Taking 'a Great Ride' at RAGBRAI, the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

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Monday's ride from Carroll even included a celebrity cyclist: none other than Lance Armstrong, himself.

"We passed him a long time ago," joked Quelland. "It's too bad. I said, 'Lance, get a life.'"

While Armstrong was there in Boone, presidential hopefuls were not. Iowa, site of the nation's first caucus next winter, has been overrun in recent weeks by Republican presidential candidates. From Michele Bachmann to Tim Pawlenty, from Ron Paul to Herman Cain, the GOP candidates have been all over the Hawkeye State. But despite some anticipation that some of them might appear at RAGBRAI, they were nowhere to be found during the first half of this year's ride.

That didn't mean the state's status as a political hotbed was absent from the tour, as signs supporting one candidate or another lined the route.

"Every year, we're here we see election signs," said Quelland, who used to serve in the Arizona House of Representatives. "At least people are informed. They understand. Here in Iowa, they know what they're talking about."

"Politics just means there are more signs along the road while you're looking at the pretty wildflowers," added Koestner.

If endless cornfields, obsessive politics and tasty food were not enough to give riders a true Iowa experience, then local businesses were out in force to welcome this year's ride as it passed through one quiet small town after another. In some towns, the population more than doubles because of the massive influx of cyclists.

In Boone, the Gigglin Goat was offering $3 tall boys. Across the street, Boone Vision Center had set up a tent to hawk Oakley sunglasses to the riders.

"It's an opportunity, I guess, to do something new. To have an event with lots of people coming through town, it's fun," said Courtney Davidson, an employee at the store. "We have a lot of products here today that we wouldn't normally have. They said there would be 15,000 riders, so we're hoping they come here."

For Quelland, the hospitality of the locals served an additional purpose.

"We like to go to the local places in town and spend our money there -- and then suck up their air conditioning," he said.

For now, though, the shade offered by the small tree would have to do for him and Koestner. That and the refreshment of a rapidly-dwindling six-pack. After all, they had gotten the day's ride out of the way early for a reason.

"We left at about 5 o'clock in the morning," Quelland said. "The sooner you get here, the better. We got here -- I don't know when. When did we get here? What time is it, anyway?"

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