16 years later, metro is ready to show off

It’s almost an annual tradition: The Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau sends a letter every year to the RAGBRAI staff to formally request they bring the ride to Des Moines. And every year, RAGBRAI passes on it.

But every once in a while, RAGBRAI takes the bait.

This year’s visit to the state capital follows a 16-year hiatus, and the 1997 route “kind of dabbled around the edges of Des Moines” but never rolled right through, RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz said. The ride has gotten close a few times as well, spending the night in Altoona in 2011, Indianola in 2009 and Waukee in 2006.

Many expected the route to visit last year, for the ride’s 40th anniversary, but instead it veered north to Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids. So when Juskiewicz hinted to the CVB that Des Moines might be in this year’s plan, the organization jumped all over it.

“Any time we saw T.J. out and about, we joked with him about why Des Moines really needed to be a stop on RAGBRAI this year,” Tiffany Tauscheck, CVB vice president for marketing and development, said. She noted the recent development of the riverwalk, the city’s trail system and the flocks of cyclists that gather at biker-friendly hangouts like Mullet’s, just south of Principal Park.

Juskiewicz said he firmed up the decision by October, during the annual Iowa Tourism Conference, but sat on the secret until the announcement party in January.

“We didn’t know until everybody else did,” Tauscheck said.

Juskiewicz explained that Des Moines fit into this year’s route puzzle — and the city is ready to show off.

“It’s just the right time,” he said. “Even two years ago it would have been completely different. We’ve got an awesome riverfront now. Let’s use it.”

With Tuesday’s easy ride from Perry — just 50 flat miles — riders could roll into town as early as 9 a.m., leaving them a full day to explore Valley Junction and downtown sites like Gray’s Lake, the Science Center of Iowa, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the new RAGBRAI exhibit at the State Historical Museum. And the Iowa Cubs play the New Orleans Zephyrs at 7 p.m.

“Any time we’re in a major metropolitan area, it’s just a different feel than in small-town Iowa,” Juskiewicz said. “That’s not good or bad, it’s just different.”

People suggest from time to time that RAGBRAI should have a layover day, when riders spend not one but two nights in an overnight town. There’s certainly enough to fill a couple of days here in Des Moines.

But Juskiewicz shook his head, thinking of the logistical challenges. “Let’s not even go there.”

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