Scott Mercier: The Roaring Fork 100
Former pro Scott Mercier and current pro Keegan Swirbul set out to ride 100 miles without hitting the same road twice
Special to The Aspen Times
Since I retired from professional cycling in 1997, it’s been rare that I ride 100 miles in one shot. I’ve probably done less than a dozen century rides over the past 25 years. They’re just hard. And doing them as an out-and-back really doesn’t have much appeal. A proper century ride is a loop.
And I thought that if I rode all the outer roads on both sides of the Roaring Fork Valley that I could just make it to 100 miles without ever having to touch the same section of road twice.
I didn’t want to ride this alone, so I asked 2014 Aspen High School graduate Keegan Swirbul if he’d accompany me. If you don’t know Keegan, you should. He’s the defending Mount Evans Hill Climb champion and arguably the best American climber in the professional peloton.
Our plan was to ride the outer loop of Missouri Heights, drop down Red Canyon to Glenwood Springs, ride up 4-mile road toward Sunlight, cut across Dry Park Road, down County Road 108 to Carbondale, up Prince Creek Road, down West Sopris Creek, up and down East Sopris Creek, up Snowmass Creek Road to Krabloonik, down Divide Road, up and down Owl Creek to the airport, down Cemetery Lane and across McClain Flats to the Rio Grande Trail, and then home. The loop includes about 26 miles of dirt as well.
If it sounds like a lot, well, yeah, it is!
We both live in the midvalley, so we met at the Wendy’s parking lot to start our ride. The day was cool and slightly overcast, with just a light breeze; in other words, perfect weather.
During the ride, we talked about the state of professional cycling, wondered when racing might resume, and Keegan’s goals for the sport. Before I knew it, we’d banged out the first 40 miles and were heading up Prince Creek. Prince Creek is not the longest climb in the valley, nor does it have the most vertical feet of climbing, but in my opinion, it’s the hardest. The climb from Highway 133 to the top is 1,812 feet of climbing in just over 6 miles at a 6% gradient. The last 3 miles, however, are really hard; 3.2 miles of loose, washboard dirt at an 8% gradient. The mountain bikers always give you a weird look as you ride by on a road bike.
Near the top is where I felt the first subtle twitch of a cramp. I was trying to ride at a slow enough pace that I wouldn’t cramp, but Prince Creek is so hard and steep in places that you have to stomp on the pedals with some power or you just won’t get up it.
It was a relief when we crested the top and I hadn’t cramped. We flew down the descent to the Emma Schoolhouse, where I’d parked a car to refill our bottles, grab some food, and stretch for a few minutes. We were 54 miles in with more than half of our climbing done. Snowmass Creek was really the only climb of any significance left on the ride. Thirty minutes later, we were on Snowmass Creek Road, and I knew I was in trouble. I was cramping and could barely turn the pedals. Keegan could see I was suffering, so he graciously let me get through this section on my own and at my own pace. He turned off on a side climb to do some intervals and said that he’d meet me at the top.
We were 65 miles into the ride and I wasn’t sure I could finish. I thought about turning around, but I hoped that if I just kept pedaling that I could ride through the cramps and somehow get myself to Krablooniks. The final mile of the climb is steep and rough dirt. You’re literally climbing up the Snowmass ski resort. When I rode under the Campground lift, I was questioning my sanity. What the hell was I doing? I was barely moving and suffering like I hadn’t in years. But, as I’d hoped, the cramps receded, I found a second wind and crawled to the top.
From here, it was mostly downhill and all pavement. I wasn’t thrilled, however, when Keegan thought we should do some side climbs, like Faraway Road, Ridge Road, and Fox Run, but I put my head down and grinded it out. The next thing I knew, we were ripping down Owl Creek Road to the airport. We had one small climb up McClain Flats, and then it was all downhill back to the schoolhouse. Keegan set a fast tempo and I coasted along in his draft. I thought about pulling through to give him a brief respite, but never got around to it and he pushed the wind the entire way.
When we got back to the car, I was shattered. But we’d just ridden 100 miles in the valley without ever touching the same road twice. The Roaring Fork 100 — give it a try!
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 Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at email@example.com.