A little excitement delays cyclists on Ride the Rockies | AspenTimes.com

A little excitement delays cyclists on Ride the Rockies

Editor’s note: Scott Condon, on his first Ride the Rockies, is filing stories from along the route.

Fire on the mountain turned out to be a nightmare Thursday for many of the cyclists on Ride the Rockies.

A vehicle fire on Monarch Pass closed Highway 50 at about 10:15 a.m., before a considerable number of the 2,000-plus riders started the main ascent up the 11,300-foot pass. Hundreds, if not a thousand riders, were ordered to stay at Sargeant, a little town – a store, more accurately – where an official aid station was set up. Riders and vehicles stacked up there for more than 90 minutes while firefighters from Gunnison responded to the call.

Even after the State Patrol gave the green light, many riders held back to avoid a massive jumble of commuters. Luckily they had plenty of water, Gatorade – and most important – access to port-a-potties.

It was all sorted out by about 12:30 p.m. and after a tough grunt, the cyclists cruised into Salida for the close of the fifth day of Ride the Rockies. The fire was the talk of the tour. It destroyed a pickup truck pulling a retired couple’s camper. The pickup burned to the ground, but the camper survived. Cyclists weren’t allowed to pass the blaze, which was about 6 miles from the summit, because of the danger of an explosion.

The incident was the first blemish in three days of riding. The weather on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday was perfect – the kind that convinces people to move to Colorado. It was a sharp – and welcome – contrast to the rain that plagued Monday’s climb up Lizard Head Pass on the way to Telluride.

On Tuesday, the tour went from Telluride to Montrose, with only one moderate climb over Dallas Divide. Wednesday took the crew from Montrose to Gunnison, with a couple of tough climbs but rural, rustic scenery that dazzled everyone. Yesterday took us from Gunnison to Salida.

Along with the weather, spirits were lifted over the three days by the excellent organization of Ride the Rockies, which is sponsored by The Denver Post. The logistics should be hard to pull off, but the Post has had plenty of practice by sponsoring the ride for 14 years. Rookies this year, like me, didn’t take long to find out what the vets knew – this thing runs as smoothly as anything involving a few thousand people can.

Riders take off whenever they want in the morning. The only factor dictating timing is the departure of the three tractor-trailers that haul luggage from town to town. They start accepting luggage at 5 a.m. and the last truck leaves at 9:15 a.m. Each community sponsors a big breakfast that’s served during roughly the same hours.

The staging area at each town is usually a high school or, in the case of Gunnison, at a college. Everybody raved about the receptions in Montrose and Gunnison, with their friendly people, nearby swimming pools and showers with plenty of hot water.

Once on the road, riders go at their own pace. If you want to mosey, that’s fine. If you want to jump in a paceline, there are ample opportunities, from slow, comfy paces to rocket speeds. I was lucky enough to hop on Aspenite Mick Ireland’s back wheel and scream up Monarch.

Every 15 miles or so, the organizers have aid stations set up with potties, bagels in the morning and bananas, always bananas. Huge jugs of water and Gatorade are available at each station so riders don’t have to lug too much liquid.

Four or five shops have volunteered mechanics and send mobile workshops to each station to help riders with any repairs. I broke a spoke outside Gunnison, for example, and got it fixed after coasting into town.

Sag wagons, both official and personal ones organized by riders, constantly sweep the road. The official ones often haul full loads of riders into the destination town by the end of the day. The personal sags irritate many riders and are the target of ridicule.

The epitome of the Post’s organization is evident at trouble spots on the roads. Any dimple in the streets bigger than a donut is marked with bright orange paint, like that used by utility companies. It really helps, especially on downhills when you’re screaming along.

The crew members who mark the dangers also display a sharp sense of humor. Every few miles, they paint a saying along the road. On one nasty little hill somewhere along the way, for example, riders came across a message, one word at a time, that said, “I’m giving it all we’ve got Captain.” Most riders recognized the “Star Trek” reference.

Without a doubt, the Post is giving it all it’s got.

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