rider do something “goofy and fun” to get their manifest stamped. There is a three-hour cutoff for riders to return to Rod & Gun Park and turn in their manifest, completed or not.

The laid-back nature of the ValleyCat lends to its enjoyment, but also raises questions.

“To be honest, the nature of Alleycat races is kind of a grey area as far as legality goes,” Smuhl said, adding that the group has never had any trouble with the law so far. “It’s not a sanctioned race, there’s no formal insurance policy that’s put on the race, (but) everyone signs a waiver and is expected to follow the law.”

Smuhl added that everyone is required to follow traffic laws or they will be “immediately disqualified.”

Overall, though, Smuhl said the race is a popular way to bring together the Eau Claire cycling community.

Terry Hintz, owner of Eau Claire Bike and Sport and one of the event’s sponsors, feels the same.

“It’s a good, healthy, wholesome activity,” said Hintz. “It involves some skill and understanding of the layout of the town and being able to plan. Knowing routes and deciding which way would be best to go, that’s a good part of the challenge.”

Hintz added that Eau Claire Bike and Sport sees some additional business because of the race, with bikers “picking up parts and pieces and fixing up their bikes.”

Since its beginning, ValleyCat has accrued many sponsors, including Chrome messenger bags, Knog bike lights and New Belgium Brewery.

The winner of the race gets first pick of a prize from the sponsors, but everyone usually walks away with something, Smuhl said. The event also features an after-party at the park, with free beer from New Belgium for
riders over 21.

It’s not too late to participate. Registration is the day of the event, beginning at 11 a.m. at Rod & Gun Park. Groups of no more than four are allowed to enter this year, each receiving one manifest.

“There’s a growing, really super positive, really awesome, strong cycling community in Eau Claire,” said Smuhl. “This is a really good opportunity for people to get introduced to it.”

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