Next Friday, around 8:30 p.m., when the 12th edition of the Tour de Belleville kicks off, a couple of tour veterans will be among the more than 1,000 riders ranging in age from old to young.
Darwin Bretsch, 82, will be riding as he has done in every one of the preceding events. He and his wife, Mary Lou Bretsch, 71, have all the T-shirts to prove it, she said. The couple lives on A Street in west Belleville.
Mary Lou called to say that Darwin has ridden in every Tour de Belleville since the event started in 2006. But she was so busy promoting her husband, a retired Belleville firefighter, that she didn’t mention she had ridden along, too.
Darwin said he will be with his brother, Dwight Bretsch, somewhere near the front of the pack if they can manage it.
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“We always try to ride in the front, as fast as we can,” he said. “I’ve always ridden the 15-mile course.”
The ride also has a shorter course of 5 miles and slower speeds for casual riders because the point is to see the town at night and have a good time. Mostly to have a good time.
Bike riding was one of the ways Darwin kept in good physical shape back in his firefighting days, and he hasn’t stopped since he retired. He and Mary Lou ride their bikes while on vacation and around town, he said.
She said she usually lags back in the tour but often catches up with everyone at water breaks and other stops.
“It’s a very pleasant ride,” she said. “It’s so much fun when everyone gathers in the parking lot before the ride starts. There are so many family groups. You see all the colorful outfits, hear the band and just talk to so many people. The city looks so different at night, and going by slowly, you can see so much. People sit out in yards and gather around fires to cheer everyone along. There is so much camaraderie. It is great.”
The ride starts at Union United Methodist Church, 721 E. Main Street. You can register online at Belleville.net or register in person at the Parks and Recreation Office at 510 W. Main St. or Bicycle World, 4516 W. Main St.
Parks and Recreation will have a registration party at their office from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The fee is $16. There is a big family discount with two adults and two children under age 12 for $52 and $10 for each additional child. There is a $2 discount for active-duty military, National Guard, Army Reserve and veterans but it is not available online and cannot be combined with the big family discount. The registration deadline is Thursday. Late registration adds $9 to the cost.
Watch for Darwin and Mary Lou. You can’t miss them. They’ll be wearing 2017 Tour de Belleville T-shirts.