Well, The Giro is behind us, The Tour is ahead and my favorite ride, Ride the Rockies, is a pleasant memory. It is becoming more pleasant the further away I get. But, wow has this summer gone by quickly.
The ride began in beautiful Carbondale, just down the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen. Carbondale was a wonderful host, with Mount Sopris looming over the headquarters. Weather started out mild and mostly pleasant. Many of the faces I’ve seen in years past returned, like a sort of traveling homecoming.
Renee, Betsy, Liz and, of course, Chandler, the RTR staff, all worked like mad to keep the tour progressing smoothly. It’s amazing the amount of work they do, most of which we, as the riders, never see. They coordinate supplies for the aid stations, make sure venders have places to set up, and get there on time, help keep track of luggage trucks and shuttles to get riders in and out of the HQ and to the food and entertainment. And that’s just for the one week of the ride. Imagine the work involved just to get the rides organized and going.
The first day was relatively short, from Carbondale to Aspen. The 50-mile rout took us through Missouri Heights, a steep little climb on the east side of the valley. Lance Armstrong, the speaker in Aspen that afternoon, stated he hates the climb. I understand. The day, however, was beautiful and the skies remained clear almost to the end of the day. My riding buddy, Donald, and I made the turn into Aspen High School as the wind came up and the rain began.
Donald was one of three guys I rode with last year. The other two had work and training conflicts that did not allow them to make this ride. Donald, from Marin County California, had his wife and mother-in-law along, as well. The new arrangement allowed me to enjoy more of Aspen.
Aspen, tucked into the head of the Roaring Fork Valley and the foot of Independence Pass, was a quirky, artsy ski town many years ago when it attracted the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Edward Abby. Now, while some of the art scene remains, you are much more likely to bump into movie stars, rock stars or even the occasional star athlete. One such athlete put himself squarely in the RTR cross-hairs when the tour settled in: Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong has maintained a home in Aspen, along with girlfriend Anna Hansen and the couple’s children, since the cyclist’s glory days. Armstrong was instrumental in creating the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and advocated for cyclists in Colorado. Now, with the cloud of the doping era hanging over him, Armstrong, in his typical fashion, put himself infant of the crowd without flinching, to face the questions of sometimes adoring, sometimes resentful cycling fans.
Armstrong was calm and inviting. He took all of the slings and arrows, did not argue but even offered an apology for his part in the EPO era. Questions and critiques went on and on, but Armstrong seemed perfectly comfortable, never dodging a question or diverting blame.
The most disheartening thing the one-time world road champion told the crowd had an impact that resinated through much of the following day.
“If the pro peloton were to climb Independence Pass, they would all go over the top together. It’s not really that hard a climb.” Ouch. Another delusion of grandeur smashed.
Independence Pass was the first challenge facing Ride the Rockies on Day Two. From Aspen, the climb rises 4,193 feet over 20 miles. Riders pass waterfalls, aspen stands and, eventually, alpine tundra before topping out. Cruelly, the steepest pitches of the climb seem to be in the last 1.5 miles. But it’s all worth the effort.
The remanents of the cool, wet spring covered the mountain tops in every direction. Lots of riders took the opportunity to photograph themselves with their bikes on the tundra.
“Can you believe there’s still snow in June?”
When riders started down the pass toward Twin Lakes, they were merely a quarter of the way into an 80-mile day. The next twenty miles were a twisty thrill ride for those of us who enjoy descending. Back down through aspens and evergreens, past little shacks, former mine sites and tiny towns into the valley. Overtime we looked around we thought, wow, could this get any prettier? Then we took another curve, made another turn, and it was.
Riders headed north from Twin Lakes toward the highest incorporated town in North America, Leadville. While the tour stopped here for the night four years ago, this time around, riders pushed on to Fremont Pass, past the Climax Mine and down another fast descent into Copper Mountain Resort. The arrival was none too soon, as the weather that had threatened on smartphone apps began to appear in the little ski village.
