AREDALE, Iowa (CNN) - RAGBRAI is an acronym for the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, and, according to its website, it's the "largest, longest, and oldest touring bicycle ride in the world." The week-long event sponsored by the Des Moines Register can attract well over 10,000 cyclists ranging from beginners to, in this year's case, a Tour de France winner.
I'm speaking of the one and only Lance Armstrong, cyclist extraordinaire and founder of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which, according to its website, "unites, inspires and empowers people affected by cancer."
Unlike running for the presidency, RAGBRAI is non-competitive. So Armstrong extended invitations to anyone in 2008's wide field of presidential candidates to come along for the ride. And did anyone take him up on the offer? Yes, one: Democrat John Edwards. He also brought the family, including wife Elizabeth who's having her own battle with cancer.
Each of these men is a "celebrity" in one way or another. Edwards is a former senator, former vice-presidential nominee, and one of the candidates for his party's nomination in 2008; Armstrong is the best-known name in cycling, having won the Tour seven consecutive times.
But when Edwards and Armstrong pedal through some of the early caucus state's smallest towns—along with their entourages and some of the biggest crowds on wheels these towns have ever seen – is the overall response positive or negative?
Picture the scene at Duck's Bar and Grill on Main Street in the small town of Aredale, Iowa. It's 5:00PM and four middle-aged area residents are chatting. They're tired after a long day of cooking and selling drinks to thousands of out-of-towners. Armstrong was among the thousands strolling through – though in his case it was probably quicker than a stroll. However, there was no Edwards in tow.
The candidate, like a lot of participants in RAGBRAI, only rode a part of the trip, in his case 12 of the ride's 472 miles. Of course, he’s busy. But does riding in the RAGBRAI benefit his campaign – or do the good people of Iowa see it as a media event?
"All this is a publicity stunt if you ask me," said 45-year old Scott Yung. "Sure, Aredale is a small town that could use the attention–and for that it's wonderful– but it's just a waste of time for them."
"Lance [Armstrong], I can understand," said Mark Nalan, a 43-year old from the nearby town of Sheffield. "But candidates are not athletes."
"He went 12 miles," Yung adds. "Heck, I could have done that drunk."
A man overhears the conversation at the other end of the bar and interrupts. "It wouldn't sway me just because a presidential candidate came through town," he said with more than a hint of frustration, "because I know that if it weren't for RAGBRAI, they would'nt be here at all."
But bartender Nicole Prause has had enough of this. She disagrees completely.
"Even though he only rode about 12 miles," she said, "at least he took the time to do that. Others don't." Prause continued: "His name is stuck in my head after today, and I had never even heard of John Edwards until he came through RAGBRAI."
Nothing scientific about this bar talk in Aredale, Iowa. But it just goes to show you don’t need a cast of thousands – or even a dozen – to get plenty of different opinions in the Hawkeye State.
-CNN Iowa Producer Chris Welch