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Niagara Hospice is starting a new charity bicycle ride sure to appeal to cycling enthusiasts of all abilities.

The Hospice Gran Fondo Bike Ride is set for May 17 around the Niagara County countryside, with rest stops planned at a number of local wineries.

The 62.5-mile ride – that’s about 100 kilometers – starts at 8 a.m.; a 30-mile trek begins at 9 a.m.; a 15-miler starts at 10 a.m.; and a 5-mile jaunt gets started at 10:15 a.m.

All rides begin and end at Chateau Niagara Winery, 2466 W. Creek Road, Newfane.

So what does “Gran Fondo” mean, exactly?

It’s a type of ride that originated in Italy and translates to “big ride.” These rides are known as “parties on wheels,” with refreshments served along the routes, followed by huge post-ride parties.

“This is not a race – we don’t want it to be competitive,” said Stefany Critelli, who serves on the ride committee. “We want people to make a day of it, get some physical activity and, hopefully, enjoy the weather. Anybody can ride a bike – all you need is a bike and a helmet, and this is for a good cause.”

Critelli said the committee aimed to keep the entry fee affordable – $45 if you register by March 31, with a reduced fee of $20 for riders 16 years and younger.

“We wanted to make this a family-friendly event,” said Critelli, a cyclist and Niagara Falls teacher. “You pay one fee, and that includes the ride, rest stops that are stocked with water and Gatorade and snacks, a shirt and the after-ride party. There will also be volunteers all along the routes and safety plans in place.”

Critelli said that although it’s not required, participants also may want to use the ride to collect pledges. Some also will form teams at their workplaces. All of the ride’s proceeds benefit Niagara Hospice.

Niagara Hospice has provided end-of-life care since 1988. Not only does it care for patients with end-of-life illnesses, but it also supports their families and loved ones through the illness and dying process. It is a not-for-profit, charitable organization.

Patricia Degan, Hospice’s director of marketing and public relations, said fundraisers such as this “help provide necessary funds to benefit our patients and their families.”

“These fundraisers help supplement costs for the uninsured and underinsured, for example,” she said. “And they help us provide for things above and beyond what insurance might cover. For instance, we were able to provide a wedding for one of our patients who wanted to marry the love of her life. It helps some last wishes come true.”

Critelli said she was “more than willing to help” when approached to assist in planning the ride because, she said, “This is a great organization.”

She also said she has “absolutely” seen an increase in cycling in the area in recent years.

“We have great paths and trails in this area, and biking is a sport for all ages,” she said. “Local charity rides have really helped get people involved.”

The ride also features a partnership with several wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail.

“We have so many wineries right in our own backyard,” Critelli said. “Of course, the cyclists won’t be drinking wine when we use the wineries as rest stops on the ride, but this will give the wineries some good exposure, too.”

The event is presented by M&T Bank, and sponsors who will provide rest stops include Victorianbourg Wine Estate and Woodcock Brothers Brewery in Wilson; Schulze Vineyards and Winery and Black Willow Winery, Burt; Honeymoon Trail Winery, Lockport; Midnight Run Winery, Ransomville; and Gordie Harper’s Bazaar, Newfane. Additional sponsors include: Tops, Soul Sisters/Soul Fit, Modern Corp., Race Management Solutions, Starbucks, Love and Sprockets, Chain Ring Rhythm, Tom’s Pro Bike and Yellow Haus Bicycles.

For more information and to register, visit www.hospicegranfondo.com.