Rain and cool temperatures descended on the tour late on day two. Many riders had already made their way to tents, gym floors or condos. Though the weather arrived about 12 hours earlier than expected, boosting moral for Day Three: the Copper Loop.
Rider awoke with frost on bikes. The air was cool, but the rain had stopped. After getting coffeed-up, riders immediately began climbing. The second of three nearly-80-mile days came out of Copper, turned right and began climbing back up Fremont Pass. The north side of the pass is relatively steep, with stretches of up to 7.5 percent over the first nine miles. But this is about as bad as it gets for most of the day. Riders then plunge back down the south side of the pass, back to Leadville.
Riders skirt the north edge of Leadville, while headed west. The views of the states highest peaks made the content headwind a bit more bearable.
Riders toiled on through the wind-blown scrub brush, past the ranches to Tennessee Pass, the Camp Hale Memorial and the lovely and famous Red Cliff Bridge, where many cyclists, including myself, took the opportunity to stop and take a shot.
From there, We climbed Battle Mountain and plunged down through Minturn. We soon found the bicycle path that links Eagle and Summit counties. This brought rider through Vail and up the infamous Vail Pass path. The path had been used many times over the years to test fitness. The Coors Classic, Teva Outdoor Games and several times for the USA Pro Challenge. The Pro Challenge liked to use it as a mountain time trial, sending riders up one at a time. Beyond a certain point, this seemed only logical, as the path gets pretty narrow in the steepest sections.
The climb take riders about 9 miles through beautiful scenery up nearly 2,000 feet. The old Shrine Pass Road no longer allows cars, which is great as riders try to focus on not blowing up through the steeper sections. The road takes riders to the bike path, which can be tricky. While taken as a whole, the climb averages 4 percent, once on the path, rider dive under I-70, then face a 300 foot section at 8 percent. If you’re not looking for it, you will be walking this stretch.
The trees and peaks are the main attraction throughout the climb, with both sides of the valley slowly closing in as riders grind out this category 2 ascent. After another short, sharp section, riders come to a false flat, signaling the end of the real climbing. Riders wheel past a small lake and on to the parking lot of the pass.
Th east side of Vail Pass is only about five miles of asphalt bike trail, with twists, turns, wooden bridges and amazing scenery. The trail is built between the east-bound and west-bound sections of I-70. It can be tricky if you don’t watch your speed, as many riders soon found out.
The fast descent brought riders back to Copper Mountain resort for entertainment and the resort’s many eateries.
All along the way, Chandler, Renee, Liz and Betsy organized great entertainment, venders and aid stations. Many local venders, as well as many tour favorites, like the Flipping’ Flapjacks, Revolution Smoothies and Allen Lim’s Scratch Labs food truck.
Day Four was a re-ride of much of the route used four years ago. Rider headed east from Copper, down the I-70 trail to Frisco and the Lake Dillon Dam, then north out of Silverthorn to Ute Pass.
The route along Colorado Hwy 9 was a gentle descent until the base of the day’s only sustained climb. Ute Pass is about 5.2 miles at 5 percent grade, or a cat 2 climb. The summit offers views of the mountains to the west.
After the descent down the east side, the ride spent the next several miles on dirt roads that, this time around, were just packed dirt. In 2012, the road was a scary-deep gravel. The packed dirt was a pleasant surprise.
The dirt ended east of Kremmling, on US40. The highway took us through Byers Canyon, to a rest stop in Hot Sulfur Springs, and into Granby; a town the RTR has passed through or stopped in two other times in the last five tours. Riders headed north from there, along US34 toward the day’s end in Grand Lake. Riders, or I should say, my buddy Donald and I, wished for the end as the road began to roll with short, steep climbs and the temperature climbed to it’s warmest so far in this tour. But Grand Lake is idillic and friendly, making for a quick recovery and an eagerness to experience the isolated mountain town.
