In the Saddle: Aspen to Crested Butte bike race stage promises to be wild
I know that the world’s best male cyclists are adept at dealing with brutal road surfaces. That was clear last week when they dealt with bone-rattling cobblestone sections, in light rain to boot.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help wondering while making trips to and fro over Kebler Pass this weekend how the boys in the peloton will feel about that part of their journey during the USA Pro Challenge. Day 2 of the 2014 event will take them from Aspen to Mount Crested Butte.
You can count on the cyclists sailing down the Roaring Fork Valley, diverting through Basalt in a blur, whizzing through Carbondale, then attacking the Crystal Valley and McClure Pass before screaming down the Paonia side of Highway 133 from the McClure summit.
Then the fun begins. After turning off Highway 133 onto Kebler Pass Road, the riders will encounter pavement that’s in decent shape for a few miles, then a hard-packed dirt route and finally, gravel. Conditions get dicey in the middle of the 35-mile trip to Crested Butte. The gravel road is uneven, narrow and without guardrails in many areas. Flipping off the side of the road could have dire consequences. The east and west approaches to the pass as well as the summit are covered in asphalt, but it’s like an old scab peeling off in many places. The gravel resumes on the long run out to Crested Butte and the road gets narrow and curvy.
I think it’s a safe bet that Gunnison County and partners will improve the road the best they can. One trick will be knocking down the dust without turning the road to goo during the race.
While making the trip, we had some odd conditions that I hope the racers don’t encounter. The magnesium chloride was sprayed on so thick recently that it oozed out of the road surface. By the time we arrived at the Butte, it looked like we had driven on the muddy roads of the Midwest.
On the way home, shepherds were driving more domestic sheep than I have ever seen in one place. Hundreds of sheep were scattered on the road, up the hillside, on the shoulder and down in the valley below. It was sight to behold.
It will be hard enough for a racer to break away from the peloton on Kebler Pass. It’ll be even tougher if they have to fight through a flock.
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