Sunday, July 7, 2013

2013 Colorado Death Ride: Smokin'! (Deja Vu)

The West Fork fire cast a smokey haze on the Million Dollar Highway between Durango and Silverton.
Colorado Death Riders endured some difficult conditions for this year's event!

Members of the RMCC ventured to the southwest corner of Colorado on June 29, 2013 for the official Colorado Death Ride. For the first time since 1997, the RMCC started this classic high-altitude cycling loop (one of the most difficult single-day events on the RMCC calendar) in Durango, riding the 225-mile loop with 16,000 feet of climbing in the counterclockwise direction. Colorado Triple Crown event organizer, Mark Lowe (who also rides these events), commented on the change. "We've started the Colorado Death Ride in Ridgway the last four years, riding the San Juan Skyway in the clockwise direction...which is a fantastic route! But it was time for a change to keep the ride interesting for all of the participants. And many cyclists consider Durango to be the traditional starting point for this ride. It was time to get back to the roots of this ride."

Smokey skies near the summit of Molas Pass

However, this classic counterclockwise route presents some unique challenges to Death Riders. First, the counterclockwise route is extremely "top heavy" in climbing. In fact, by the time participants reach the summit of Lizard Head Pass from Durango (approximately 130 miles into the ride), riders have climbed nearly 14,000 vertical feet over five major climbs (Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass, Red Mountain Pass, Dallas Divide, and Lizard Head Pass). The final 95 miles, by comparison, has only 2,000 feet of climbing. Second, the winds--in particular the 50-mile downhill section from the summit of Lizard Head Pass to Dolores--present a unique challenge to Death Riders as participants inevitably face brisk headwinds generated by McPhee Reservoir at the bottom of the Dolores River Valley. RMCC president, Charlie Henderson, who's ridden the Death Ride in the "classic" direction six times, commented on this section of the course, "I'm not really sure which direction is more difficult...climbing from Dolores to the summit of Lizard Head Pass with a tailwind or descending from Lizard Head Pass to Dolores with a headwind." Regardless of the direction that this section is ridden, this 50-mile, sun-exposed section always takes its toll on the Death Riders. This year was not an exception as many riders found the headwind-plagued descent toward Dolores especially demoralizing.

Mark Lowe is glad to have survived his fifth overall Colorado Death Ride,
and his first in the counterclockwise direction!
Additionally, for the second straight year, wildfires--fueled by unseasonably hot, dry weather conditions in the southwestern part of the state--hampered the Colorado Death Ride. In 2012, the wildfire near the town of Mancos threatened to derail the Colorado Death Ride as US-160 remained closed until a few days prior to last year's event. This year, the West Fork wildfire, rapidly becoming one of the largest fires in Colorado history, cast a smokey haze over the San Juan Mountains, making conditions difficult at best for participants. Although the fire did not threaten to directly close any portion of the San Juan Skyway, the fire did shut down US-160 between South Fork and Wolf Creek Pass. Participants traveling from the Denver area had to make the long commute to Durango by passing through Montrose, before driving over Red Mountain Pass, Molas Pass, and Coal Bank Pass, a detour that resulted in a 7-8 hour drive for many participants. In spite of the extra-long commute, 19 riders--18 from the Denver Front Range and 1 from Cortez--made the pilgrimage to Durango for this year's event, the largest field for the Colorado Death Ride since 1997!

Steve Rudolph and Eric Nelsen at the conclusion of the Colorado Death Ride. Steve caught up with Eric during the long, head wind-plagued descent from Lizard Head Pass to Dolores and the two riders finished together.

At the (very early) 2:00 am start, smoke and ash from the West Fork fire to the east of Durango permeated the air along the Million Dollar Highway, making breathing conditions especially difficult for several riders. In spite of the smokey conditions, Death Riders got off to a blazing start as they passed through the streets of Durango, receiving cheers from unsuspecting pedestrians. Three-time Colorado Triple Crown finisher, Mark Lowe, and Eric Nelsen, who was competing in his first Colorado Death Ride, spearheaded the charge up to the Durango Mountain Ski Resort, averaging over 20 mph. As soon as the riders reached the base of the formidable Coal Bank Pass, however, the pace slowed quite a bit as Mark, Eric, and the rest of Death Riders settled in for a long morning of climbing. Following the wheels of Mark and Eric, participants made their way up Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass, and the truly spectacular Red Mountain Pass from the south, before making the exhilarating 4,000+ foot plunge through Ouray to Ridgway. For the first time in many years, Death Riders had the opportunity to make this amazing descent down Red Mountain Pass in the daylight!