Day Five was marked on my calendar from the day the route was announced, back in February. The classic ascent of Trail Ridge Road from the West Gate is only about 22 miles at about 4 percent, but it is through some of the most spectacular landscape in the state. We started in sage brush meadows for about 9.5 miles, to the first aid station. From there, the road climbs for 17 miles at 4 percent, which counts as “HC,” or Beyond Category. This would have been challenging enough. When riders got past Milner Pass and above the treeline, the epic battle of will began.
As riders came over the highest continuous highway in North America, they faced horrible crosswinds, some clocked at 50 miles per hour. Over the 11-miles from the Gore Range Overlook to Rainbow Curve, no trees, no brush, nothing shelter the cyclists from the winds. While riders got a bit of a break from the howling winds after getting back down into the trees, the winds pushed riders all the way into Estes Park, where the town was awaiting their arrival.
The second half will post tomorrow.
Saturday, February 6, was the day of the Ride the Rockies Route Announcement Party. For the second time in five years, Ride the Rockies will traverse the highest paved highway pass road in North America, Trail Ridge Road. I’m excited because, of course, the “Big Road” is in my back yard, almost literally. It’s a relatively short route, at 403 miles over six days, but it’s also going to be beautiful!
The route will closely resemble the one I first rode, five years ago. This one begins in beautiful Carbondale on Sunday, June 12. Day one rolls from Carbondale to the famous ski town of Aspen. Chandler and the crew are easing us into the race as the two towns are only 50 miles apart. Mile for mile, however, it is a stunning ride.
The ride rolls down the Roaring Fork River along a trail that runs from Glenwood Springs to Aspen past the Maroon Bells. Of course, one would need to take a side trip to get the beautiful view.
Day two, Monday, June 13, might be the Queen Stage, beginning in Aspen, riders nearly immediately start the 85-mile day climbing. And this is not just any climb. This is 19 miles and 4,000 feet of climbing. It averages somewhere in the neighborhood of 5%. The last three miles are the worst at around 7% to the top of Independence Pass. After that, it’s a fast dive down to Twin Lakes.
From the lakes, riders take a left and head to the highest incorporated town in North America, Leadville, at 10,152 feet. This year, the ride passes through on to Fremont Pass, 12 miles averaging 1.5%, maxing out at 7% and 11,318 feet. Riders bomb down the north side of the pass into Copper Mountain Resort.
For the past two RTRs, the ride has taken an extra day in one of the towns. Two years ago, we stayed an extra day in Steamboat Springs. Last year, we rode from Grand Junction, through the Colorado National Monument and back. This season, Day 3, June 14, the route takes an extra day in Copper Mountain Resort to tackle the Copper Triangle. The 78-mile route takes riders back over Fremont Pass, past Leadville, over Battle Mountain and Tennessee Pass, over the Red Cliff Bridge, through Minturn and Vail and finally over Vail Pass before returning to Copper.
On Day 4, June 15, riders descend a snaking bike trail from Copper to Frisco, past Dillon Lake, through Silverthorn and north to Ute Pass. Four years ago, Chandler and the gang took riders over gravel roads into Kremmling. The route is now part of RTR lore. This time around, riders will see some of those same roads, eventually taking riders into the remote resort town of Grand Lake. This is tied with Day Two as the longest-milage day at 85 miles.
This takes us to Day 5, June 16, and the whole reason that I can’t possibly miss this ride. It’s a short day at only 49 miles, but it’s over the famous Trail Ridge Road; more than 20 miles of climbing at around 4.5% to over 12,100 feet above sea level. The climb takes riders from the shore of Grand Lake, through arid pine meadows, through aspen stands, past the habitat of moose, elk and big horn sheep, eventually out onto the alpine tundra. Riders enjoy views of the Never Summer Range, the Continental Divide, Forest Canyon, Rock Cut, as well as the Alpine Visitor Center, Rainbow Curve and the fast, winding descent into my town, Estes Park.
