EAST PRAIRIE -- Move over Lance Armstrong and make room on the open road for participants of Saturday's third annual Tour de Corn.
Held in conjunction with East Prairie's 30th Annual Sweetcorn Festival, Tour de Corn offers bicyclists from all over the country the choice of three rides -- 15, 30 or 60 miles.
"It's a fun ride," explained Silvey Barker, coordinator of East Prairie Tourism. "Some of the 60-milers will race against their own time, but it's not a race against each other. The 15-milers are lots of families and small children. A lot of local people ride and party and have the best time."
In its first year, approximately 165 people traveled the routes of Tour de Corn, and last year nearly 265 cyclists participated in the event. Barker said preregistration is already at 212.
Barker recalled how the event originated.
"A man here in town, Mike Bryant, came to me and wanted to see us do something like a bike ride. He's a local cyclist and farmer. So we said yes and decided to do it along with the Sweet Corn Festival," Barker said.
Last year visitors from 11 states and Washington, D.C., participated in the event. And this year, Barker has registered people from Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois and other states.
And people of all ages are allowed to participate. "Last year our youngest rider was 7 and the oldest was 77. The 7-year-old rode the 15-mile and the 77-year-old rode the 60-mile," Barker noted.
Something new this year are the routes for the 30- and 60-mile courses. However, the exact trails aren't set in stone yet, Barker pointed out.
"We try to stay in the most rural areas as possible and riders actually do some 'touring de corn,'" Barker said. Usually riders of the 60-mile trail travel at about 25 miles per hour, Barker said. They usually finish by noon. Cyclists should travel at a pace and a distance in relation to their physical training.
Following the Tour de Corn, a pasta lunch is held at the Church of God. Barker said: "It's always a big hit and a lot of the cyclists come and that's where we make a check presentation to our charity."
Charity proceeds from the 2004 Tour de Corn will go to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. "We are making the presentation in memory of David Morgan, who was a local young man who died with leukemia last year."
Tour de Corn also serves as a kick off for East Prairie's Sweet Corn Festival.
"It's always been called the Sweet Corn Festival because that's about the time the sweet corn starts coming in," explained Phyllis Lemons, secretary of the East Prairie Chamber of Commerce.
The festival which takes place July 1-4, offers pageants, parades and other entertainment and ends literally with a bang -- a Fourth of July fireworks display.
"It's family-oriented, and we enjoy everybody and everyone enjoys getting to see one another," Lemons said about the festival. "It's like a class reunion and you see a lot of hometown people who've come back for the occasion."
Another preliminary event to East Prairie's Sweet Corn Festival is the Huskers 5K Run or Walk, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday in downtown East Prairie.
Also on Friday night is the Main Street Party from 6 to 9 p.m. The party is complete with a crawfish boil, live music and other food vendors. The Semo Skydivers drop in and bring a 50-by-70 foot U.S. flag.
Cyclists may register for the Tour de Corn for $15 per cyclist. A special family rate is also available. Registration forms can be filled-out online at www.tourdecorn.com or can be picked-up at City Hall in East Prairie.
Same-day registration will be from 6:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. Cyclists will gather for the Tour de Corn at the Church of God Life Center on North Washington for the mass start at 7:30 a.m.
Tour de Corn is sponsored and coordinated by East Prairie Tourism and the Tour de Corn Committee. For more information on the ride, one may call the East Prairie Tourism Office at 573-649-3057 or visit our website at www.tourdecorn.com.