WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 8, 2006) - After a brief stop at Ground Zero in New York this morning, 105 bicyclists, some for the fifth time, began the 272-mile trek that will end at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Mike Depaolis, a New York City police officer and an organizer of the "Tour de Force" bike ride, said his brother Robert, also an NYPD officer, helped start the ride in 2002 as a way to remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"My brother Rob ... responded the day of the attacks and he was down there, Jesus, for weeks on end at Ground Zero," said Depaolis, who didn't get to the site for a couple of weeks. "He was a little more touched as far as seeing first-hand what took place."

The first year the ride totaled 20 people, 15 riders and five support personnel, he said. It's grown each year. This year's group includes about 100 police officers, a district attorney and a few officers' family members.

While the annual ride is a commemoration of the events of Sept. 11, it serves perhaps an even greater purpose.

"The No. 1 reason is it helps keep the memory of 9/11 alive. That's why we started it," he said. "But No. 2, we raise funds for the NYPD Widows and Children's Fund, which is a fund that was created to help the survivors of police officers killed in the line of duty."

The fund receives 100 percent of the $300 each participant is asked to raise through pledges. Depaolis said most raise much more than what's asked of them. Last year's group of 79 riders donated $52,000.

This year the group will also make special presentations to the families of a Las Vegas officer and a Prince Georges County, Md., officer. Both were killed in the line of duty within the last year, he said.

"It's really all one big family, the police department, no matter what job you come from," he said.

Each rider also must pay $300 to participate in the ride. This covers hotels and spare bike parts, as well as the nearly 3,500 bottles of water and 60-70 cases of sports drinks Depaolis estimates they'll go through during the four-day trip.

After a brief stop at Ground Zero - what Depaolis calls the true start of the ride - this morning, the group will catch the Staten Island Ferry and ride through Staten Island before heading for New Jersey, he said. Today the riders will end in Toms River, N.J., after 70 miles on the road.

From there, Depaolis said, it's another 95-mile ride before they take the ferry from Cape May, N.J., to Delaware's Rehoboth Beach. They'll spend the night there before heading to Annapolis, Md., for another overnighter.

The route out of Annapolis will take them through the Naval Academy grounds, a treat for Depaolis. "That's been my favorite part every year as far as the scenery, the riding," he said.

That favorite may be replaced this year, though. Once a D.C. police officer, Depaolis said he used to drive by the Pentagon on his way to work and wonder what it was like inside. On Sept. 11, he'll find out. The first half of the group's journey will end with an official tour of the Pentagon before they load up their bikes and board a bus for home.

The group is expected to arrive at the Pentagon around 11:30 p.m.

Page last updated Fri September 8th, 2006 at 18:31