Home of the world-famous, and slightly creepy Stanley Hotel, Estes Park made a big deal out of hosting the 2012 RTR. My town had a big party with local musicians and great food. My town knows how to entertain.
As luck would have it, the ride comes through Estes Park on a Thursday, which is Farmers’ Market Day, so be sure to swing by Bond Park as you arrive to get some refueling goodies.
Come see our town, our fun and my favorite bike shop, the Via Bicycle Cafe! Come get coffee, pie, BBQ, all great in Estes Park. Yes, I’m biased, but I love this town and you will, too.
Riders enjoy Friday, June 17, Day 6’s mostly-downhill ride out Devils Gulch and the Switchbacks, through Glen Haven, through local rider-favorite Masonville, around Horsetooth Reservoir and finally, into Fort Collins.
The six-day ride will reward any rider fit enough to make the journey, with vistas, new friends and great stories. I love this ride and would urge any rider to register the lottery before February 28. The organizers, Chandler Smith, Renee Wheelock, Liz Brown and an army (that’s no exaggeration) of volunteers, work hard to put on a great ride and I have never been disappointed. It will be the most challenging, most enjoyable week of your riding season.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going training!
I’m working a lot lately. Facing some challenges that I’m happy to have. I haven’t posted in a while. Just tying, as I often do, to find time and just do it.
One new challenge is riding rollers. A friend gave me a set about a year ago, but I never got the technique until this week. I hope to get a bunch of miles on the rollers as the winter snow stubbornly hangs on.
Another project has been recording interviews at my local bike shop. Via Bicycle Cafe is the lone dedicated shop in Estes Park and I really want it to thrive.
The shop not only sells Scott, Salsa and Colnago bikes, Stefano Tomasello, the owner, is a pro wrench and a Cat 2 racer. He hopes to gain enough points this season to move up to Cat 1 before ending his competitive cycling career.
The other side of the shop is a great coffee bar. Stef serves locally-roasted Notch Top coffee, as well as a variety of goodies for riders. Stef takes as much pride in making a great cup of coffee as he does working on bikes. I hope to get plenty of rides in with Stef and the bike community that has quickly sprung up around his shop.
I plan to have more on the shop, but until then, have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.
So, now thoughts change from pink to yellow. I hope everyone has gotten out and enjoyed a few good rides, as well as the start of this year’s Tour. In mid-June, someone flipped a switch. Suddenly, it was absolutely beautiful outside. Thus, began Ride the Rockies.
Seven days and more than 460 miles through the Colorado National Monument, the Grand Mesa, Black Canyon, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Cottonwood Pass. So many great places, views and people.
Had a great time from start to finish. I will admit, there were a few moments of suffering. Then, what would an epic adventure be without adversity.
I even got to ride with some amazing riders.
Nelson Vails and Ron Kiefel were on hand to support riders and the Denver Post Communities Foundation. These legends would let you take pictures with them would ride with us and just BS before, after and sometimes during rides.
I had the pleasure of testing at least one cool product; the DT Swiss RC55 Spline C carbon clincher wheels.
The wheels worked pretty well in windy weather over 96 miles of mostly rolling terrain through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. While the weather certainly had some wet and threatening skies, it never caused braking problems. This was a concern with the carbon brake track and occasional steep, fast descents. No problems. Nothing but confident, fast downhills. The wheels never wobbled, never gave me cause to worry.
The extras I did not get to play with include the very spline mentioned in the wheel’s name. The spline easily pops off for either quick and easy cleaning and servicing or to switch from Shimano/SRAM to Campy cassettes. It takes longer to change an inner tube than the free wheel body. They also have bladed, butted, straight-pull spokes to help with the wind. DT Swiss recommends this set for flats, crits and time trials/triathlons. Though, again, I had no problem on some pretty steep, long climbs.
