Estes Park sits just on the cusp of a potentially great summer. The economy is finally picking up. While gas prices are rising, it is because people are finally traveling again. Estes Park will see its usual influx of visitors looking for outdoor adventure, and the town will host a world-class professional bicycle race. Estes Park is a destination for people who not just want to get out of their homes, but want to get outside. This is especially true for road cyclists.
Every year, hundreds, if not thousands of cyclists test themselves on the roads leading into Estes Park, and none more than the Big Thompson Canyon. It is such a popular and iconic climb that it is part of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge this August. The pros will enjoy a rolling road closure, but the average weekend road warrior has a bit more to worry about in the canyon. Something should be done to make the climb safer.
While cyclists can often match motorists’ speed descending the sinuous road, climbing out of Loveland presents a precarious ride. A pro can maintain 15 miles an hour, which is still very slow by motorist standards. The canyon also has quite a few tight and blind curves, making both cyclists as well as motorists nervous. Some of this will change, just by law, but there are some things that could be done sooner, rather than later.
Laws passed in this last legislative session require anytime a road is reconstructed, the needs of pedestrians and cyclists must be taken into account. This often means adding shoulders. This is evident in the bridge reconstruction between Estes Park and Drake, where a wide shoulder was added to the bridge. In the long run, the canyon will be safer to ride, by law. In much of the rest of the canyon, however, at the moment, there may still be tight spots.
“Seventy-four to seventy-six percent of Colorado highways now have shoulders,” reports Dan Grunig, Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado, the state’s leading bicycling advocacy group. “The mountains and foothills are mostly where we’re missing that.”
In the short term, there are some simple things state and local officials could do to make this corridor safer. To start, roads like US 34 tend to be 24 feet wide, from the white fog line on one side to the other. Grunig points out that this is a pretty wide travel lane. Signage could be placed on the sharp curves warning motorists to keep alert to cyclists. Next, the fog line on the uphill side could be moved inward about two feet, giving cyclists a wider shoulder on the slower side. Finally, chevrons and a cyclist symbol should be painted on the motorist lane, again on the uphill side, to also remind the drivers of the cyclists on the road. The slight narrowing of lanes will also cause drivers to take the curves a bit more slowly, keeping them in their lanes.
Estes Park is right on the verge of becoming a major destination for cycling tourists. With our climbs, our scenery, restaurants and family-friendly focus, not to mention the upcoming world-wide exposure from the road race. If pressure can be applied to local and state transportation officials, the Big Thompson Canyon and its communities, Drake, Glen Haven, Loveland and Estes Park, can enjoy more cycling traffic. And with the bikes come their billfolds. It would be safer for drivers, safer for cyclists and invite more revenue to Estes Park.
It is clearly cycling season, even at altitude. At the middle of May, one grand tour is snaking across Italy, one smaller tour is heading up the state of California and we are four weeks from the start of Ride the Rockies. But wait . . . there’s more.
The town of Estes Park is gearing up for its moment in the international cycling spotlight. With riders like Cadel Evans from Australia, Peter Sagan from Slovakia, Andy Schleck from Luxembourg and the Garmin-Sharp team from just down the hill in Boulder, it is very much an international event. Fans and reporters from around the world will likely show up, as well. Estes Park, as a whole, needs to get involved to show the world that we are a place to visit.
Bo Winslow, the town’s Community Services Director, has put out a call for volunteers. The town needs course marshals, idea people to help with related events in town the day of the race, as well as vendors to keep the visitors in Estes with food, gifts and the like. If you think you want to help, contact Bo at 586-6104 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have heard there are detractors who point to flopping rock shows as a reason that we should not care. To that I say, the bands who have come for those shows have not been top acts since I was in elementary school in the ’70s. The guys who will be blowing through town on August 24 will be the very best riders on earth right now. These are the best of the best. These guys are faster and fitter than anyone you personally know. These guys competed for medals in the Olympics and will be here preparing for the World Road and Time Trial Championships. In cycling, if you’re not in France in July, it really does not get any better than this.
To get an idea of what we are in for, tune in to the Amgen Tour of California, going on this week. Folks are lining the race route, especially on the climbs and in towns, two things we have going for us. We will see the end of a race within the race as the last King of the Mountains points will be collected at the top of the Glen Haven switchbacks.
The one thing we will have that the California race doesn’t is that many people will still be on summer vacation when the Pro Cycling Challenge comes through. And, because it will be a Saturday, and with our proximity to our major population centers, we could see a crowd matched only by the Scot Fest, except they will all funnel into downtown. This is a chance to show a global audience all of what Estes Park has to offer.
There will be another, slower but no less enthusiastic group pedaling through Estes Park 19 days ahead of the pros. I will be riding the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour through here on August 4-5. It is the opening day of the ride that loops beginning in Fort Collins and visits EP, Golden, Fraser, Steamboat Springs, Walden and back to Fort Collins. This makes a whole summer of fun for me.
