Susan Larson Rodenburg and Rich Rodenburg

Co-founders Susan Larson Rodenburg and Rich Rodenburg will celebrate Tour de Nebraska’s 30th year with a 275-mile route through the Sandhills June 21-25. Here they pause during a recent ride along the East MoPac Trail near 105th Street east of Lincoln.

PHOTO BY MARK SCHWANINGER

Founders Rich and Susan Larson Rodenburg will celebrate their 30th year of coordinating the Tour de Nebraska bicycle adventure with a 275-mile route through the Sandhills June 21-25.

Over 450 cyclists will leave St. Paul, Nebraska, on Wednesday, June 21, and camp overnight in Loup City, Broken Bow and Ord.

“It’s our 30th year, and we want to spend it someplace iconic to Nebraska,” says Larson Rodenburg. “We love the Nebraska Sandhills for the quiet roads, dramatic vistas, winding rivers, cowboy towns, ranches, cattle, horses, wildlife and friendly people.”

The noncompetitive circle tour will start and end in St. Paul – 122 miles northwest of Lincoln. It will proceed to overnights at Loup City (Wednesday, June 21), Broken Bow (Thursday, June 22) and Ord (Friday and Saturday, June 23-24), before returning to St. Paul (Sunday, June 25).

“We have families, school teachers, busy executives and others who all share a passion for cycling and adventure,” Larson Rodenburg said. “Everyone rides at their own speed and enjoys sightseeing, culture and food in the small communities along the route. By the time the tour ends, we’re all bonded in one way or another.”

How it all started

More than 30 years ago, Susan Larson bought a new racing bicycle at Bike Pedalers, a local shop owned at the time by a young man named Rich Rodenburg.

“I fell in love with my new red Cannondale racing bicycle, and I also fell in love with the bike shop’s owner,” recalls Larson Rodenburg.

The couple’s mutual love for biking – along with hearing frequent complaints from Bike Pedalers customers that bike tours were full – led the Rodenburgs to start their own bicycle tour, the Tour de Nebraska.

While discussing the tour idea with friends, Susan says she threw out the name as “kind of a joke” at the time in reference to the popular Tour de France bicycle race. But everyone liked the name, so it stuck.

“That first year, we had 10 people sign up,” Larson Rodenburg recalls. “I was thinking we would instantly start with 500 people, so I asked everyone if they were still interested in the tour. Everybody said they still wanted to ride. So we’ve grown from 10 to 450 riders in 30 years.”

As a 1980s triathlon athlete, Larson Rodenburg says that first Tour de Nebraska – riding 80 to 100 miles a day for seven days – was a bit too ambitious for most riders.

“By the time we reached a town, everybody was so exhausted that we all just collapsed,” she says. “So we dialed it back to 50 to 70 miles a day for five days, Wednesday through Sunday. That way the riders didn’t feel so pushed, and they could enjoy each community we stayed at. I feel a big obligation to the towns that host us, because they do a lot of work, and having 450 riders spend money in their town is a big economic benefit to them.”

Tour tools

Larson Rodenburg makes sure that riders and hosting townspeople alike have the tools they need for a great Tour de Nebraska experience, says Karen Hand, who nominated Larson Rodenburg for the Girls and Women in Sports and Fitness Ambassador Award, which she received Feb. 1.

“She wants cyclists to experience the beauty of the rural parts of the state, the hospitality and genuine friendliness of small-town Nebraska,” Hand says. “And she wants small-town Nebraska to enjoy and succeed in hosting the bikers.”

No wonder cyclists come from 25 to 30 different states each year, and often from Canada and Mexico, to ride the Tour de Nebraska.

To help prepare riders, four years ago Larson Rodenburg approached the downtown YMCA about implementing a bicycle tour training class.

“It works,” Hand says. “Give people the tools they need – like bike training, how to pitch a tent and a family of bikers to share it with – and they pedal away on a five-day tour.”

Larson Rodenburg even brings in Husker softball coach Rhonda Revelle to the YMCA class to prepare bikers for mental toughness. “Because you will have days that are hard, and you need to know how to handle the difficulties – like a 30-mile-an-hour headwind,” Hand adds.

The Rodenburgs were among the founding board members recruited in the 1980s by Great Plains Trails Network co-founder Elaine Hammer to develop hiker/biker trails in Lincoln (see related cover story on page 28).

“I am grateful for the opportunity to have been on the ground level of helping build the local trails network,” Susan says. “We now have 130 miles of trails in Lincoln. That trails network adds to our quality of life, and it attracts people to Lincoln and is one of the reasons they stay here.”

Tour de Nebraska registration

The $295 registration fee includes a TDN t-shirt, daily maps and itineraries, TDN handbook, meal and camping arrangements, fruit, kickoff breakfast, sag service, luggage transport, yoga every afternoon and a Saturday evening awards dinner. Details/registration: TourdeNebraska.com or by request to Susan@TourdeNebraska.com or 402-440-3227.

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