I also tried out a bunch of new kits from several manufacturers. First, my new Team Estes jersey, in fact the yellow one in the image above. The jersey is the Storm Hybrid Jacket. As you can see in the image, it has no sleeves. They are actually removable, turning it from a warm, water and wind repellent jacket to a pretty sharp jersey. It has a full-length zipper with a nice, comfortable neck guard over the top of the zipper.
As one can see, the jacket is customizable. I picked the color, created the design and sent it all in as an Adobe Illustrator file. Pactimo was wonderful in there help pulling this together, as well as getting it turned around pretty quickly.
I wore this through wet and windy weather. I never felt cold. I never felt clammy. When the clouds parted and the sun came out, It did get a little warm, though I was wearing another jersey underneath. The jersey is warm. No getting around that, but that is the very reason one buys this jacket. It is also race cut. That’s great for racing and if one worries about wind resistance. It’s not so good if you wear anything beyond XL. The jersey I have is an extra large. My club friends and buddies might not enjoy it so much.
I’m gaining two complete Primal brand kits, one of which I am wearing in the image with Nelson Vails, and two more jerseys. Unlike any of the Euro manufacturers, or even the Pactimo, the Primal jerseys tend to be a bit looser, or, perhaps more of a “club” fit. This is something I had noticed, as Primal has made the jerseys for the Courage Classic and the Triple Bypass for a few years.
The graphics all look good. The back pockets are roomy, though in at least one of my, now six Primal jerseys, a top of one of the pockets has come undone.
The fabric, itself, seems cool. It wicks nicely, as well. The zippers seem to work consistently and well for a good long time. Just a little aside. Important if you like details.
All of the Primal bib shorts fit very comfortably. The leg grippers keep the legs in place. I have a 32-inch inseam at 6-feet tall. The leg length seems about perfect for me. The bib shoulder straps are comfortable, stay put and are a bit denser material. I hope that means they will be in service for several seasons.
The last of my kits is a Champion Systems kit I got from The Sufferfest.
The sleeves are long. This can lead to “pirating”, when the sleeves ride up and bunch at the top of the biceps. Of course, my arms and those of most riders I know, are not normal racer arms. This is definitely a race-cut product, as well. The fabric is plenty picky, if that’s a word. The bibs are a bit less dense, and therefore, a bit cooler than those of Primal. They also have a media-device pocket. It looks a bit small for an iPhone, but was probably made with a race radio in mind. The on my medium bibs hit a little higher than those of the Primal. It could lead to that “Sausage” look. It’s up to you how that might work.
I had a great ride, and I would recommend RTR for anyone. I will have more on all of that later.
Until Then, Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding!
So, I’m a little wiped out and getting pretty inconsistent with my posts. Sorry. It’s hard for me when I don’t have an editor asking me where the hell my column is. I still hold out hope that I will work into some consistency as I go.
I headed up Lookout Mountain outside of Golden, Colorado, last week. The climb has long been a yardstick for locals. Tommy Danielson is credited with the fastest ascent of the five-mile climb from the pillars just west of US Hwy 6 to the gates at Buffalo Bill’s grave; I believe it’s something ridiculous, like 15 MINUTES. For mere mortals like me, the 32 minutes it took me was blazing fast.
Generally speaking, locals like to time “Pillars to Post” from the stone pillars at the bottom to the sign announcing the grave at the top. Officially, it’s 4.55 miles. It averages 5.4% with a maximum grade of 6.8%. Riders like to cut it into thirds – pillars to where the road curves under the big School of Mines “M”, “M” to the Windy Saddle and the steepest section from the saddle to nearly the sign at the top. The ride is nearly always windy and the views are nearly always spectacular.
The descent is fast and technical. Be careful when riding in spring. I carry scars from misjudging gravel in the tight curves. Once back in Golden, refreshment options are plentiful. It’s worth the suffering.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding!
The view from the Buffalo Bill’s Grave and Museum Gift Shop at the top. You can see the entire Denver metro area.
