COUNCIL BLUFFS — With 15,000 cyclists pedaling through town this weekend, there are bound to be a few changes.
Roads will be blocked to cars to allow cyclists safe passage. The grounds of the Mid-America Center will be turned into a campground. Even start times for church services are not sacred.
This weekend, for the first time since 2009, RAGBRAI begins in Council Bluffs.
RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, will go right past Victory Fellowship Church on 23rd Street on Sunday morning. That's prompting the church to move its services back by an hour and 15 minutes.
Organizers have asked churches along the route to consider delaying service start times to avoid the crush of bicyclists.
To Lonnie Parton, Victory's pastor, that's not a burden. Instead, it's an opportunity to be hospitable.
About 50 members of a Des Moines area bicycle club are staying overnight at his church Saturday evening.
“We feed them breakfast, and then we have a bike blessing and then they are on their way,” Parton said.
It's the sixth time the 40-year-old ride has started in the Bluffs. But it's the first time the route will go through downtown.
It's a chance for Council Bluffs to showcase its hospitality, along with the city's late-Victorian homes. People from all 50 states and more than 20 countries will take part, said T.J. Juskiewicz, director of RAGBRAI. So, he said, it's important to make a good impression.
Some streets on the route through town will be at least partially blocked between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday, likely interfering with drivers heading to church or to breakfast.
But that also will make it easy for Bluffs residents to watch the bicyclists as they pedal though the city. Establishments such as Barley's and Dixie Quicks will be open along the 100 block of West Broadway, so bicyclists can grab coffee, a quick breakfast or — if they wait until after 8 a.m. — an adult beverage.
The route continues up Kanesville Boulevard before turning northeast on Railroad Highway toward the communities of Weston, Minden and Harlan.
“We feel like visitors from other places will get a feel for the real Council Bluffs,” said Kathy Fiscus, director of market development for the Council Bluffs Convention and Visitors Bureau. The ride ends July 27 along the Mississippi River in Fort Madison.
Saturday's celebrations could be fun even for those with no interest in cycling. The party at the Mid-America Center will include shows by The Rumbles and Better than Ezra. There also will be an expo featuring food vendors, a beer garden and multiple sellers of bicycle gear.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong will be in Council Bluffs on Saturday and will spend a few days on the route, according to organizers.
This will mark the fifth RAGBRAI for Armstrong, who admitted in January after years of denials that he used performance enhancing drugs for all seven of his Tour de France wins from 1999 to 2005.
Getting the city ready is a feat of organization. Organizers must consider everything from emergency shelters to the routes taken by trucks hauling equipment to the Mid-America Center. They do not want trucks to come in contact with bicycles.
Residents also are being advised to watch for cyclists when they open their car doors on streets. Around 25,000 people, including the bicyclists, are expected to be at the Mid-America Center for the festivities.
Restaurants and hotels will benefit from having so many in the city. And Council Bluffs will benefit from the exposure. Mayor Tom Hanafan said several site selectors for businesses are expected to use RAGBRAI as an opportunity to see what the Bluffs has to offer.
“The one thing I have always wanted is that when (the bicyclists) leave, that they feel very welcomed ... that the community was more than they thought it was going to be,” Hanafan said.
Among the sights the bicyclists will see is the new Tom Hanafan River's Edge Park, where organizers are directing the bicyclists for the traditional tire dip in the Missouri River. That is next to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, certain to be a route to downtown Omaha for many bicyclists.
Harlan will host the first overnight stop for RAGBRAI. Stores downtown will be open Sunday, and business is expected to be booming. Mayor Gene Gettys said RAGBRAI will cause Harlan's population to balloon from 5,000 to 25,000 overnight.
“It's just an awesome opportunity to show off all of the assets we have here,” Gettys said. Much of the reason the 2013 route begins in Council Bluffs is to honor the city's outgoing mayor. Hanafan, who is retiring this year after more than 25 years as mayor, has been a long-time supporter.
“I just thought one last time before he goes out of office, it would be a nice little function for Council Bluffs,” said Juskiewicz.