RIDGWAY – Jim Nowak was still vibrating a few days after his presentation in London.
The co-founder and president of Ridgway’s dZi Foundation had been invited to give his “Revitalize a Village” PowerPoint talk to a standing-room-only crowd of philanthropists, financiers and cycling aficionados – including major players with Lloyds of London, Eurosport television and 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre – on the 31st floor of a London office tower. The occasion was the “launch” of Les Trois Etapes, a new charity road-racing event coming up at the end of July.
Teams of amateur and professional riders will traverse three of the iconic mountain stages of the Tour de France, Nowak said, including the Alpe d’Huez, the Col du Galibier and the Col de la Madeleine. And in the process raise £1 million ($1.5 million) for a dozen charities worldwide, including dZi.
It’s rarefied fundraising air for what Nowak called “by far the smallest and most remote” charity on the list. (dZi partners with villagers in some of the most isolated regions of Nepal to improve basic infrastructure: water, toilets, schools and sustainable agriculture; other charities benefiting from Trois Etapes largesse include international heavyweights Right to Play and World Bicycle Relief.) Nowak, who had just been preparing to drywall a garage apartment behind his Ridgway home, a project he has been working on virtually alone for a couple of years, was still awed by the guest list, and by the possibilities.
“You gotta be open to new things in this economy,” he said, scrolling through the Trois Etapes website on his computer. “Sometimes things just fall out of the sky. That’s what happened with this deal.”
In this year when high-level cycling events seem to be multiplying (see USA Pro Cycling Challenge and, in last week’s Watch, the Great Divide Race), connections and serendipity added up to a huge opportunity for little dZi.
It started when a dZi contributor, a former employee of Goldman Sachs now working with Bank of America in London, texted Nowak and said, “Do you ever get involved in corporate events?” He had become a principal with the fledgling Trois Etapes, and invited dZi to participate.
dZi would need a high-caliber team, and the serendipitous answer came from Nowak’s board vice-chair, Bill Keller. Keller lives in Sausalito and rides with a team sponsored by Studio Velo, a high-end bike shop across the Golden Gate from San Francisco.
The lucky connections continued. Keller had a friend at Reed Smith, a huge financial services law firm with 1,700 lawyers worldwide and offices in San Francisco and London. Reed Smith became Studio Velo’s, and dZi’s, lead sponsor. And they hosted the launch event where Nowak spoke.
“It’s crazy how easily this thing came together,” Nowak said. “I was hesitant to take this on; it is not my job to organize something like this. But Studio Velo’s got a team in place – I’ve been out riding with these guys, been spanked by them – and they’re all paying their own way; it’s not costing dZi a thing. These cyclists are philanthropic guys.”
Each six-person team must have five amateur riders plus one pro. Team dZi’s pro will be Craig Lewis, a top road racer from Boulder, who rode the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last summer and has signed a contract to race in Europe for a Hong Kong-based team called Champion System.
“I hear he is a great climber,” Nowak said. He’ll need to be, as the three-day event will scale three of the biggest climbs on the Tour de France map. Trois Etapes participants will enjoy a very Tour-like experience, complete with rolling road closures, support vehicles and mechanics, radio communications, aid stations, and massages each night post-stage. Eurosport will produce a 30-minute television special on the event.
“Carlos [Sastre] asked me if I was going to ride on the Studio Velo team,” Nowak told me. “I said I couldn’t make that team, not strong enough. He said, ‘You are going to do the group ride up the Alpe d’Huez with everyone.’ (The Alpe d’Huez is where Sastre secured the Yellow Jersey in 2008.) I told him I did not have a bike. He said, ‘I will bring you a bike, it is settled, send me your size.’”
Besides the hefty $20,000 team entry fee, which goes directly to dZi, Nowak hopes to add sponsorship dollars through the foundation’s Endless Ascent program. The original Endless Ascent happened two 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 Foundation. Now anyone can participate by going to the Endless Ascent website and contributing. “We’re hoping that people will create their own endless ascent. It could be anything. You may want to ride, or hike, your own vertical-foot challenge, for example, and raise money for dZi.”
An ice climber himself, Nowak started dZi in 1988 with partner Kim Reynolds to help save an at-risk girls home in Katmandu. Though still small as aid organizations go, Nowak figures dZi has affected 21,000 people in Nepal and elsewhere in the Himalaya.
The Trois Etapes adventure is heady, new territory. But for Nowak, the rest of this day meant heading back out to his sheet-rocking job.