It’s now been a couple weeks and I have had a bit of time to reflect on the 2017 Ride the Rockies. I stick by my assessment I made to one of my fellow riders; I think our brains work similarly to those of mothers. If we remembered all the pain as well as we remember the pleasure, the food and scenery, we wouldn’t do it again.
I wrote after our third night, a short spin around the Ute reservation west of Durango. The next day was the hardest. We pushed for 84 miles over Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass and Red Mountain Pass, about 7,792 feet of climbing. After an easy roll-out from Durango and the thrill of the narrow gauge rail road, the road tipped up. The next 20 miles was almost all up hill. We laughed as we came upon the Purgatory Ski Resort. “This is Purgatory, I’ll take it.” Then the road tipped up again.
The first pass, Coal Bank, was the steepest of the day at an average of 5% with pitches of 8%. After a very short descent, riders head up Molas Pass, relatively short at eight miles, and again an average of 5%. These were enough to sap the legs. Plenty of vistas to enjoy both on the climbs and the descents. Riders dropped down into the old mining town of Silverton, which is also the finish of the Iron Horse Classic race.
The last climb was not the longest nor the steepest, but as the last climb and the highest, it took riders all their will and energy to finish the 11,018-foot ascent. The view and the venders made the ride do-able. My legs burned, my body was protesting most of the way. After stretching and taking a few photos, it was back on the bike for a thrilling 14-mile descent into Ouray.
Fast, worn, serpentine roads with lots of traffic and no guard rails was quite the experience. Luckily for me, still sporting the scars of a high-speed crash from last year, a lumber truck paced many of us out of the mountains. Riders had multiple opportunities to pull off and photograph the beauty that we wished to remember. That is the point; the joy of seeing Colorado by bike.
A small aid station full of happy, friendly residents awaited us in Ouray. Many riders decided that this was far enough for the day, and took rooms here. My riding buddies and I hammered the last 13 miles into Ridgeway. This was the point where I really understood the challenges of putting together this annual tour.
Imagine 2,000 tired, hungry cyclists cruising into town, sporting the thousand-mile stare, finding that much of the amenities were spread out over a square half-mile, or at least that’s how it felt. I was so short of energy that when our luggage handlers put my bag a mere one isle over from where I had expected it, I was nearly reduced to tears.
The beauty of having been a journalist is that I was able to find at least a little poise. I young man from the Good Samaritan Shelter tent, whom I had met earlier in the week, spotted me and gave me some food and helped look for my bag. Once I got some calories,found my bag and got my massage, I was able to enjoy Ridgeway. The view was the first thing we noticed.
The little mountain town set up entertainment in the middle of their town park. The town, itself has made the transition from mining to art. Lots of public art, galleries and little eateries bordered the park, allowing riders to stroll easily to alternative dinner options. This would be a short night for many of us, after a punishing, though picturesque day.
Day five was a relatively easy, though pretty warm day. Former cycling pro, Olympic medalist and big-hearted fund-raiser, Nelson Vails, led a few riders to a special breakfast in Ridgeway before all embarked on the 33-mile ride to Montrose. While there was an option for riders who had not suffered as much the day before, an additional 19 miles and a small climb, many simply took the opportunity of a recovery day. All of my riding buddies stayed together on the mostly-downhill ride. This also gave us plenty of time to sample what Montrose had to offer.
Montrose is not usually what tourists seek out, but with it’s charming downtown and enthusiastic festival, I would consider returning some time. It’s out on the Western Slope, north of the Sneffles Range, just southwest of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The sixth day had a few climbs, but it was the descent and long false flat into Gunnison that I remember. We followed the river and Blue Mesa Reservoir into Gunnison, making for a relatively easy day. There were plenty of rider trains along the route. Cruising between the last two aid stations, we averaged about 28 mph. It was a beautiful thing. I had the chance to test some wildly-deep aero wheels. The whole day was great.
Gunnison has some great restaurants. All were full of hunger riders that Friday evening. El Paraiso was our choice. This was also the third time I had eaten here. It was for good reason. Everything was tasty as could be, including our sopapillas for dessert. As always, the host town had activities set up, but we had one more hard climb ahead, and a long drive back to the real world.
The high-point of the RTR was waiting for us on the final day. Half the day was just the warmup. We rolled for 33 miles to the base of RTR’s final climb, 11,312-foot Monarch Pass. The pass averages about 5.2% with a maximum grade of 7% for 10 miles and 2,750 feet of ascending. It was unmatched in beauty. We had lots of time to enjoy it after seven days of riding.
After the top of the pass, it was literally all downhill into Salida. Once again, the tour rolled into Salida amid sunshine and the FIBArk whitewater festival. Again, Salida was all-in, hosting the finale for Ride the Rockies. Their park was jammed full of venders, great causes and riders looking for food and shade. The only thing that could have been better would be if my buddies and I had more time in town. Salad has always been a great host.
Renee Wheelock put on and admirable tour for her first RTR effort. I don’t envy her position, having to deal with cranky, hungry, tired riders, though I have a feeling she took it in stride. I look forward to seeing her and the rest of the RTR crew next year.
Next week, yes I am giving myself a schedule. I will review some of the equipment I got to use this year. 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!