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Cliff Channell (center), Rae Spooner (left) and timer Austin Birch (right) instruct riders before the start of Saturday's Ride for Ray in Savoy.

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New to town and hoping to find a riding partner, Cliff Channell remembers the moment he saw Ray Spooner. Of course, Ray was cycling at a high rate of speed through a stretch of Savoy.

"When he passed by, I said 'Please, let that red light catch this guy,' " said Channell (right), whose wish came true. "If I'd seen him five seconds later, I would have never caught him. It was fate."

The chance encounter started a bicycling bond, one cut short by Ray's death in 2016. ALS claimed the popular 57-year-old.

On an overcast Saturday morning, thanks to the organizational efforts of Channell and Ray's widow, Rae, cyclists of all ages and from several states hit the road to benefit ALS research.

"An amazing turnout," Rae told the group before it took off from Savoy Recreational Center on timed rides of various lengths.

In the Ride For Ray's three years, close to $50,000 has been raised.

"We want this to become the biggest ALS ride in the country. That's our goal," Channell said.

In Ray's final days, Cliff asked him if he could continue his Ride For Ray project. Unable to speak, Ray "texted me 'It just has to be long,' " Cliff said.

Fittingly, Saturday's options included rides of 15, 30, 62 and 124 miles throughout East Central Illinois.

Perfect.

"It's such a terrible disease," Cliff said. "We as a community want to help any way we can."

How to help: Visit rideforray.com