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Ellijay, GA
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Italian bike fest covers 200 miles April 4

Cyclists will ride from North Main Street in downtown Ellijay to the steep reaches around Fort Mountain during the 18th annual Italian Road Bike Festival Saturday, April 4. Photos are from the 2014 event, which covered the same 217-mile route. (Contributed photos)

Italian bike fest will cover 200 miles of mountain road April 4

by Michael Andrews

More than 100 cyclists are expected to converge on downtown Ellijay before heading out on a tour of winding, two-lane asphalt and steep mountain roads Saturday, April 4.

The 18th annual Italian Road Bike Festival will officially begin when participants depart from the parking lot next to North Main Street business Cartecay Bike Shop at 9 a.m. that morning.
217 miles of mountain road

The scenic and challenging ride, which coincides with the start of the classic cycle road race season in Italy, will cover three separate routes –– one each intermediate, difficult and extremely difficult. The entire ride spans 217 miles.  

“We’ll go from Highway 52 to Burnt Mountain (near) Jasper, then on Old Highway 5 headed north through Ellijay. We’ll go up Roundtop Road and Knight Road to 382 and we’ll take that all the way over to old 411. We’ll climb up Fort Mountain and then back down 52 to Pleasant Gap Road, then take the back roads down to Corbin Hill,” said Cartecay Bike Shop owner Mike Palmeri.

“Broom wagons,” or support vehicles that follow behind riders, will be utilized and cyclists will be able to hydrate while resting their heels at a roadside SAG (support and gear) stop on each route.

“There will be SAG stops at the top of Burnt Mountain and at the bottom of Fort Mountain. They’re refreshment centers where you can refuel,” said Palmeri.
Traffic concerns

Palmeri asks motorists who find themselves following behind bike riders to be patient and adhere to any traffic laws they’d normally be expected to follow.

“There are people who try to run me over all the time, even in Ellijay,” he said. “We’re polite and not out here to cause any trouble, just to ride our bikes. We don’t want people getting mad about us being on the roads or anything.”

A Georgia state law stipulates that motorists must give at least a three-foot clearance when passing cyclists on roadways.

“There’s a Share the Road Law in Georgia that says you have to give a three-foot right of way when you pass,” confirmed Palmeri. “We’ll be riding toward the right of the road, 12 inches off the white line.”

Some of the cyclists will be riding side by side.

“We’re allowed to ride two people abreast or two bikes side by side,” Palmeri added.

Good for the economy

Palmeri has been involved with staging the Italian bike fest, an annual fundraiser for the Ellijay Mountain Bike Association (EMBA), since its inception in 1998 –– long before Gilmer was declared the Mountain Bike Capital of Georgia by state legislators.

“We don’t get a whole lot of folks (up here for the bike fest), but we’ve had it the last 18 years. The most we’ve ever had was a little over 200 people. Last year, we had 143, but we’d like to get more,” he said.

The turnout may not be as large as event organizers would like it to be, but Palmeri, an avid mountain biker since the 1970s, remains positive about the economic impact that can be generated by bringing cycle events to town.

“It brings tourism to the county and tourism pays for hotel rooms, cabin rentals, gas, food, etc.,” he said.

Palmeri said the event usually raises around $1,000 for the bike club after expenses. The money is used to help with EMBA’s various trail maintenence projects.

“We want to bring awareness to the community about EMBA, which is a nonprofit. We also want to raise money to maintain all the trails we keep up with,” he added.

Palmeri referenced a similar mountain biking event held each March at Chewacla State Park in Alabama that’s become a prime destination for cyclists in the Southeastern states.

“It’s right outside of Auburn and last year they predicted it would make $3,000 profit. Turns out it made $100,000 at the gate,” he said.

EMBA members have been trying to get new bike trails established at Fort Mountain State Park, which neighbors Gilmer County. If that happens, Palmeri is hopeful it will lead to more mountain bike events taking place in the area.

“We’ve raised money to do a trail plan for Fort Mountain. It’s in the process (of being reviewed), but we still have some hurdles to jump through with the state. What we’re trying to do is create a recreation destination (here in) Gilmer County,” he said.
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