Tuesday, July 3, 2012

2012 Colorado Death Ride Recap: Smokin'!

Views of beautiful Red Mountain during the daytime. Participants of this year's Death Ride were unable to appreciate the beauty (or teeth-chattering drop-offs) of Red Mountain Pass because of the 2 am start time.

The 2012 Colorado Triple Crown ventured to the southwest corner of Colorado on July 1, 2012 for the Colorado Death Ride, the second stage of this year's Triple Crown series. The Colorado Death Ride traverses the San Juan Skyway, easily one of the most spectacular series of highways in the continental U.S. and one of the most photographed regions in the state of Colorado. For cyclists, the Death Ride--with its repeated exposure to high altitude and unpredictable weather conditions--is an endeavor that is never taken lightly! The course features 16,000 feet climbing in 225 miles. It is the most difficult single-day event on the RMCC event calendar and the longest double century event on the Ultramarathon Cycling Association's (UMCA) Ultracycling Cup event calendar and arguably the highest as well, crossing three passes that exceed 10,000 feet in elevation (Molas Pass, Coal Bank Pass, and Lizard Head Pass) and one pass that even exceeds 11,000 feet in elevation (the notorious Red Mountain Pass).

Exhausted at the finish, Mark is grateful to have survived his fourth Colorado Death Ride.

This year's Death Ride had record attendance: 18 ride starters, including 15 Death Ride rookies! Riders encountered generally favorable weather conditions, but temperatures were much warmer than in previous years, ranging 10-15 degrees warmer than in 2011. As expected, however, temperatures remained chilly in Silverton, CO with an overnight low temperature of 42 degrees, a frigid way to start any ride! Wind conditions were not nearly as cooperative as in previous years. The typical southwesterly tailwinds up the scenic Dolores River Basin (from Dolores, CO to Rico, CO) were on hiatus for this year's event, instead yielding to pesky headwinds up the canyon. This 39 mile section of highway, which climbs over 2,000 feet, also proved to be the most difficult section for many riders. RMCC club president, Charlie Henderson, commented on that section of the course, "I don't know why riders find that section so difficult. It is really not very steep. But every year we have riders who are really struggling by the time they reach Rico. The warmer temperatures and wind definitely made conditions more difficult for the riders." Headwinds over the Dallas Divide were also a bit unpredictable for this year's event. Riders in the earlier part of the afternoon experienced the traditional, pleasant tailwinds while crossing over the Dallas Divide from Placerville, CO to Ridgway, CO. However, winds switched directions as the afternoon progressed, turning into an unpleasant headwinds for many participants as they made the final descent to Ridgway.

Ryan Franz, riding the Death Ride for the first time, posted another strong finish in preparation for the Hoodoo 500 in August. 

The story of the week leading up to this year's Colorado Death Ride, however, was the Weber wildfire along Hwy 160 near Mancos, CO, the southwestern section of San Juan Skyway. Unseasonably hot and dry weather conditions created extreme fire conditions across the state. With wildfires raging south of Mancos along Hwy 160 and in other parts of the state, the town of Mancos was on evaculation alert for the entire week preceding the Death Ride. The Weber fire clearly threatened to shut down this year's event. Fortunately, cooler temperatures, light rain showers, and favorable wind conditions in the final 48 hours leading up to this year's event allowed fire fighters to get an upper hand on the wildfire, allowing the Death Ride to proceed as planned. Riders did encounter some smokey conditions along Hwy 160 near the community of Cherry Creek (to the east of Mancos), but conditions were safe enough to allow the event to proceed.

Marc Moons, the 2010 and 2011 California Triple Crown Stage Race Champion, decided to take a year off from the California series to participate in the Colorado Triple Crown. Not yet fully acclimated to the thin Colorado air, Marc rode admirably in his first Colorado double century. (It was good having you out there, although I imagine my name is now highlighted in your "little black book." :)

With the Weber fire well contained, this year's Death Ride got off to a smokin' start! A group led by Mark Lowe, Ryan Franz, Marc Moons, and Paul Spencer set a blazing 20+ mph to the base of Red Mountain Pass in Ouray, CO. After reaching the base of the pass, Paul (who was riding his first high altitude double century event) backed off the pace a bit while Mark, Ryan, and Marc pressed forward, grinding their way up the windy Red Mountain Pass as it snaked its way up the mountainside. Marc, the 2010 and 2011 California Triple Crown champion, had less than one week to acclimate to the rarified Colorado air after competing in insanely hot Terrible Two double century in Santa Rosa, CA in mid-June. Marc rode admirably, refusing to get dropped during the high altitude climbs. Marc commented afterward, "the altitude was killing me!"

Steve Rudolph completed his first Colorado Death Ride (and the longest single-day cycling event of his life!) Nice job, Steve! I had no doubts that you would finish strong!

