Scott Mercier: Wednesday night world champs with Aspen Cycling Club
The Aspen Cycling Club promotes a weekly racing series. The races incorporate some of the best road and mountain biking trails in the Roaring Fork Valley. The races start at 6 p.m. and the season runs from May to early September. With this week’s race just down river in Basalt, I had no excuse to miss it.
The summer solstice race is an annual jaunt up the Frying Pan River. It’s an out and back course past the Reudi Reservoir and then back toward Basalt. The course is 48.5 miles with around 3,200 vertical feet of climbing.
The clear skies, light winds and moderate temperatures made ideal conditions for a race. The open field lined up, listened to the race rules, specifically not to cross the yellow center line, and clipped in.
The first 10 miles are a false flat along the banks of the Frying Pan. I say false flat, because while it looks flat, you’re climbing the whole way. Luckily, no one was really in a mood to stomp on the pedals from the start. This made for an enjoyable 20-30 minutes where we were just talking and enjoying the views.
Every time I ride along the Frying Pan I get a huge smile. The crystal-clear waters, numerous pools and light rapids make this one of the prettiest rivers in the United States. Not to mention the dozens of anglers trying their luck on the famed Gold Medal waters.
As we got closer to the first climb up to the reservoir, a few guys got antsy and started jumping away from the field. Suddenly, it was race on, and our speeds went from a leisurely 17 miles an hour to 25 plus. The field was strung out single file and guys were starting to get dropped.
The next sorting out came at the base of the climb: 4.5 miles, ramps over 10 percent and 1,100 vertical feet. A couple small groups rode away, and everyone was left to suffer at their own pace. Misery loves company, however, and riders would cluster in groups of four or five and work together to keep a steady pace.
The climb is deceptive because when you get to the dam, it flattens out and you think you’re pretty much done. But as you get past the marina, you see a steep road that keeps climbing — and that’s where you’re going.
A mile or two later, you hit the high point of the climb. The reservoir glistens in the evening sun and the majesty of the Colorado mountains is apparent. The descent back to the river is about five miles and then you start climbing again to the turnaround.
The return trip is relatively quick. The climb back to the reservoir is painful and longer than you’d think, but mentally it’s not that tough because you know it’s all downhill from there.
By now, however, your legs are starting to question why you’re doing this. The leg speed of riding fast in a group is starting to take a toll; lactic acid has accumulated in your muscles and you’re on the verge of cramping. The road may descend, but you still have to pedal, and the pace has quickened. But before you know it, the 200 meter to go sign is right in front of you and you’re sprinting for the line. In my excitement for the sprint, I slightly veered over the yellow line to get around some guys and got strongly chastised for it. I had broken the rules, but fortunately I was not relegated.
The post-race party at Woody Creek Distillery is where people shook hands, mingled and talked about the race. What struck me, however, was the amount of people who needed reading glasses. In other words, we were all old. There were two teenaged boys who raced, but the majority of the riders were in their 50s and 60s. I’m not sure why, but it’s a problem for the competitive side of the sport. Maybe road racing is just not that cool to a younger demographic?
The Aspen Cycling Club is a rarity in the United States. I don’t know of another community that has so many races at such an affordable price. There is no reason the valley is not producing an Olympic cyclist or two every four years. The ACC can be the vehicle to introduce people to the competitive side of the sport. If you have any interest at all in pinning on a number and giving racing a try, I’d encourage you to come to one of the local races.
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 email@example.com.