Riding the Storm Out
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge has come and gone. Snowcatcher and I got to visit Stage 2 in Crested Butte, Colorado. Stage 2 was a 100-plus mile route. Riders left Aspen, Colorado, heading north to Carbondale, Colorado. This route took them around the northern end of the Elk Mountains. As the crow flies, Crested Butte is only 30 miles from Aspen. However, the only direct routes through the high peaks require 4x4 travel, or a bike. The route then turned south toward Marble, Colorado. Yes, the White House has some Marble quarried from here. From Marble, it was up and over McClure Pass and down toward Paonia, Colorado. Several miles east of Paonia, the route turned onto the Kebler Pass road and would travel east. A good portion of the west side is dirt and gravel, which can be rough and slippery in the rain. I kid you not; I've seen Subarus up and disappear in some of the Kebler potholes. Most of the east side is now paved, and the wet descent into Crested Butte was on smooth, slippery asphalt. Riders would be wet and dirty by the time they reached the finish.
We left the metro area around 5 am for the 4-hour drive to Crested Butte. We took along the mountain bikes, thinking we might get a ride in this mountain bike mecca. However, upon arrival we knew we better monitor potential vantage points, grabbing one at the last minute. We found an easy get-a-way parking spot and began our five-hour wait.
Vendors were setting up, so we wandered around checking out booths, keeping an eye for trinkets. I scored a cool one from my alma mater. I got one of 50 Colorado State University cycling caps - for free!
Being the monsoon season, clouds were building as they normally do in the afternoons in the mountains. We hoped the riders would beat the storm.
After browsing around at everything we headed back to the bridge we had staked out and began the wait. Snowcatcher brought snowflakes to work on. It was fitting, since we were at a major ski area whose entire existence depends upon snowflakes.
We took turns leaving to hold our spot. The sky continued to darken. FLASH, RATTLE, BOOM!! Another FLASH BOOM! And another BOOM BOOM CRACKLE BOOM, this one closer. Then the deluge let loose while Zeus continued to hurl bolts. The bridge emptied in seconds and we all found a covered wall to hug, or an entry area stand to in. By the time the lightning slowed for us, the riders were descending Kebler Pass into the town of Crested Butte in similar conditions. The descent must have been an electrifying experience. The very steep climb to the ski area was about to begin. Cautiously, we returned to the bridge. Lightning was still around but not striking in earnest.
It was dark and wet when we spied our peloton beginning the climb to the ski area.
The helicopter gave away the leader's position.
Soon the leader, 22-year old Robin Carpenter, boated around the corner, 500 meters to go.
BMC rider Tejay van Garderen, in second position, in hot pursuit. Tejay took 5th overall in this year's Tour de France. He also won this race last year.
By Colorado standards, today's passes are not overly high, not exceeding 10,000 feet. However, the Kebler segment is rough and somewhat isolated. On a side note, both Kebler and McClure are to die for during the fall color explosion. I'm assuming the lower elevations allowed the helicopter to fly in the storm. Yet, although the passes are low, the surrounding peaks easily touch 13,000 feet, with several exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation.
As the final riders filtered in, so did the afternoon sun.
The last rider knocked out a tough day. He also rides with Type I Diabetes, as does his entire team!
The sweep officially concludes the race. Robin Carpenter, in the ride of his young career, held on to win the stage.
The finish line is a couple s-turns and 500 meters up from our vantage point.
We're already looking forward to next year's race too.