Scott Mercier: Ride the Rockies cycling event returns with two stops in Roaring Fork Valley
Ride the Rockies is celebrating its 34th year with a seven-day loop starting and finishing in Crested Butte from Sunday to June 15.
The loop includes 445 miles and more than 28,000 feet of climbing, including our own Independence Pass. This much riding and climbing sounds daunting, until you realize the pros at the Tour of California raced 777 miles and climbed more than 68,000 vertical feet in the same amount of time. But then again, we’re not professionals, and we have the altitude to contend with, so it’s probably a wash.
Ride the Rockies is one of the oldest and most prestigious bike tours in the U.S. Each year, 2,000 riders embark on an impressive entourage tour of cities and towns throughout Colorado. The ride supports the Denver Post Community Foundation, and since 2001 the Foundation has awarded grants of nearly $600,000 to the host communities on the route.
This year, two of those communities are right here in the Roaring Fork Valley: Snowmass Village will host the riders on Tuesday and they will be in Carbondale on Wednesday.
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When they arrive Tuesday, they will have ridden 73 miles and climbed 5,779 vertical feet from Buena Vista up and over Independence Pass, through town, and up Owl Creek Road to Snowmass. The last big cycling event to crest Independence Pass was a stage of the now defunct USA Pro Challenge. Tens of thousands of fans lined the top of the pass to cheer on some of the best professional cyclists in the world.
Considering there is still several feet of snow on the pass, the cyclists this year are more likely to be greeted with an eerie silence, and perhaps several backcountry skiers.
Stage 4 on Wednesday is a 79.3-mile ride with 6,190 feet of climbing from Snowmass to Carbondale. If you’re wondering how in the world they get more climbing on a downhill route than the previous day’s ride over the pass, you’re not alone. After all, most of us would head down Brush Creek trail and then hop on the Rio Grande bike path to get to Carbondale, coasting most of the way. We’d probably also stop at the Marble Distillery, which conveniently greets riders right off the bike path in Carbondale.
Ride the Rockies, however, has come up with a more creative route. They head back out Owl Creek Road toward town and then up Castle Creek to Ashcroft. When they get back to Aspen, they climb back up Owl Creek Road to their original starting point in Snowmass. From Snowmass to Carbondale, they zigzag on and off the bike path with a detour up Sopris Creek Road.
Their final climb is Upper Cattle Creek Road, or more affectionately known as Wendy’s Hill. This 2-mile ramp will be quite painful at the end of a long day. I live in Willits, a mile or so away from the climb, and I pretty much avoid it at all costs.
At least they’ll have unobstructed views of Mount Sopris, perhaps the most majestic looking mountain in Colorado, when they get to the top of the climb. Every time I look at Sopris, I can imagine thousands of orcs pouring out to attack the peaceful river folk in the valley below.
The riders of Ride the Rockies will be riding some of the best roads the valley has to offer. If you’re driving, please be patient and pass safely. If you love to ride, I’d suggest you stay off the roads and stick to the dirt for these few days. There will literally be 2,000-plus riders of varying abilities riding. Hopefully they can all keep the rubber on the road.
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 senior financial adviser in Aspen and can be reached at email@example.com.
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Many of the trails in the Roaring Fork Valley, especially from the midvalley up, are far from ready and it’s important that people stay off of them despite having cabin fever.