Grand Fondo brings big Fun to Oxford

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Claude Gunter is passionate about fashion and cycling.  He has been the owner, and personality, of the Kosciusko clothing store Claude Julian’s for 30 years.

Yet he started his career in a different field as the parks and recreation director organizing baseball, soccer, and a host of other community programs.  All while running the popular clothing store he retained his passion for outdoor recreation. 

Like many Mississippians; he started spending time in Oxford eventually purchasing a home and bringing the personality that made Claude Julian’s a fixture to our community.  

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His energy came with the idea for a touring bike ride through North Mississippi.  Gunter enjoyed cycling. He rode with local groups creating a network of friends who organized trips that blended travel and biking.  The trips would include rides through the countryside and end in towns with great restaurants, nightlife, and music.  He saw it as a perfect fit for Lafayette County and the surrounding region. Turning to his cyclist friends in Oxford he learned who to connect with to assist him in bringing this idea into reality. 

Pedaling his bike all over town to meetings with the Mayor, Park Commission, Visit Oxford, and the Arts Council he created a collective of partners who could see how his idea could add a unique event to the community.  Oxford’s hotels, restaurants, and nightlife offer a wonderful destination for touring cyclists who seek experiences.  The landscape, hills, and forests offer challenging yet fun rides through our beautiful community. The parks, biking trails, and existing bike clubs from the High School Mountain Bike Club to community groups provided a strong base of support.

Gunter wanted more than just a ride.  He envisioned a celebration, a Grand Fondo, a party on wheels. Instead of competition, timed rides, or contests.  A large celebratory event that used bikes to connect participants to the landscape, music, and food.  The first Grand Fundo was a success even after it was delayed by COVID and then hosted during the waning days of the pandemic.  The second annual Velvet Ditch is planned to be big and the community is invited.

The event kicks off with a community party to meet the riders.  Live music and welcome reception will take place at the Old Armory Pavilion on Friday, May 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. The ride will start the next morning at 7 a.m. Community members are invited to join the riders to start the event with a Ride of Silence that will occur for the first ½ mile promoting cycling safety and in memory of those who have been injured or killed while cycling.  Artist Walter Neill created a memorial for this portion of the event that cyclists will ride past on their way to tour Lafayette County. Community Members can lead the way and then encourage visiting riders on their 20, 40, and 90-mile rides

The Grand Fondo ends with the Party in the Sip at the Green of Harrisons starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 21.  The party features live music by Madrik, photo murals by local artist Adam Davis, and the chance to win a landscape painting to remind participants of the natural beauty of Mississippi. 

Proceeds from the party support the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.  Free tickets to the party are available at The Powerhouse courtesy of Claude Gunter who wanted this event to be a mingling of visitors and locals citing that Mississippi hospitality wins’ visitors over every time. 

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Wayne Andrews is chairman of Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.