TJ Juskiewicz Brings New Zeal to El Tour de Tucson
By Valerie Vinyard
For TJ Juskiewicz, taking charge of a large cycling event is, well, like riding a bike.
Tucson-based Perimeter Bicycling Association of America marked a win when it wooed Juskiewicz into accepting the executive director job for El Tour de Tucson in 2020. He is supremely talented at anything bicycle-related, especially running major races and infusing new ideas into cycling events.
And he’s even weathered the pandemic that disrupted what’s now a 39-year history for El Tour.
“The thing that I love about Tucson is this town is absolutely cycling crazy,” Juskiewicz said. “Everything has been so positive. Even last year, it was tremendously supported. When we’re up to full speed, I can’t even imagine how big an event this can grow to.”
Juskiewicz moved to Tucson from Iowa, where for 17 years he successfully served as the director of Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, another top U.S. cycling event. According to its website, RAGBRAI is “an epic eight-day rolling festival of bicycles, music, food, camaraderie and community.” RAGBRAI also is the largest, oldest and longest multi-day bicycle touring event in the world.
Before that, he lived in Florida from 1999 to 2003, where he built up the Bike Florida event to 3,000 riders. He was a coordinator of Bike South 2000, a 2,000-mile, 30-day bicycle tour of six southern states. Juskiewicz also served as the national president of the Bicycle Tour Network.
El Tour, held in Tucson since 1983, is a major fundraising event in the United States and the longest-running event of its kind in Arizona. Riders range from beginners to serious competitors, but all help nonprofit agencies raise funds for their organizations. So far, the event has raised over $100 million for these charities.
“It went really well in my eyes,” said Juskiewicz of his first year helming El Tour. “It was a tough year with the pandemic and all the uncertainty, not just for the participants, but the volunteers and staff, too.”
In 2019, he estimated 5,500 people came to the event. Last year, he added, it was about 6,700. He’s hoping for 10,000 this year. “People are enthused all over the country,” Juskiewicz said. “We’re really reaching out regionally.”
Juskiewicz himself is helping to fuel that enthusiasm, according to El Tour board member Damion Alexander, who credits El Tour’s continuing success to Juskiewicz’s leadership.
“What TJ brought to El Tour is the experience and relationships that he had from RAGBRAI,” said Alexander, a Tucson Realtor and avid cyclist. “He knows everybody in the cycling world. It was completely a testament to his relationships. He’s doing a phenomenal job.”
Alexander said Juskiewicz’s vision is “something that no one else has.”
“Volunteers came from all over the country,” he said. “They’re not just loyal; people love him. People get the culture. There’s this diverse group of people who maybe never rode in Arizona, but will because TJ has the relationships.”
Alexander said Juskiewicz was a solid replacement for the previous executive director and founder of El Tour, Richard DeBernardis, who stepped down after a long tenure.
Juskiewicz wants to make sure riders enjoy themselves during El Tour.
“It’s how you make them feel when you get off the bike, or when they pull into a rest stop,” he said. “Those kinds of things you can elevate.”
Tucson’s overall reputation and mild fall weather also help. “You can come, stay at a great resort, have world-class meals,” Juskiewicz said. “This is an absolute destination town.”
Juskiewicz is also enjoying all the Tucson bicycling community offers in addition to the heralded El Tour race. He lives in Marana about a mile away from his favorite trail, The Loop — voted USA Today’s Best Recreational Trail in the U.S. for two consecutive years.
“It feels really safe,” he said. “You do some of your best thinking when you’re on the bike, you’re separated from cars, you’re not climbing really much. It’s just so relaxing and such a treasure that we have here. I will take the loop against any bicycling facility in the world.”