Cycling culture has slowly weaved its way into the fabric of the state, and the introduction of Saint Francis Tulsa Tough in 2006 created what is now a celebrated Oklahoma sporting tradition.
“Saint Francis Tulsa Tough began as the vision of the Tulsa Wheelmen and the Tulsa Sports Commission, who wanted to build on the grassroots cycling culture in Tulsa and create a first-class racing and riding event for the city,” says Malcolm McCollam, executive director at Tulsa Tough, Inc. “Along with a small team of partners, they began small and have now grown to hosting nearly 2,000 Gran Fondo riders and 3,000 criterium racers over three days.”
The event is about more than cycling, however, as this spectator sport brings in tourists from across the globe and shines a positive light on an ever-developing city.
“The event showcases some of Tulsa’s most exciting areas, including the Blue Dome District, the Brady Arts District and River Parks,” McCollam says. “Tens of thousands of spectators fill the streets of Tulsa each June, and the event draws attention from around the world.”
The competition garnered national awareness from the get-go, as the women’s pro races were included in the USA Cycling’s prestigious National Racing Calendar in 2008, and the event itself was ranked in the top 10 of 30 NRC races. By 2009, Tulsa Tough was ranked in the top four events in the NRC.
McCollam says the high rankings resulted in so much national and international awareness that cyclists are now registering from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
For those who are unfamiliar with Tulsa Tough’s goings-on, there are different types of races to participate in or observe. On June 9, criterium races – which consist of several laps around a closed circuit – begin in the evening for competitive racers. On June 10, Gran Fondo races – which consist of long-distance treks between 38 and 100 miles – welcome cyclists of all ages, shapes and skill levels; crit races are running on this day, too. June 11 offers both types of races again, plus the townie ride, which is a non-competitive 5-miler welcome to any and all.
A highlight of the weekend is the River Parks Criterium on June 11, dubbed as “Cry Baby Hill.” This grueling course challenges even the most well-prepared cyclists, but the real fun happens as a spectator. Join the throngs as supporters line the streets – in costume – to tailgate and fraternize.
2017 also marks a special milestone in the cycling community, which Tulsa Tough plans to honor.
“This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle, [which was] dubbed the ‘Freedom Machine’ in the late 1800s by Susan B. Anthony,” says McCollam.
For a full schedule of events or to register for a race, visit tulsatough.com.