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“Warner Pedals Toward Decision”

By Jeff Mellott

HARRISONBURG — Former Gov. Mark Warner and his friends love challenges. They whizzed through the city’s downtown and James Madison University on Friday morning as part of their three-day, approximately 150-mile bike ride through the Shenandoah Valley. The region has a national reputation for cycling, Warner said of the choice for the trip. The riders chose the Valley because of the region’s scenic vistas and rolling hills, the former governor said.

The riders covered 65 miles around Bridgewater on Thursday. Warner said he was not used to such a long distance. Warner did well, though, according to Wayne Engel, co-owner of the Stonewall Jackson Inn. “When they came,” Engel said, “Warner was leading the pack.” He only led, Warner joked, because the other cyclists did not know the inn’s location.

On Friday, the riders from Northern Virginia covered 40 miles. The riders were impressed by the Valley’s scenic beauty. Among the group was Nigel Morris, 48, of Alexandria, who said he had not been on a bicycle for nearly a year. Thursday’s ride was exhausting, Morris said, but he liked the physical activity and the challenge. Morris, a co-founder of Capital One Financial Corp., is retired but an active investor and works with nonprofit groups. The ride enabled him, he said, to get away from the stress that comes with living in Northern Virginia. “What we have found is that there are lots of places where you can ride for long periods of time and not have to experience traffic,” he said.

Corporate attorney Mitchell Dolin, 51, of Washington, D.C., has had a similar experience while riding. He had always thought of the Shenandoah Valley region as a place for hiking. “This is a first for biking,” he said. “It’s great. I’ll be back.” “I can’t imagine a better venue for biking,” said Dolin, of Covington & Burling of Washington, D.C. The old farmhouses and the rivers and streams along the route have impressed him. But he also found himself tested. Dolin describes himself as a weekend warrior who sometimes bikes 20 miles. “The hills make a great challenge,” he said of the Valley’s topography.

Environmental Issues

During the trip, Warner has taken a timeout from his latest project. Warner is working on a way, he said, to get consumers involved in environmental issues. An announcement of the project could come in two to three months, he said. Warner supports alternative-energy sources such as ethanol, wind and solar power, as well as research for cleaner-burning coal. “If you are burning carbon-based fuels, particularly oil, that creates greenhouse gases,” he said.

Political Paths

Before riding off on the second day of the tour, Warner pondered his political future. “I’ve still got the bug,” said Warner, a former presidential hopeful. Warner decided last year that he needed a break from politics and a chance for a “real life.” Before Warner dropped out, political pundits buzzed about a possible presidential race in 2008 between Warner and former U.S. Sen. George Allen, a Republican. Allen’s presidential future dimmed after losing his bid last year for re-election to the Senate.

With the political calendar pressing ahead, Warner is considering his possibilities. From the kitchen of the Stonewall Jackson Inn Bed & Breakfast in Harrisonburg, Warner said his friends within the Washington, D.C., beltway are encouraging him to run for U.S. Senate next year. U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is up for re-election. Mark Warner unsuccessfully challenged the senator in 1996. “Senator Warner is a good friend. I want to wait and see what his decision [about seeking re-election] is first,” the former governor said. Mark Warner, 52, was elected governor in 2001.

Unable by law to succeed himself, Warner left office with high job approval ratings in public opinion polls. His friends outside the beltway, he said, want him to run for governor again. “I like being an executive,” he said Friday morning. “Governor of Virginia is probably the best job in Virginia.”

Warner does have an opening to return to Richmond. Gov. Tim Kaine, who served as lieutenant governor when Warner was the chief executive, finishes his term in early 2010. Republicans hold the statewide offices of lieutenant governor and attorney general, which historically are steppingstones to the governor’s mansion. “I’ve got to decide soon, very shortly,” Warner said.