COPPPER MOUNTAIN, COLORADO
It’s another big day in the saddle with stunning scenery and three notable climbs. This 79-mile stage, made famous by our good friends at Copper Triangle, will take cyclists back over Fremont; past the Tenth Mountain Division Memorial; across Red Cliff Bridge; with a quick and punchy climb up Battle Mountain. With Fremont and Tennessee Pass in the rearview mirror, a stroll through Minturn and Vail await; followed by a slow and steady grind over Vail Pass – a first-time feature of Ride The Rockies.
Arriving Copper Mountain last night my legs were sore. They didn’t quite reach the Jello stage but they were sore. I can imagine that many riders were in the same situation.
But it’s a new morning and I am ready to tackle the Copper Triangle. Yesterday’s 11 mile descent from Fremont Pass to Copper Mountain is now today’s warm up and a bit daunting. We would need a warm up because it was 37 degrees at wheels down (7:30 a.m.).
Christine Currie, riding with two uncles and her brother, met me and told me they were riding a less ambitious schedule. So we started out and headed up the pass. At the top I found Flippin’ Flapjacks, my first time eating here in four years. Usually there is a long line but today I just walked up and paid the $6 for all you can eat. It’s well worth it.
After my hearty breakfast, we headed down off Fremont Pass. I thought I’d might get a good speed going but there was a curve at the bottom of the descent and one above average cyclist was hogging the left lane. I did not want to pass him by crossing the yellow line So I settled on 47 mph.
We rode to Leadville then turned right towards Tennessee Pass. As we approached the bottom of Tennessee Pass, Christine told me that two years ago she had spread some of her father’s ashes here. I wish we would have stopped.
We did a brief photo op at Red Cliff Bridge. The climb up Battle Mountain was nice but the descent down was even nicer. Beautiful vistas and many curves. Not sure if I prefer one steep straight descent or a winding curved road like this one.
From Copper Mountain to Minturn, just before Avon, these 55 miles were a repeat of two years ago when we road from Avon to Breckenridge. In the opposite direction. Of course the first 23 miles from Copper Mountain to Leadville were a repeat of yesterday’s ride from Leadville.
We followed the beautiful Eagle River to Minturn then turned up Vail Pass. Here we turned on a bike path which I tracked on Saturday while riding the bus to Carbondale. I was thinking I’m sure glad I don’t have to bike up that path. And now I was.
Interstate-70 crosses Vail Pass. It’s a grind for vehicles with its 6-7% grade most of the way. Parallel to the interstate is a bike path. But it doesn’t have smooth grades. It follows the contour of the mountain, sometime 2-3% and sometimes 12-15%. It would be much easier to stay on the highway, minus all the traffic, of course.
At an Aid Station just slightly up the climb I stopped for a Smoothie. Two, in fact, as I poured them into my water bottle. I overheard the one intel for the climb. Right after crossing a bridge (it was actually going under I-70), there is a sharp left turn and a steep hill. If you are in the big ring you will be stuck in the big ring. I shared that with Christine and we had no problem.
We climbed, getting passed by a few riders but passing many. This section was one of the harder ones. There was about 2500′ of climb over 10 miles, at altitude. And not graded like the highway was.
Reaching the top we decided we would pass the last Aid Station except we were held at the top. There had been an accident on the bike path on the descent and the trail was closed. We were held for 23 minutes then, once released, the state highway patrol released us just like we were on an alpine slide – two or three at a time with 30 seconds in between.
Not to worry, after seeing and hearing the emergency vehicles, no one was of the notion to bomb the descent on a bike path. We rode a comfortable pace, passing just one super cautious rider.
The afternoon seminar featured Scott Mercier. You probably never heard of Scott although he was in the Barcelona Summer Olympics in 1992. When he turned pro and signed with US Postal Cycling, he was offered a training program which consisted of EPO. He made a decision to walk away from pro cycling.
Scott was humorous and serious. His message was ultimately about integrity. He holds no bitterness to the hundreds who joined the European peleton in the 1990s and 2000s and accepted the team doctors’ training plans consisting of performance enhancing drugs. In my four years of attending Ride the Rockies it was clearly the best seminar I attended. Well done Scott!