Riders work their way toward Steamboat during the 2011 Tour de Steamboat. This year’s event will start Saturday with registration open until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday at www.tourdesteamboat.com. People also can register from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday at Ski Haus.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Riders work their way toward Steamboat during the 2011 Tour de Steamboat. This year’s event will start Saturday with registration open until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday at www.tourdesteamboat.com. People also can register from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday at Ski Haus.

Tour de Steamboat ride includes a storied history

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If you go

What: Eighth annual Tour de Steamboat

When: Starts at 7 a.m. Saturday at Little Toots Park

To register: Registration is open until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday at www.tourdesteambo...

People also can register from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at Ski Haus.

Benefit dinner

What: Benefit Dinner by Prudential Steamboat Realty

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Torian Plum tent

Tickets: $30 and are available at Prudential until Friday. People also can buy them through the www.tourdesteambo... website.

About: Includes dinner, drinks and a silent auction. People can buy raffle tickets to win a Eriksen Cycles custom road frame. Tickets are $10 each or 11 for $100.

They also are selling 100 tickets for $100 each for a grand prize. The grand prize includes a trip and airfare to one of seven places around the world. Those who don’t win automatically get a bottle of wine priced between $20 and $120.

— Three years ago, as the Tour de Steamboat started to establish itself as one of the premier rides in Steamboat, Tom Keenan and Kent Eriksen had a moment that took them right back to the beginning.

Eriksen, a cycling legend, and Keenan grew up together in Wisconsin. Eriksen got Keenan riding bikes in 1970 and when visiting Steamboat in 1975, Keenan got thrown into the inaugural event.

“He found a bike for me,” Keenan said. “I’m sure it was my first race ever. But I figured what the hell. Why not.”

And so about 40 people took on the inaugural Tour de Steamboat, then just the Oak Creek loop.

“And that was every biker in town,” said Ken Kruse, who competed in the first Tour de Steamboat and every subsequent one since.

The original started small but featured some of the top riders. Eriksen won the first one and had an epic showdown with future Olympic gold medalist — then-17-year-old Alexi Grewal — in the second one.

As Saturday’s eighth annual Tour de Steamboat brings more than 600 riders to Steamboat for three routes, the event is rich in cycling history. It has gone from a competitive event to a tour, from a money making venture to a tremendous fundraiser.

“Three years ago, Kent and I were riding down Gore Pass with it raining down,” Keenan said. “I looked over and just started laughing. I said, ‘We’ve been doing this for 40 years pal.’”

After Eriksen ran the event for 10 years of competitive events, it started to phase out.

In 2003, Eriksen’s wife, Katie Lindquist, and Brad Cusenbary started Rocky Peak Productions, hoping to resurrect the ride.

“Back then, they called that loop the Gore Gruel,” Lindquist said. “We resurrected it as a ride and not a race.”

The loop would climb Rabbit Ears Pass, then Gore Pass before returning back to Steamboat.

Lindquist and Cusenbary thought they could turn the production into a money making venture.

The first year, in 2005, the ride had 200 cyclists. But with Lindquist and Cusenbary working full-time jobs, the idea of it being a money making venture became unreal.

The two still loved the route and idea, so they kept it going but turned it into a fundraiser.

“We didn’t want it to die,” Lindquist said. “We recruited our friends, and our friends recruited their friends.”

The ride remained relatively consistent with about 200 riders taking part. In 2008, however, the ride became a fundraiser for the Sunshine Kids Foundation.

That year, they had 200 riders and raised $20,000. The money all stayed local and allowed children in the cancer fighting program to visit Steamboat in the winter.

In 2009, the ride introduced shorter 40- and 25-mile courses. That year, Brad Cusenbary also was diagnosed with a brain tumor, bringing the fundraising efforts full circle.

“These kids are so amazing,” said co-organizer Laura Cusenbary. “Just the courage and how they deal with it. It was the message Brad and I got when we got the news. We’re going to be fine. The glass is half full and we’re not held back by this.”

Brad’s subsequent recovery and the growing interest in the race has increased every year.

Last year, more than 600 riders took to the pavement, raising more than $65,000 for the Sunshine Kids Foundation.

The ride has raised more than $150,000 for the Sunshine Kids since 2008. This year, they already have 600 riders signed up.

With it growing, the Tour de Steamboat has gotten help from Iconic Adventures to help with the production.

And with that help and the continued work of the volunteers, Laura Cusenbary said they have the power to grow the ride to 1,000 cyclists.

Considering where this bike-mad community has grown, it likely will.

This year, the Tour de Steamboat will have entrants from more than 20 states, and the event is likely to raise at least $70,000 for the Sunshine Kids.

“If we weren’t passionate about it, we would have sold it or phased it out,” Lindquist said. “We’ll continue the energy we’ve got as board members and sponsors. We’ll keep it going and keep it growing.”

Those interested still can sign up for the three rides at www.tourdesteamboat.com. Participants also can purchase tickets for Benefit Dinner by Prudential Steamboat Realty on Friday night by going there or picking up tickets at Prudential Steamboat Realty.

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