RIDGWAY – This week, from July 25-29, teams of cyclists from around the world will rally in the French Alps to compete in a charity road race billed as “the ultimate competitive pro-am cycling experience” – the second annual Les Trois Etapes. Two of those teams are riding to raise money to support the dZi Foundation’s mission of empowering and transforming poor, remote Himalayan communities in Nepal.
This is dZi’s second year to be represented in the grueling, four-day cycling event that’s a “fantasy camp” of European road racing, immersing amateurs into the professional world as equals, with the full support that a pro would have in a Grand Tour, tackling three mountain stages from the legendary Tour de France.
dZi Foundation Co-founder Jim Nowak couldn’t be more pleased that his relatively tiny Ridgway-based aid organization is getting such global exposure in the glamorous event.
Last year – Les Trois Etapes’ inaugural year – dZi got in on the ground floor through a connection with a prominent donor in London who opened the door for dZi to put together a team of amateur cyclists from Marin County in California. This year, thanks to the same connection, a second European team will also be representing dZi in the event. The main corporate sponsor for both teams is Reed Smith, a global legal firm specializing in the financial industry sector.
Having a team that is registered in the U.K. has given dZi a whole new connection with the European donor base; dZi got its official stamp of approval from the European Charity Commission last spring.
“It appears to be absolutely the right direction,” Nowak said. “We now have two populations we are building relationships with.”
In the coming days, 15 cycling teams comprised of eight riders (seven amateurs and one pro) will traverse three of the iconic mountain stages of the Tour de France –including the Col du Glandon, the Col de l’Iseran and the Col du Chaussy – in the process raising $3 million for a dozen charities worldwide, including dZi.
In all, the cyclists face 250 miles of riding and 26,000 feet of climbing. Even though most of the competitors are amateurs, “these guys are very serious about what they do,” Nowak said. “They get to live the experience in a very real way. It’s full bore racing,” complete with rolling road closures, support vehicles and mechanics, radio communications, aid stations, and massages each night post-stage.
With a fifth-place finish (out of 10) in 2012, the dZi Foundation’s Team USA is going for a win in 2013. The team is comprised of the same group of elite amateur racers from San Francisco Bay Area bike shop Studio Velo who rode for dZi last year – bolstered by pro Boulder cyclist Craig Lewis who rides for the Champion System Pro Cycling Team in Japan.
Racing in Les Trois Etapes in 2012 proved to be a life-changing experience for these amateur riders. “I promised myself that I would race my heart out for the remote village people of Eastern Nepal and all my friends who kindly supported me,” said Studio Velo team member and dZi Foundation board member Bill Keller. “I can honestly say that this was one of the hardest challenges I’ve ever done, and I turned myself inside out for our team.”
Thomas Newmeyer, a 2012 Studio Velo team member who rides 20 miles every day over the Golden Gate Bridge to and from work in San Francisco, reveled in opportunities to share a beer with 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre at the top of L’Alpe D’Huez, and go ‘all-in’ in the Col du la Coeur du Fer. “It was one of those experiences that recaptures that giddy rush of pure joy you feel when you’re a kid,” he said.
The new European dZi team is riding under the banner of Reed Smith, with UK pro rider Kieran Frend of Post-Chain Reaction.
“There will be some very serious competition between the two dZi teams,” Nowak predicted.
Nowak will be riding behind the peloton in the UK team’s car driven by Tour de France podium winner Bobby Julich from Grand Junction. Now retired from professional racing, Julich lives in Nice and is the coach for dZi’s UK team.
In addition to steep entry fees that are channeled back to each team’s philanthropic cause, team members are responsible for raising additional funds through corporate sponsorships and individual donations, representing a unique opportunity for dZi to connect with a new donor base.
Sponsorships can be made through the dZi Foundation’s Endless Ascent program, which started three years ago at the Ouray Ice Festival, when Canadian ice-climbing superstar Will Gadd climbed continuously for 24 hours – 189 pitches – as a fundraiser for dZi. The program now encourages potential donors to go out and create their own ‘Endless Ascents’ to raise money for dZi.
At the website endlessascent.org, donors can toggle back and forth between the US and the UK teams. Currently, the two teams together have raised $230,000 for dZi’s mission. In all, the 15 teams participating in this year’s Les Trois Etapes have raised a combined $3 million – $1 million more than they raised last year.
Other charity partners represented this year, such as the Ann Frank Trust, World Bicycle Relief and Right to Play, are “quite large organizations,” compared to the dZi Foundation, which partners with villagers in some of the most isolated regions of Nepal to improve basic infrastructure: water, toilets, schools and sustainable agriculture, through its groundbreaking Deep Development model.
“Our work is quite unique,” Nowak said. “We work in a specific area, around community capacity building. We are perceived as an unusual element in the mix. I am immensely proud we do what we do out of the San Juans in Ridgway, Colo., and can make that happen from a small town. This year we are serving over 26,000 people in Western Nepal through staff of three in Ridgway and 17 in Katmandu.”
The glamor of Les Trois Etapes seems a world away from all this, and represents thrilling new philanthropic potential for little dZi.
“It was a leap of faith for us to get involved, but it worked out brilliantly, and now we are in on the ground floor,” Nowak said.
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