By Senior Airman Meaghan McNeil
STAUNTON, Va. - No, he isn’t the seven-time Tour de’ France champion. He’s no professional biker with a larger lung span than the rest of us.
But Senior Airman Peter Bleignier is, however, quite importantly, the first junior enlisted member of the 192d Fighter Wing to participate in Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
He, along with Chief Master Sgt. Susanne Dates and Capt. Mark Widener, was sponsored by the Chiefs Council of the Virginia Air Guard to participate in the cycling event, July 23-29, as part of the Langley Air Force Base team and the Air Force team as a whole.
Together, they cycled roughly 500 miles and climbed 17,500 feet vertically over the course of the seven-day event.
“I’d really like to extend a special thanks to the Chiefs Council for providing me the opportunity for this experience,” Bleignier said. “I wouldn’t have been able to participate with out their support.”
The Air Force team is made of about 100 cyclists chosen from approximately 10 bases around the nation.
Bleignier heard of this event through the Junior Enlisted Council. After expressing interest to Dates, completing the application process and corresponding with Col. Joseph Robinson, Langley team leader, Bleignier was selected to the team.
It’s a high-visibility environment, as those wearing the Air Force cycling uniform are being watched by civilians and dignitaries alike. One such dignitary that cycled with the Air Force team, Undersecretary of the Air Force Honorable William Anderson, personally commented on Bleignier’s positive attitude and enthusiasm, Dates said.
Bleignier said during the ride that he maintained focus on why the Air Force team was there, and had a good time getting to know the civilians and military members.
“One invaluable experience was the opportunity I had to talk to a civilian from Virginia about the Air Guard,” Bleignier said. “Maybe I’ll see him as a member of our unit in the future.”
"Senior Airman Bleignier was an outstanding representative of our total force cycling team,” Dates said. “I was extremely proud to introduce him as a member of the Virginia Air Guard.”
In 1994, this annual bicycle ride was deemed an “Air Force recruiting support activity.” And that’s no wonder because, though only 8,500 can participate for the entire week, some individual legs of the journey are numbered by more than 20,000 riders.
As you can imagine, physical fitness was required to join the ranks of the Air Force team. Bleignier’s strategy was to train over time. The bicycle being his main mode of transportation in Richmond, Bleignier also tried as often as possible to ride to the unit from “The Fan” in Richmond, and back again at the end of the day.
On top of his concerted effort to make cycling a part of his everyday lifestyle, Bleignier paced himself and rode roughly 500 miles between June 15 and July 15. With that preparation, he found the hardest days were the first two. On the first day, he was sore because he’d never ridden that long at one time, and the second day there were so many hills, he said.
“After that, I found the first two days and my training set me up for success during the rest of the event,” said Bleignier. “And if given the opportunity for future participation, I would definitely take advantage of that. It was one of the best experiences the Air Guard has afforded me.”