Scott Mercier: The Aspen group ride
Any town that is known as a cycling town has a well-established group ride. The Bus Stop ride in Boulder and The Coffee Club ride in Southern California have been going on for decades and regularly get a peloton of 100 to 200 riders. The rides are fast and fun. Even Grand Junction has a regular group ride and will get 30 to 40 riders on a regular basis.
So, it has always been somewhat of a surprise to me that the Roaring Fork Valley, blessed with so many great and lightly-trafficked roads, doesn’t have a group ride.
A few hardy roadies are trying to change that. They’ve started meeting for a 7 a.m. Tuesday morning shootout. The ride starts at Gondola Plaza in Aspen. It’s social in nature, but attacking and hard riding are encouraged. It’s between 90 to 120 minutes, depending on the route. It’s early enough so people can get to work, but not so early that it’s dark.
On Tuesday, I decided to give the ride a try. It was a crisp morning, so I had gloves, a light jacket, and arm and knee warmers. I arrived a bit early, expecting to socialize with a few of the other riders, but the plaza was empty.
At 6:59, three guys showed up. We decided to ride up the bike path off Owl Creek toward Snowmass because we thought it’d be warmer than Ashcroft or the Maroon Bells, and we left around 7:03. It’s hard to call four riders a group ride, but you’ve got to start somewhere. The four were Mike, Pete, Greg and myself.
At the top of the bike path switchbacks, it was warm enough for me to shed my jacket and gloves. We rode at a moderate pace until we got near Snowmass Village. Mike went to the front and started tapping out a steady but manageable tempo to the top of Divide Road. The guys didn’t feel like we’d had enough climbing, so they decided to add Wood Road, as well.
Wood Road is where things got interesting. And by interesting, I mean really hard. Pete went to the front and the pace increased dramatically. Mike and Greg are significantly smarter than I am, and they immediately backed off. They knew Pete was one of the Gaston boys — I’d not met any of them, and I didn’t realize the kid I was riding with was a Gaston, and it did not end well.
I was glued to Pete’s wheel, but the road just kept going and going and getting steeper and steeper. Some of the grades are well over 10 percent. He finally punched my ticket with about a half mile left to climb. By this point, I was well into the red zone and I started pedaling in squares. First Greg and then Mike rode straight past me. They graciously waited at the top and gave me a few minutes to compose myself.
We had one final climb back up Owl Creek before the fast descent to the airport. When we got back to Gondola Plaza, it was 8:45 a.m., we’d ridden 27 miles and climbed more than 3,000 feet. It was a great way to start the day.
If you’re interested in helping to get a consistent group ride in Aspen going, show up on Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. This is an informal, social ride, but don’t come on a recovery day. Be prepared to suffer; this is a fast ride. If, or when, you get dropped, they’ll wait for you.
The shootout is still in its infancy, but hopefully, with some patience and consistency, it can grow into a regular ride, and Aspen can lay claim as a real cycling town.
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 adviser in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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