- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

More than 1,300 cyclists rode their bikes into the District yesterday to raise money to fight AIDS.

The first-ever Tour de Friends, a fund-raising bike ride, began in Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday and ended 330 miles and about four days later in a parking lot at K Street in Northwest.

“This is the primary fund-raiser for Food & Friends,” a District-based group that cares for AIDS patients, cyclist Julie Martine said. “I want it to continue.”

Organizers have not yet figured out how much money the event had raised.

Miss Martinez, 38, was inspired to become involved because she had witnessed her aunt care for her 24-year-old son before he died of AIDS in the early 1980s. “It was a long and drawn-out ordeal,” Miss Martinez said. Food & Friends provided the family with hot meals free of charge.

Although the cyclists dodged storms along the way, they did have head winds. “There is nothing that can prepare you for 330 miles in three-and-a-half days,” Miss Martinez said.

Biker Ashley Christensen, 26, raised $50,000 for the cause.

“I told everyone that I can make it to the finish line. I need your help to make it to the starting line,” Miss Christensen said.

The money raised will benefit three organizations: Food & Friends, Fan Free Clinic in Richmond and Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina in Raleigh.

A few hundred people turned out to whistle, cheer and welcome the riders as they made their way down K Street to finish the ride.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams also was present to welcome the bikers, who stood sweating in the 78-degree sunshine after their final leg of the trip.

“You have put your legs and backs to work for those who are battling AIDS,” he said.

The bikers averaged about 90 miles a day.

“I’m going home to take a long bath and watch ‘Sex in the City,’” said Charissa Benjamin, spokeswoman for the event, as she packed up at the end of a long day.

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