So, (and I do that specifically because may editor tells me that I shouldn’t) I’m sitting on my couch, trying not to bolt out the door and ride for the next couple hours. I’m watching last summer’s CrossFit games, eating a whole lot of trail mix and drinking my usual gallon of coffee. I’m still working on healing a niggling knee issue. I’ve ordered a pair of Kelly Starett’s Voodoo Floss compression bands. It’s not easy doing the off season. I recently received the CyGo Lite Explorer 800. I’ll be honest, I think this was designed more for trail riding as it is so bright and so wide. It’s a great light for commuting after dark. I’ve spotted bears, deer and stray children as I’ve pedaled home. It is so much better than the lights I used years ago (the ’90s) when I first commuted by bike. The battery is rechargeable Li-Ion, and lasts better than an hour at the highest setting. I attach the light to my helmet with the battery in the pocket of my backpack. It comes with a long extra power cord for just such a situation. The lamp part, itself is the smallest that Cygo Lite makes, so it works very well as a helmet light. This is a great product that runs about $190 normally, but often goes on sale for $150. It works exceptionally well when teamed with the CygoLite 700 on my handle bars.
Well, snow is in the weekend forecast, which reminds me, the USA CycloCross National Championships are around the corner and down the hill from me. The Valmont Bike Park in lovely Boulder Colorado will be the venue. ‘Cross is a great spectator sport. The whole course is set up so fans can see it all from nearly any point along the course. Imagine short-course mountain biking on modified road bikes, that gets you close. Sand, mud, off-camber turns, steep descents and barriers requiring riders to dismount and carry their bikes. It’s a blast. If you have a little time between January 8-12, 2014, head on over. It’s a party with a race in the middle. By the way, all of these ‘Cross images are mine. Copyright Walt Hester Photography. More to show off than anything else.
That’s all I have for this week. I hope to be more with it and get back on this next week. Mean while . . . Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.
So, it’s getting chilly here at 7,522 feet, and my career path change has given me the opportunity to commute by bike. Up here, this time of the year, there will be times in the commute when bundling and lighting up are necessary. My shift starts at 2 p.m. and lasts to 10:30 p.m. When I’m done, it’s cold and dark. This gives me the chance to put a few items through their paces.
The first thing I worry about, no matter the season, is seeing and being seen. I’ve been hit by a car once. I saw it coming, so I was able to take measures to minimize damage. What it came down to was that the driver did not see me. Head lights in 1995 were not as bright for as reasonable a price as they are today. The old head light I probably picked up at Olympus Cycles in Omaha, Nebraska took four “AA” batteries, had an incandescent bulb and a running time of possibly two or three hours. Not good in a Midwest mid-February.
My current head light is the Cygolite Pace 750. With 750 lumens (candle power) at it’s brightest setting, it is plenty bright for commuting. It comes with a Li-Ion battery that charges via USB cable in the light housing. The mount is an adjustable quick release, so it fits multiple handlebars. The LED light’s highest (Boost) mode lasts for 90 minutes, while the lowest of the eight settings (day pulse) will go for 22 hours. I was so impressed that I recently purchased the CygoLite helmet mount and an additional CygoLite 800 OSP LED light. It has not arrived, so that review has to wait.
My little town is slowly returning to normal. My neighborhood should have the flush ban lifted in the next two weeks. One annual event that goes on is tonight’s Shining Ball at the Stanley Hotel. The hotel was the inspiration for Stephen King’s famous horror classic, though the best-know Stanley Kubric movie was filmed in Oregon, while the mini-series was returned to the hotel that inspired the book. The event is a nod to King, as well as a chance for grown ups to dress up and act out alter-egos. My wife and her best friend are doing Mexican Dia de los Muertos “sugar scull” costumes while I will wear my usual horns. The ball has been sold out for weeks, so I don’t feel bad about writing now, but be ready. Imagine a great costume and get tickets for next year.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.