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RAGBRAI last traveled through Des Moines in 1997.

The impending arrival of thousands of bicyclists into Iowa’s capital city means hundreds of hours of preparation for local business owners and others providing food, lodging and entertainment for RAGBRAI participants.

On Des Moines’ west side, Dereck Lewis and his staff at Thelma’s are making more than 1,500 chocolate chip and snickerdoodle ice cream sandwiches. Downtown, employees at Raygun are printing hundreds of cycling-themed T-shirts and event organizers have ordered 19,000 bottles of water to sell Tuesday when the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa rolls into town.

“This is a chance to show the world that Des Moines can throw a world-class event,” said Chris Diebel, operations chairman for the Des Moines RAGBRAI committee. “That could help put us on the short list for hosting other major events down the road.”

RAGBRAI last traveled through Des Moines in 1997. Next week’s overnight stop offers a unique opportunity to show off some of the major changes the city has undergone in the past 16 years, particularly downtown, Diebel said.

An estimated 10,000 people take part in the weeklong bike ride across Iowa each July, but officials said Des Moines could welcome a record of more than 32,000 participants Tuesday. Couple that with non-riders headed downtown to enjoy the festivities, and organizers say crowds could swell to 40,000 or more.

“It’s important to be a good host and show them what they can do to enjoy themselves while they’re in the city,” said Glenn Lyons, President and CEO of the Downtown Community Alliance. “Between the hospitality at the campground and along the route and the big event downtown on the Riverwalk, I think there will be lots of things to do in addition to our normal fare.”

The ride starts Sunday in Council Bluffs and makes its way across Iowa before moving into Des Moines on Tuesday.

Festivities planned

Local businesses, city staff, event organizers and others are scrambling to pull together all the loose ends before the mob of cyclists arrives. Tuesday’s relatively short 49.9-mile ride from Perry to Des Moines has people anticipating riders will make their entrance early.

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