The CRMBT is like Ride the Rockies, only smaller and tougher. While RTR allows 2,000, or so, riders, CRMBT allows only 500. The rout tends to be more challenging, as well. While the toughest day in the saddle for RTR will be Day 4, when we ride over 10,850 foot Wolf Creek Pass, the third day of the CRMBT starts in Golden, climbs Lookout Mountain, ride to Evergreen to climb Juniper Pass, plunges into Idaho Springs, slogs to the base , then climbs Berthoud Pass before finishing in Fraser. Three big climbs over 85 miles. Riders are even invited to ride the Mount Evans Road, if they feel so motivated.
Tour director Peter Duffy explains that it is a tour for a more dedicated crowd.
“I don’t want to bad mouth the Ride The Rockies,” he hastens to say. “I’ve ridden it, it’s fun. The CRMBT is smaller and tougher. We want to appeal to a more dedicated cyclist. The people who ride CRMBT will be a little fitter and a little more enthusiastic.”
I start my organized riding season this Saturday with the First Ascent Ride, a fund raiser for Livestrong. It is a metric century, starting and ending in Golden, starting with a climb of the Golden Gate Canyon, a road that pitched up to 14 percent in sections, then follows the Peak to Peak highway before descending Coal Creek Canyon and returning to Golden.
The ride features several members of the 7-Eleven cycling team, as well. It should be a great morning of riding. If you find your Saturday morning open, check the First Ascent Ride website and head down to Golden early. The ride begins at 7:30.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.
This image is from the USAPCC web site.
Back when the great Eddie Merckx won his legendary 525 races, cyclists often rode everything. They rode the Spring Classics, the Grand Tours, the World Championships and the “Tour of the Falling Leaves”. Starting in the late ’90s, this began to change. While Merckx won the Giro five times, the Tour five times, the Vuelta a Espana twice, he even won the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in the same season more than once. This has not been done since 1998 and not attempted more than a handful of times in the last 15 years. This is not all bad, especially for American cycling fans.
While for nearly a century, pink has been the color of May on the international cycling calendar, yellow and grizzly bear graphics have made their way in. The three-week tour of Italy had been the natural lead-in for the Tour de France, in the era of specialization and growing prominence of France’s big tour, the Tour of California has become a big race for more than Americans. This was helped in no small part by the moving of the race from February to May in 2010 after two abysmal weather years. Since the move, the biggest teams and racers have made the move to the Golden State.
The Tour of California is “only” a one-week race, this year beginning near San Diego on Sunday, May 12, and heading north for the first time, finishing in Santa Rosa on May 19. The Giro d’Italia is a three-week Grand Tour. Three weeks on a bike takes a big physiological toll on a body. It not only trims any extra fat off a racer, it begins a catabolistic process. It breaks down muscle in an attempt to find more energy to move the body on the bike. This is a difficult from which a racer has only five weeks to recover. As the Giro d’Italia is the most important race for and in Italy, the Tour is the biggest prize in all of stage racing. As a result, a shorter stage race has tremendous advantages for teams and racers whose ultimate goals are Tour wins.
So the best sprinter in the world not from the Isle of Man, Peter Sagan, will be back in California this weekend. The Boulder-based Garmin-Sharp team has the honor of defending Giro champion, and some of the Americans are in Italy to help with that defense, Dave Zabriskie, Garmin’s time trial specialist, will lead a strong team in California. Even Belgian hero Tom Boonen had planned to hone his sprinting skills in California before his crash at the Tour of Flanders last month.
The rise in American cycling will feature prominently again this August here in Colorado. While most Spanish-speaking racers will head to the Vuelta a Espana, most racers with a shot at September’s World Road Championship will skip the Vuelta in favor of the shorter, though still challenging Pro Cycling Challenge. Bad for the Vuelta, already the Grand Tour’s redheaded step-child, good for American cycling fans.
Meanwhile at the Corsa Rosa, Katusha’s Italian rider, Luca Paolini, is ensconced in pink. Defending champ, Garmin’s Canadian rider, Ryder Hasjedal, is 34 seconds back, tied on time with Sky’s leader, Bradley Wiggins.
The Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish started the Giro with a sprint win in Naples.
Team Sky was the overwhelming winner in stage two’s team time trial on the island of Ischia. Surprisingly, it was Sky’s firt TTT win in a grand tour. The win put Sky’s Salvatore Puccio, who also happens to be Italy’s national time trial champion, in the pink leader’s jersey.
Hesjedal took off on an attack during stage three, only to be caught and passed by eventual stage winner Paolini.
Stage four saw former Giro champion Danilo DiLuca get swamped by the sprinters teams less than 400 yards short of the finish line of the 153-mile stage in Serra San Bruno. Sprinter Enrico Battaglin took the bunch sprint. Paolini kept the rain-soaked pink jersey.
Stage five, 126 mostly-flat miles from Cosenza to Matera, was marred by a crash inside the last 1000 meters. Sprinter John Degenkolb of Argo-Shimano avoided the crash and made up a huge gap in just about 100 meters to take his first career win in the Italian tour.
Look west this weekend. The Amgen Tour of California will be televised on NBCSports network beginning Sunday. To see the Giro d’Italia, visit Steephill.tv to find a live video feed.