Three peaks, two wheels

Cyclists summit 3 passes in Tour de Steamboat

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Solitude is 7 a.m. on Rabbit Ears Pass.

It's mid-August, but stand outside in the cool air for 10 minutes, and your hands begin to tingle. Signs remind early morning passers-by that moose are in the area. None are seen. The only sounds are playing birds and rustling aspen leaves.

Around a bend on U.S. Highway 40, Henri Stetter appears on his road bike. He left Stagecoach at 5:30 a.m. with his niece, Deborah Muller, who flew in from Switzerland to ride in Saturday's Kent Eriksen's Tour de Steamboat.

"This is meditation," Stetter said with a distinct European accent. "I started an hour-and-a-half ago. Before long, you are here."

He pointed to the spot on the road where he stopped to catch his breath. After a minute break, Stetter was on his way toward the summit.

If American cyclist Lance Armstrong can dominate the Tour de France, it seems only fair the inaugural Tour de Steamboat has some European flair. Ten minutes after Stetter bid farewell (with a reminder to watch for his niece)uller appeared with Denis Casey. They smiled, nodded and continued. Soon thereafter, a steady stream of brightly dressed men and women began to ride by.

More than 200 cyclists registered for Saturday's 105-ish-mile road ride over Rabbit Ears, Gore and Yellow Jacket passes. Most of the field was to the top of Rabbit Ears Pass by 9 a.m. From there, riders continued on U.S. 40 to Colorado Highway 134, where they cleared Gore Pass. From Gore Pass, the cyclists rode on to the South Routt town of Toponas and turned north toward Yampa and Phippsburg.

Between Phippsburg and Oak Creek, cyclists veered off on Routt County Road 14 and then onto C.R. 16 through Stagecoach State Park. Riders returned to C.R. 14 and eventually to Colorado Highway 131.

From there, they had less than 10 miles to go with Mount Werner in sight. The start and finish area was in the Meadows parking lot, though not everyone opted to start or finish there.

"It was tough, but a lot of

fun," Boulder's Walter Kingsbery

said. "It rained for a couple of minutes between Toponas and Phippsburg, just long enough for me to stop to put on my rain jacket, but then it stopped. It was actually beautiful weather."

Kingsbery began at 6:30 a.m. and finished at 1:15 p.m., and the 6 hours and 45 minutes it took him, including stops, was a great time.

"I pretty much rode by myself, not by choice but by chance," Kingsbery said. "The climbs early split the field."

Saturday's Tour de Steam--boat wasn't a race, so it wasn't officially timed, but that didn't stop riders from calculating exact mileages and exact times. A similar ride called the Gore Gruel existed years ago. Since its end, however, there have been few opportunities for road bikers to take part in an organized, supported event in Steamboat.

Anyone who drives the roads in or around this community, or this state, for that matter, knows just how popular road riding is. Steamboat's Deb Rose, who finished just behind her son Paul Rose, 17, thinks the Tour de Steamboat will become a popular event. For one, the course is challenging but beautiful.

"The community is obviously very healthy," said Rose, who also is a Nordic coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. "With mountain biking and road biking, I think most people like both."

The weekend kicked off with a Friday night dinner featuring former Tour de France rider and stage winner Andy Hampsten. His talk and the evening went great, organizer Katie Lindquist said. Saturday ended with a barbecue block party.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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