Closer to Free goes virtual for 10th anniversary ride

Closer to Free

Mario Lupone, RN, Phase One Clinical Trials, was among the riders in last year’s Closer to Free event. To keep everyone safe during COVID-19, this year’s Closer to Free participants will do their own rides – either outside on their own routes, or at home on stationary bikes. Riders will still raise money for Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center.


The traditional Yale Bowl crowds and peloton of more than 2,000 riders will move to back roads and living rooms across the state on Sept. 12, as the Closer to Free ride goes virtual to protect everyone’s safety during COVID-19.

“We had to make a big decision because this is our 10th anniversary,” said Jessica Scheps, development event specialist, Yale New Haven Hospital. “We came to the conclusion that it wasn’t responsible, even if life returns to normal come September, to be the first massive event out there. As much as we wanted to celebrate the ride’s milestone, we knew it was in everyone’s best interest to adhere to the state’s guidelines.”

Rather than cancel the signature event, the team behind Closer to Free redesigned everything, from the way participants will ride to how much money they’ll be required to raise. As in past years, 100 percent of funds raised will be donated to Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center. The actual event will be virtual, with cyclists participating in different ways – like riding up and down their driveways, on their local roads or indoors on exercise bikes. Participants are discouraged from riding the traditional Closer to Free route.

“We don’t want people to show up at the Yale Bowl or ride past Smilow,” Scheps said. “We really want people to choose their own route and to make it a safe one.”

The weeks leading up to the event have also changed, as the typical training sessions have been replaced with what organizers call the “10-Year Challenge.” To help connect the community and commemorate the ride’s 10th year, organizers are challenging riders to record 100,000 collective miles before Sept. 12. Using a free mobile app called Strava, available from the App Store or Google Play, riders can create an account and add miles toward the CTF goal.

The Closer to Free ride is a major fundraising event, but this year, organizers decided to eliminate the traditional $500 pledge requirement. It has been replaced with a rewards program based on how much money a cyclist raises. The program starts at the $150 level; everyone who raises that amount receives an event lawn sign. Other rewards include a CTF baseball hat at the $250 level and a CTF cycling jersey at the $500 level.

Registration for the 2020 Closer to Free ride is now open at rideclosertofree.org. The registration fee has been reduced from the usual $100 to $25 this year. Yale New Haven Health employees may receive an additional $5 discount by entering the code YNHH20 at registration.

“We’re proud to keep Closer to Free on the calendar this year,” Scheps said. “It was a very big challenge, but with the commitment of our team and the passion of the riders, we’ve made significant changes that everyone has embraced.”