Sedona resident Gary Bohn has cycled his entire life, but his relationship with the sport changed in the late 1980s.
Cycling on the world stage had been dominated by European riders, limiting interest in the United States.
That changed in 1986 when Minnesota native Greg LeMond broke through, becoming the first American rider to win the Tour de France, the most prestigious and important sporting event.
LeMond won the Tour twice more – in an incredible comeback in 1989 and a repeat title in 1990. Officially, LeMond is still the only American to win the event. Future seven-time champion Lance Armstrong and 2006 winner Floyd Landis were stripped of all titles following a blood doping controversy.
Bohn, who was born and raised in Minnesota, caught Tour fever at this LeMond race. His interest in cycling has reached another level. He made trips to France in 2000 and 2002 to see what he calls “sports greatest spectacle” during the height of Armstrong’s run.
These experiences cemented Bohn’s love for the sport.
“I watched every minute [of the Tour] ever since,” he said.
The Tour de France is a grueling 23-day event. Riders compete in 21 “stages” made up of hours of long rides through some of the toughest road riding courses in the world. Those who complete the event cover more than 2,200 miles in just three weeks.
Next summer, at 64, Bohn will face the Tour himself. Just a few weeks ago, he was selected from among 25 riders from around the world to participate in Tour 21, which will see Bohn and the other riders tackle the 21 stages of the Tour de France 2023 just a week before the professionals. face the racing beast.
“I was so happy to do some climbs [as a tourist in France in 2000 and 2002]”, Bohn said. “It never occurred to me until last year.”
Even better, Tour 21 will raise nearly $1 million for Cure Leukemia, the official charity partner of the Tour de France. Leukemia and other blood cancers affect millions of people around the world each year, with even LeMond himself being diagnosed with a “treatable form” of leukemia in June.
The cause is something close to home for Bohn. His wife was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago, and although she is thankfully cancer-free today, Bohn likened the diagnosis to a “shot in the head.” Her family is still battling cancer as her sister-in-law was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
Charitable motives are sure to propel Bohn through the brutal race. He has plenty of experience on race bikes in his native Minnesota and Wisconsin, but primarily with mountain biking. When he and his wife moved to Sedona 13 years ago, he says it was primarily for Red Rock mountain biking.
But make no mistake, the Tour de France is not a mountain bike race. It’s almost entirely on paved roads and riders climb vicious mountains on those thin road bike tires. Training hasn’t quite ramped up for Bohn yet, as he says he’ll really heat it up at the start of the new year in January, but he’s still preparing for those brutal climbs. He started with annual rides to the top of the Snowbowl in Flagstaff from his Uptown Sedona home. It will transition to walks atop Mingus Mountain from Sedona, but he thinks Sedona’s natural elevation will help him train.
“I received very good training,” he said. “I still ride the bike every day, I think that’s the biggest requirement because it’s the Tour, it’s every day. It’s not about cycling hard then taking two days off, it’s about cycling every day and I’ve been doing this for 13 years so it’s going to be very useful I think.
The toughest job for Bohn isn’t the training or the climbs. He needs to raise $40,000 for Cure Leukemia and he’ll need help from the Sedona community
Plans aren’t quite solid yet, but Sedona residents will have many opportunities to help Bohn achieve his fundraising goals, whether through upcoming hotel and festival events, or even a bike-a-thon in Uptown Sedona.
“It’s only been two weeks, but I have so many people reaching out to me,” he said. “The local community is very, very supportive.”
A GoFundMe fundraiser is live right now. Bohn also offers handyman labor in exchange for donations to help him achieve his goal. He can be contacted for all fundraising and donation ideas through his GoFundMe page.
At 64, Bohn believes he will be the oldest Tour 21 entrant to date. The climbs will be tough, but at least he will have the beauty of France in view to distract himself.
“It’s so beautiful,” Bohn said. “It keeps you from thinking about the pain.”
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