Tour de Steamboat draws record numbers |

Tour de Steamboat draws record numbers

More than 600 riders participated in one of three rides

Riders fly along the course of the 110-mile ride of the Tour de Steamboat near Toponas on Saturday. The event attracted more than 600 people to its three rides, including 350 to the long 110-mile version. More than $65,000 was raised to support the Sunshine Kids foundation, all of which will go to allowing children in the cancer-fighting program to visit Steamboat Springs this winter.

— In some ways, the Tour de Steamboat is never what it seems.

That certainly proved true for many of the record 613 riders who took off early Sunday to ride one of the event's three routes.

The longest of the rides, a 110-mile loop, started with what seemed like the most difficult part: a long, slow slog along U.S. Highway 40 up to the top of Rabbit Ears Pass.

But just as that proved misleading, so did the idea that this was simply more than 600 happy, smiling cyclists out for a Saturday spin.

The most difficult part of the course turned out to be the final 20 miles through the familiar but rolling terrain on Colorado Highway 131, and the 600 rode for a lot more than exercise, the mass inspired to raise more than $65,000 for the Sunshine Kids cancer-fighting foundation.

"It makes me proud," event co-organizer Brad Cusenbary said slowly, overcoming some of the lasting effects from his own bout with a brain tumor.

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Tough miles

Rabbit Ears Pass, which pulls riders up more than 3,000 feet in the first 15 miles of the ride, is easier because everyone's so eager to go, riders explained.

"That part wasn't that bad," rider Casey Richter said. "Gore Pass wasn't too bad either. The worst part of that was a part in the middle where you thought you were done."

Richter came to Steamboat to ride in part to see the Yampa Valley in the summer and in part to continue the intense buildup to her first Ironman triathlon later this year.

Riders split into three groups Sunday. Some did a 25-mile jaunt to Sidney Peak Ranch. One group jetted to and from Stagecoach Reservoir. Richter found plenty to like in the longest of the rides, the 110-mile loop that shot riders up Rabbit Ears, south along the mountains, back up again over Gore Pass and finally northwest toward Steamboat Springs.

"The scenery was beautiful. That's what I come back for," Richter said. "And it's very friendly. It was a great ride."

None of it was easy, but things only grew harder for riders as the miles piled up, and even the knowledge that the finish line was looming did little to pump up tired legs.

"The last 20 to 30 miles has rollers, and at that point, oh my goodness, I was ready to be done," Richter said.

Riding for a cause

Brutal final stretch or not, the ride left a lot of happy cyclists who cruised into Steamboat Springs sometimes by the dozen and sometimes by themselves, rolling down Yampa Street and cross the finish line with either a fist pump or an exhausted but orchestrated collapse from their saddle.

To organizers, it was all sweet. The more than 600 participants blew away previous years. Last year the event topped out near 500, and just three years ago, it drew only 225.

More than 100 others took part by volunteering, and as riders poured in, the Lil' Toots Park finish area, which featured kegs and a barbecue, was buzzing with activity.

The influx of riders means big things for Sunshine Kids in Steamboat Springs. The $65,000 raised all stays local and helps pay for the more than 30 children with cancer who will visit the town in the winter.

If the ride's rate of growth and money raised stays even, it can allow organizers to expand that winter program or even reinstate a summer camp, which was dropped in the face of a troubled economy.

"You see the kids change," co-organizer Laura Cusenbary said. "We've worked with the trip now for seven years, and we get to be friends with a lot of the kids, and you see them change from when they come at first and they're bumming and when they leave and they're positive and excited.

"Knowing that this money is going to kids back to Steamboat to get that experience is just awesome. It's seriously beyond our wildest dreams that it's going this well."

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail

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