Scott Mercier: Conquering the Ride for the Pass, with just a little help
I’d heard about Ride for the Pass for ages but had not ridden it until this year. The thought of climbing up to 12,000 feet over 20 odd miles in the early season sounded about as appealing as getting a root canal. But this year, regardless of my winter girth, I thought I’d give it a go.
It wasn’t until the Friday evening before the ride that I realized Ride for the Pass didn’t start in Aspen, nor did it actually finish at the top of the Pass, but that it was a 10-mile stretch right in the middle. Quite frankly, I thought that was kind of dumb — to have a Ride for the Pass that didn’t actually climb the pass.
This year we were blessed with clear skies and mild temperatures. Dr. Kaz, a Persian immigrant and surgeon at the Aspen Valley Hospital, and I met at the hospital parking lot so we could ride at an easy pace to the start. We picked up our registration packets and attached our race numbers. There were 330 people who signed up this year — everything from serious racers to kids to a guy on an eight-foot tall bike. They even added an e-bike category.
Dr. Kaz and I lined up on the front and we seemed to be in a good position. A few minutes before the start we realized we were not actually on the start line, but that the line was about 50 meters up the road. Instead of starting on the front, we were five or six rows back. The tail wind and the large field filled me with dread. The tail wind meant the svelte guys driving the pace at the front would only have the mountain to contend with and that it would be harder for me to hide in the field and surf the wheels. I knew that about an hour of suffering was awaiting. I made Kaz promise that if he found me on the side of the road he’d stop to provide medical assistance.
The gun went off, and as I feared, the pace was hard from the start. Within a few hundred meters I’d managed to work my way up to the fifth or sixth wheel. In short order, however, I realized this pace was not something I could maintain, and I eased up to find some guys who wouldn’t bash my head into the gutter. Apparently sitting on the couch and stuffing my face for the past five months was not the best way to prepare for one of the hardest hill climbs in America.
A few miles later I was finally with my peeps — also known as Clydesdales. I was with four other big dudes and at this point we saw the wisdom of only riding 10 miles, rather than going all the way to the top. I was well out of the running for the win, so I kept inventing categories that I could win. I settled on the 240s — age and weight had to equal 240. We were rotating through at a reasonable pace and I was pretty sure these guys would be my company for the next 20 minutes. The tailwind wasn’t helping me get a draft to recover, but the pace was OK. We even took some time to enjoy the alpine views.
Then, out of nowhere, Finn bridged up to us and attacked. Finn was most definitely NOT a Clydesdale. He was a 12-year-old, 90-pound seventh grader from the Aspen Country Day school. He was wearing a mountain bike helmet and shorts. He blew right past us like we were standing still. Needless to say, our nice little group suddenly became animated. We bridged up to Finn and he settled into our group. But the pace was higher. The male ego is a funny thing; it’s perhaps the most fragile item on the planet. No one wanted a 12-year-old boy to drop them.
I watched Finn for a few minutes and decided he needed a few pointers. The rest of the Clydesdales were happy to oblige. We taught Finn how to close a gap, take someone’s wheel, and to find the draft. As the road kicked up I warned him to stay vigilant and to look for an opportunity to attack. I also told him to stay near the front because as the road steepened, guys were likely to blow and start opening gaps.
Right before the hairpin, Finn picked up the pace. Needless to say, I was the first one to blow and the group rode away. I was so blown that I was pedaling in squares nearly doing the paper-route to get up the hill. The 10 miles couldn’t end quickly enough.
Finally, I reached the finish — alone. I pulled over, found my backpack with spare clothes, looked for Finn, and had an enormous smile on my face. I’d suffered for the better part of an hour, but I couldn’t have been happier. Dr. Kaz had chased diligently and came within 15 seconds of storming past me at the end.
The Ride for the Pass — what a great way to start the season — and what a great event. I can’t wait until the 25th one next year!
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a financial advisor in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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