Lance Armstrong’s Aspen FIFTY mountain bike event returns Sunday

Images from the inaugural Aspen FIFTY mountain bike ride in 2016 around Aspen.
Todd Fugate/courtesy photo |

Lance Armstrong thinks highly of Aspen’s mountain bike trails and saw an opportunity to create an event to showcase the valley’s summer jewels while at the same time benefit those who build and maintain them.

“We have some of the best trails, single track, anywhere,” Armstrong told The Aspen Times. “The master plan, it’s been very well thought out. It’s been well designed and well built. It’s just a way to highlight some of that.”

Armstrong, the former professional cyclist and part-time Aspen resident, created the Aspen FIFTY mountain bike ride a year ago. Organized by Armstrong’s WEDU Sport enterprise, the event benefited the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. The association is again on the receiving end of the Aspen FIFTY when it returns for its second go Sunday.

“We are obviously appreciative of being the beneficiary of the race,” said Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association executive director Mike Pritchard. “We are both a pretty mean and lean organization, but we are also spread thin and trying to accomplish a lot throughout the valley. So every little bit helps.”

While last year’s event was primarily a joyride, Sunday’s version looks to be a bona fide race. Organizers expect anywhere from 150 to 200 riders, double what it had in 2016. The 50-mile course will feature many of the popular trails around Aspen, including Smuggler, Hunter Creek, Rim Trail and Government.

A handful of accomplished riders will be on hand, including California’s Larissa Connors. The TWENTY16 team rider recently won the women’s overall title in the prestigious Leadville 100 race.

“First of all, any time there is a start line and a finish line, it’s a race,” Connors joked about the Aspen FIFTY’s still laidback approach. “It’s the perfect race because it’s really fun at the end of the year for people from all disciplines to do a 50-mile race. … To go to Aspen in the fall when the leaves are changing and continue to push into the race season as long as you can while there is not snow on the ground — everyone loves that. It’s exciting to have a fun event somewhere beautiful with the leaves changing and keep racing your bike until the bitter end.”

While many might consider Aspen one of the meccas of mountain biking, it surprisingly lacks in races. Other than the weekly Aspen Cycling Club events, the annual Power of Four and Grand Traverse races, and one-off events like this year’s Enduro World Series, there aren’t many options for the hardcore riders.

Armstrong sees the Aspen FIFTY someday filling that void.

“At some point it would be cool to have a Leadville-esque event in Aspen,” said Armstrong, who won the Leadville race in 2009 and was second in 2008. “Our town is a far better venue. I think our trails are far better. … Here, I think the idea is to grow conservatively, see what these trails can tolerate.”

Armstrong admitted that as great as Aspen’s single track is, it could limit the size of the races. There were 1,500 racers at the Leadville 100 in August. As much as anything, Sunday’s second annual Aspen FIFTY looks to test the waters and further explore what the race can become.

“It’s cool to think this could be a new, annual fall mountain bike classic,” Pritchard said. “It’s a faster 50, I would characterize it as. I think it’s going to have a great appeal. Last year we hit it perfect with the blue sky and the changing aspen leaf colors. And it looks like we could be on track this year as well.”

Sunday’s race begins at 9 a.m. with the start and finish at Buttermilk Ski Area.