Trail experience wins bicycling raves |

Trail experience wins bicycling raves

Ride the Rockies participants pedal the Rio Grande Trail above Carbondale Thursday, en route to Aspen. (Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN For many of the 2,000 or so Ride the Rockies bicyclists who rolled into Aspen on Thursday, the ride up from Glenwood Springs was the highlight of this year’s tour – at least, so far.From Carbondale to Old Snowmass, the pack spread out along the Rio Grande Trail, a railroad grade-turned-bike path that takes riders past pastures, meadows of wildflowers and the Roaring Fork River, often far from the alternate route up the valley – busy Highway 82. Several segments of the trail were paved just last year.The neon-and-lycra-clad riders who found their way into Aspen by lunchtime almost universally gushed about the trail experience.”Beautiful. Awesome. The best ride of the tour so far,” said Jody Brandon of Grand Junction, who settled at the Cantina patio for lunch with her companions after finishing the fifth leg of the annual tour.

“There hasn’t been a better ride. That’s all I’ve heard people talk about,” said Bruce Milyard of Grand Junction. “We’ve decided we’re going to come back and ride it [the trail] again.””The only thing they could do different is get a bulldozer and shave that hill about three miles back,” he joked.Riders faced the stiff climb up and over McLain Flats before the final push into Aspen though, as a whole, Thursday’s leg was one of the easiest on this year’s tour – 43 miles and 2,200 feet in elevation gain from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.”I thought it was beautiful – by far the best segment of the ride,” said Paul Miltenberger of San Francisco. “That hill right before town made up for whatever parts were easy.”Most riders deemed Thursday’s leg a welcome respite after Wednesday’s ride from Rifle to Glenwood Springs – a windy, blistering stretch that featured five miles on Interstate 70 and the smoke from a wildfire burning between New Castle and Glenwood.

Nonetheless, Ian Nansel of Parker gave the trail experience a lukewarm review: “I’m a racer, so I prefer the road.”But Dan Dunn of Minneapolis said: “It’s the nicest stretch I think I’ve ridden.””I loved that bike trail – fabulous,” said Denver resident Carol Hall. “I never knew it was here.”After Ride the Rockies organizers announced this year’s route would bring riders through Aspen for the first time since the inaugural ride in 1986, there was early talk of forcing participants to ride Highway 82 and an assortment of county roads for Thursday’s leg of the tour rather than overwhelm the bike trail. Area elected officials quickly rejected that suggestion.Ride participants were also treated to a controversial but particularly scenic section of the trail that one wildlife expert has suggested closing to use from Dec. 1 to July 31 – a move that could make the stretch from the Catherine Store bridge to Hooks Lane unavailable for future iterations of Ride the Rockies and other organized tours in June. There has yet been no decision to extend the closure – currently Dec. 1 through April 30 – to protect wildlife.

For Steve Nesterak of Denver, Thursday’s ride up the trail was “perfect.””I’ve done this four or five years. It was the best route ever. It was the prettiest, most relaxing ride yet,” said Nesterak, who lunched alone at Mezzaluna in downtown Aspen because his companions were still out enjoying the ride.”They don’t want it to end,” he said. “They said they were going to take their time. The ride was that pretty.”The bicyclists spent Thursday night in Aspen before heading over 12,095-foot Independence Pass on their way to Leadville, 61 miles away. Ride the Rockies concludes Saturday with a leg from Leadville to Frisco.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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