WATERVILLE — About 2,000 bicyclists would pedal more than 600 miles of coastal and inland Maine next year, starting and ending in Waterville, if plans for the Grand Tour Desjardins come to fruition.

The Maine Office of Tourism is working with Vélo Québec Événements, a Montreal-based bicycle touring organization, to help bring the event to Maine August 2-9, 2013.

The bicyclists would camp out, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and hire local caterers, security officials, equipment rental companies and others.

“It’s a huge opportunity to promote the state for some outside visitors,” said Doug Ray, a spokesman for the state Department of Economic & Community Development.

Ray said Wednesday that the bicyclists would go to specific communities in Maine, including Bangor, Ellsworth, Bar Harbor and Newcastle, in addition to Waterville, lending visibility to those areas.

“The goal is to have them go back to their family and friends and tell them all about the wonderful sights,” Ray said. “It’s a great tourism opportunity, especially for these specific towns the tour is going to be rolling through.”

Phil Savignano, senior tourism officer for the state Office of Tourism, said Vélo Québec representatives contacted his office about a month ago, and recently met with Maine officials. The office is helping the bicycle group make connections with communities targeted for events and overnight stays.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is also looking to host a similar tour next year, according to tourism officials.

Alain Gascon, voyages events coordinator for the Grand Tour Desjardins, said he and others are working on issues involving border crossings and availability of hotels and school properties in towns along the proposed bicycle route. The group typically camps out on school or college property and holds festivities there for cyclists, said Gascon Wednesday. About 300 of the 2,000 people stay in hotels and the other 1,700 camp out, he said.

Gascon, who has met with officials in Maine, said Colby College officials welcome the touring group and its plan.

Vélo Québec, a nonprofit organization, decided to organize a tour in Maine because of the scenery and the historic relationship people from Quebec and Maine have enjoyed. Gascon said the group has long wanted to tour in the state.

Gascon said he will notify Maine officials as soon as possible about whether the tour will happen here. Everyone would benefit, he said.

Shannon Haines, executive director of the Waterville Main Street program, was unaware plans were in the works for the tour, but said “I think it would have a huge impact on the city of Waterville.”

Kimberly Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, agreed. She said the impact would be significant for the mid-Maine region and Kennebec Valley Tourism Council Area.

“I think the potential to really shine and show off our region is extraordinary,” Lindlof said. “So, once we get them here, I think we’ll get them hooked and they’ll be coming back. And we look forward to working with them.”

Annual events that also bring thousands of people to Waterville include the Trek Across Maine, a three-day, 180-mile tour from Sunday River to Belfast that last year drew nearly 2,000 bicyclists and raised $1.8 million for the American Lung Association. This year’s trek is June 15-17.

Also, the Maine International Film Festival, of which Haines is executive director, brings an estimated 3,000-4,000 people to the city for 10 days in July, she said. This year’s festival is July 13-22.

Department of Economic & Community Development Commissioner George Gervais said in a press release that having the tour in Maine would represent a significant economic opportunity for the state, which is prepared to help organizers with the effort.

“It is important that we work with the local communities along the route to maximize the economic potential of this tour for those areas,” he said.

The tour is not a race; cyclists travel at their own pace, taking time to shop and visit tourist attractions, according to Gervais.

Vélo Québec is known internationally for its cycling events, including the Tour de I’Île de Montréal, according to its website. Vélo, in existence more than 40 years, encourages bicycle use for tourism, as well as a method of clean and active transportation, its website says.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]


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