Riding the Rockies around Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

More than 2,000 bicyclists from 49 states and 10 countries hit the roads of the Roaring Fork Valley with gusto at the launch of Ride the Rockies on Sunday.

The annual bicycle tour organized by The Denver Post started in Carbondale, climbed Missouri Heights and rolled across the high ground before plummeting down to the valley floor and heading to Aspen.

The morning provided perfect riding conditions, and afternoon showers held off long enough for most riders to arrive high and dry at Aspen High School.

Most riders contacted on Day One said it was sort of a relaxed start to the event. They were saving energy for Day Two, which takes riders up the west side of Independence Pass and then requires a second climb up Fremont Pass as part of an 85-mile slog to Copper Mountain.

Robbie Sanders of Boulder was participating in the event for the first time. A co-worker put out a blast email looking for someone to ride. He was the only taker.

“I’ve loved it so far,” Sanders said while taking a break near the Pitkin Iron property. “I’ve never really done any bike event like this before.”

At 20 years old, Sanders is well below the median age of riders, which the tour organizers said is 52. Sanders said his riding partner notified him in advance, “You’re probably going to be the youngest person there with a parent.”

He figured that was about right, but Sanders took it in stride.

“I work with a bunch of old people, so it doesn’t bother me,” he said.

Independence Pass looms today

The participants registered in Carbondale on Saturday and were treated to downtown entertainment, Bonedale-style. After the Day One ride, campers pitched tents at Aspen High School on Sunday night, though many other participants flocked to hotels.

By Friday, the riders will have covered nearly 400 miles and climbed roughly 29,000 vertical feet.

Independence Pass and its climb of about 4,000 feet in 21 miles were on the minds of many riders Sunday. Cheryl Harmel of Highlands Ranch said she planned to hit the road by 6 a.m. today to hopefully clear the passes before thunderstorms arrived. Riders are typically savvy about the challenges the next day and plan accordingly.

Harmel is riding for the sixth straight year in the tour after hearing rave reviews from friends.

“We tried it and got hooked,” she said. “The scenery is drop-dead gorgeous. We live in such a beautiful state. The bike is the best way to see things, and Ride the Rockies provides support.”

Trail Ridge Road

Tamara Sheldon and Tim Lutz, a young, married couple from Columbia, South Carolina, were eager to get rolling Sunday.

“I got up at 5:30 a.m. I was so excited,” Sheldon said.

She is a Boulder native and did Ride the Rockies 12 years ago with her dad when she was in high school. She and Lutz, a native of Germany, did the tour again two years ago.

Missouri Heights was gorgeous and not too difficult of a climb, they said. They got ahead of their group and were waiting at Basalt High School, where there was one of several aid stations set up along the 50-mile route.

Sheldon said they were taking it easy, “pacing ourselves for (today).” But they were also eager for Independence Pass.

“We’re kind of taking it day by day, kind of hoping the weather is going to hold,” Lutz said.

As classic as Independence Pass is, some of the riders mentioned they anticipate Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park will be the highlight this year. They will tackle that Thursday before concluding Friday in Fort Collins.


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