The trio continued to work together over Molas Pass and Coal Bank Pass, ultimately completing the 81 mile stretch (with nearly 7,000 feet of climbing) from Ridgway to Durango in 4.5 hours (18.1 mph). Some untimely GI issues forced Marc to seek a brief respite and he unfortunately was never able to catch back onto the wheels of the RMCC veterans. Ryan and Mark continued westward, tackling Hesperus Hill to the west of Durango, CO. As the two riders ascended the gradual 2,000 foot climb, Ryan also backed off the pace a bit, leaving Mark out front. Mark, with his typical locomotive riding style, continued to power his way forward 135 miles for a solo finish, with Ryan and Marc finishing not too far behind. 

Tom Miller continues to get faster and faster! Tom finished is second Death Ride in 13:35, 2 hours and 48 minutes faster than last year's time!
In the end, Mark eclipsed last year's course record time by seven minutes. When asked about breaking last year's record, Mark explained, "I wasn't really sure if I was going to be able to improve on last year's time. [We] made excellent time to Durango, but I lost a ton of time riding up the Dolores River Valley because of the headwinds. Fortunately, when I reached Rico, the winds switched directions and I was able to take advantage of the tailwinds over Lizardhead Pass to Telluride." Mark elaborated, "this record belongs to Ryan and Marc as much to me. Without their hard pulls during the first 81 miles to Durango, I never would have been in position to beat last year's time. Wind conditions and much warmer temperatures were not nearly as favorable this year, so this would have been impossible to accomplish without their help!"

Congratulations to all of this year's Colorado Death Riders! And for the two riders who didn't finish, I hope we'll see you back for next year's Death Ride.  

Charlie is whooped after a long day of supporting Colorado Death Riders. Thanks Charlie!

Thanks to the following individuals for making this event run smoothly:

  1. RMCC president, Charlie Henderson, for making the long drive to Ridgway to provide rider support once again for this year's event.
  2. Art and Melissa McWhirter from Durango, CO, who provided event support with aid stations in Dolores, CO and Rico, CO.
  3. Nick at Lizardhead Cyclery  in Dolores, CO for letting us park our support vehicles next to his shop.
  4. All of the rider spouses who provided support to riders along the way!

Rider Data:

  • 18 ride starters, the largest number of Death Ride starters ever!
  • 15 Colorado Death Ride rookies
  • 2 riders from out-of-state
  • 16 official finishers, 2 DNFs
  • No women...C'mon, you're killing me!!
  • New course record: 12 hours, 22 minutes (18.19 mph)
  • Three finishing times under 13 hours (First time with three sub-13 hour finishing times)
Brief Results:
  1. Mark Lowe, Arvada, CO: 12:22
  2. Ryan Franz, Boulder, CO: 12:48
  3. Marc Moons, Petaluma, CA: 12:55
Full event results will be posted on the RMCC website in the next few days...

Craig Howell finished his first Death Ride in 14:19...a most-excellent time for a rookie! 

Kelly Shannon, who completed his first Death Ride, experienced some wicked cramping after the ride, but was glad to survived! Kelly's dog unfortunately "chickened out" for this event, refusing to ride in Kelly's jersey pocket! "Bark, bark!" he explained. (Translation: "I was too big of a scaredy cat!")

Boulder's Alec Sharp used his expert mountaineering skills to conquer the climbs of the Colorado Death Ride, his first official double century event. Nice ride, Alec!

Paul Spencer, who competed in the 2011 Tour D'Afrique, completed his first high altitude double century. (You picked a tough one Paul! You are indeed mad! Nice ride!)
Michael Henderson, who never takes a bad picture, continues to dial in his double century nutrition. Nice finish, Michael!

Josh Horwood struggled a bit a times with the dreaded "bonk," but managed to finish his first Death Ride in plenty of time. Nice ride, Josh!
Tim O'Leary posted another strong finish! This was Tim's first Death Ride!

Jason Kaminski had his on-the-bike nutrition dialed in for his first Death Ride. Jason appeared much more comfortable at the finish of this event than Denver-to-Aspen. (You're one event away from finishing the Triple Crown!) Nice job!
Mel Morris ventured back to Colorado from Amarillo, TX to complete his first Death Ride. Mel appeared much more comfortable with the thin Colorado air for this event! Good to have you back!

RMCC veteran Tim Miller battled through some knee problems to successfully complete his first Death Ride. Nice ride, Tim. I hope the knee is better for the Grand Loop!
Todd LeBlanc earned the distinctive honor of the "most combative" rider for the day. Todd battled through nutritional problems, GI problems, rainstorms, and a monumental "bonk," to finish his first Death Ride in plenty of time. (They don't always go smoothly, my friend, but you hung in there! Nice job...and you still finished with a smile!)

The beautiful Mt. Sneffels range seen from the Dallas Divide. As most riders make the bomber descent toward Ridgway from the top of the divide, it's easy to forget to appreciate how spectacular this mountain vista truly is! 

Next up...the Tim Kalisch Memorial Grand Loop!