Terry Gorsuch from Cortez, CO completed his first Colorado Death Ride.
Congratulations, Terry!

From Ridgway, Eric (who had transitioned through the checkpoint faster than Mark) paced Mark up the steep eastern face of the Dallas Divide, where headwinds from the west had already started to pick up for the day. Mark eventually caught up with Eric near Placerville and the duo began the gradual ascent to Telluride junction, ultimately making the steep grind up Lizard Head Pass, the final major climb of the day. Near the top of the climb, Eric--who had a stellar morning of climbing--began to fall a bit behind in his nutrition, allowing Mark to slip away near the top of the pass. Alone at the top of Lizard Head Pass, Mark resorted to his most aerodynamic position to cheat the pesky headwinds of the Dolores River Valley, ultimately passing through Mancos and returning to Durango with the day's speediest time of 12 hours, 45 minutes. RMCC veteran, Steve Rudolph, who was riding his second Death Ride, eventually caught Eric on the long downhill to Dolores. The two riders finished together to claim the second spot on this year's podium. Terry Gorsuch, riding his first Death Ride and first ultra-distance cycling event, claimed the final podium spot of the day. Diane Benoit, our lone female contestant, successfully completed her first Colorado Death Ride!

Congratulations to all of this year's Colorado Death Riders!!

In spite of 3 flat tires, Tom Miller still posted an impressive finishing time!
Congratulations, Tom!

Craig Howell successfully completes his second Colorado Death Ride! Congratulations, Craig!

Drew Knerl from Vail, CO made a last ditch effort to get to Durango in time for his first Colorado Death Ride! 
Mark Stanton had a stellar Death Ride in spite of riding the RMCC 600 km brevet (375 miles)
during the previous weekend! 

The trio of Kelly Shannon, Jeffrey Hulett, and Tom Driscoll at the conclusion on the Death Ride.
Dave Secunda is ready for a cold beverage at the conclusion of this year's ride.

Steve Schroer is relieved to have finished his first Death Ride. 
Diane Benoit was our lone female finisher at this year's Death Ride! Congratulations on a stellar ride, Diane!
Keith Jenson, smooth and steady, completes his first Colorado Death ride!
Andrew and Kami White, dampened by heavy thunderstorms near Dolores, became the first couple to complete the official Colorado Death Ride on a tandem. Congratulations to both of you!!

2013 Colorado Death Ride statistics:
1) 22 preregistered riders, 19 ride starters, 2 late cancellations, 1 no-show
2) 18 Official finishers, 1 DNF
3) Mark Lowe, completing his fifth Colorado Death Ride (and first in the "classic" direction), posted the fastest overall time of the day, finishing in 12:45.
4) Diane Benoit was our only female finisher (on a standard bicycle), completing the Death Ride in 16:11. Congratulations, Diane!
5) Dick Wiss, at the ripe young age of 64, completed his second Death Ride since the inception of the Colorado Triple Crown in 2009. Dick is perhaps the oldest rider to ever complete this challenging loop in one day. Congratulations, Dick!
6) Andrew and Kami White, with much trepidation about reaching the early checkpoints at Coal Bank Pass and Ridgway in time, became the first male/female couple to successfully complete the official Colorado Death Ride on a tandem. Congratulations to both of you!
7) In the stage race portion of the competition, Mark Lowe sits in comfortable position to retain his stage race crown. The Tim Kalisch Memorial Grand Loop is the final event of this year's staged race.

Special thanks to RMCC president, Charlie Henderson, and Penny Nelsen, who graciously gave up their day to support this event!!

RMCC president, Charlie Henderson, is ready for a beer after a long day of supporting riders
during this year's Colorado Death Ride.

In spite of the 2 am start, Penny Nelsen is still smiling at the conclusion of this year's Death Ride.
Thanks again, Penny!!!

Next up...the Cripple Creek Crippler!!!