Monday, July 28, 2014

Taming the Crippler, Well....Sorta! 2014 Event Recap

Spectacular views of the Cathedral Spires from SW Platte River Road
with scattered thunderstorms in the vicinity. SW Platter River Road is one
of Jefferson County's best kept cycling secrets!

Seventeen brave-hearted RMCCers "toed the line" for this year's EPIC Cripple Creek Crippler. The "Crippler" is a daunting double century: 208 miles and LOTS of climbing. The exact amount of vertical gain is actually unknown, but the amount of climbing is estimated to be between 19,000 and 20,000 feet. And many of the climbs are quite steep! The "Crippler" is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the nation's most formidable double centuries. Event director, Mark Lowe, explained, "The Crippler is a bit unusual for Colorado double centuries because it doesn't include any of the high-alpine climbs for which Colorado cycling is best known. In fact, the highest elevation of the Crippler is a bit over 10,000 feet at the course's high point just to the east of Cripple Creek. The course is very ‘California-esque!’ The steep coastal-like climbs just keep coming at you. And the last 42 miles of this ride are as difficult of an ending to a double century as you'll find anywhere in this nation!" 

Telluride local, Tim Cannon, who completed his first “Crippler” commented at the conclusion of the ride, "This [event] was waaaay harder than the Colorado Death Ride! Who created this course anyway?!? I need to have a word or two with that individual!" (Fortunately, Colorado Triple Crown veteran, Tom Miller, was there to keep the peace and keep Tim from attacking the event coordinator and course designer! :)

Scenic rock formations to the west of Cripple Creek
Cool, but comfortable temperatures greeted riders at the start of the third annual Cripple Creek Crippler. By the end of the day, all of this year’s participants would experience the full gamut of Colorado weather, including extreme temperature swings and some degree of “wet,” from sprinkled on to completely soaked, depending on when they finished. As the ride commenced, the climbing began immediately, foreshadowing the difficult task at hand: taming the Crippler. Early in the pre-dawn hours, participants wound their way through the foothills to the west of Chatfield Reservoir, getting a bit of navigational aid at key turns early during the ride from event coordinator, Mark Lowe. This action apparently saved several participants from doing some extra work in those early pre-dawn hours!

By the time participants had reached the first checkpoint in Conifer, after 4,500 feet of steep climbing in less than 30 miles, temperatures had dropped precipitously. Cold pockets of air in the mountain valleys were nearly 20 degrees colder than at the ride start, causing many riders to search for their cool-weather riding gear. After clearing Conifer, riders traveled west along US-285, a route that is all-too-familiar to Denver-to-Aspen veterans. At Pine Junction, participants turned south, making the blazing descent down Deckers Road, followed by a steep four-mile climb out of Buffalo Creek until they reached the second checkpoint in the hamlet of Deckers. The lead group of Ryan Franz, Steven Phillips, and Walter Zitz set a brisk pace to Deckers, inadvertently missing the first checkpoint in Conifer.

Serene pastoral vallies line Deckers Road near Pine, CO

After clearing the Deckers checkpoint, the trio began the slow uphill grind toward Woodland Park with Colorado Triple Crown veteran, Eric Nelsen, hot on their heals. As the riders climbed out of Deckers, temperatures warmed as the sun rose in a relatively cloudless sky. The climb out of Deckers toward Divide is deceiving, as it is low-grade but long and often plagued by headwinds. After thirty miles and over 3,000 additional feet of climbing, riders pulled into the support point in Divide, where they were greeted by RMCC volunteer, Corinne Warren. Corinne fortified the riders with bananas and homemade blueberry muffins, a much-appreciated gesture by this year’s riders, who had already climbed well over 10,000 feet for the day. Ryan, Steven, and Walter, followed in due time by the rest of the riders, began the descent down the beautiful Twin Rocks Road toward the Fossil Beds National Monument.

As the riders reached the Evergreen Station support point about seven miles to the northwest of Cripple Creek, temperatures continued to warm. And as temperatures rose, so did the pitch of the roads, causing the speed of the lead trio and the riders who followed to slow to a crippled pace! As the morning progressed, the temperatures eventually reached the point of becoming uncomfortable. Heat generated from the mid-morning sun radiated off of the iron-clad red rocks lining the steep climbs to Cripple Creek. This was a clear recipe for suffering! As riders reached the checkpoint at Cripple Creek, they scrambled to rehydrate with water and Gatorade after completing 13,000 feet of climbing in their weary legs. The checkpoint at Cripple Creek claimed the first Crippler casualty as one rider was forced to retire due to knee pain.

Throughout the day, riders are reminded constantly of the 2002 Hayman wildfire
that charred thousands of acres of forest around Deckers. 

Fortunately, the uncomfortably warm temperatures didn't last long, as the predicted afternoon monsoon storms began to develop to the west of Cripple Creek, shielding riders from the relentless sun. As participants continued to trickle into Cripple Creek, the skies became increasingly ominous as the once sun-filled morning skies succumbed to a constant barrage of afternoon thunderstorms, which battered the participants as they began the difficult 92-mile journey back to Ken Caryl!

After clearing the course’s high point (approx. elev.10,300 feet), participants embraced the long descent back through Divide and Woodland Park, and eventually back to Deckers, providing a welcome respite from climbing for all. Additionally, the bit of rain and the cloudy skies seemed to refresh nearly everyone. The group of now four leaders flew through the fire-marred landscape and swooped into Deckers. Just a brief stop to top off water bottles before tackling the most formidable climbing of the day…Deckers Road and Foxton Canyon. Not long after, riders in groups of twos and threes trickled through Deckers and started the last series of climbs. And with the climbing came more rain. A sprinkling at first, but later a torrent.

Thundershowers provide welcome relief to riders near Foxton.

Fourty-two more miles of steep grades to go, the work at hand was tempered by the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Areas that had been scorched by wildfires more than a decade ago have filled in with wildflowers, native grasses, and saplings. Unique rock formations dotted both sides of the road, and at the crest, panoramic views helped riders forget the pain. Once through Buffalo Creek and before the final push, the course traces the sonorous Platte River, cut through a deep valley lined with a variety of pines and spruces – the prettiest part of the whole course!

After completing the final climb up Foxton Canyon and the steep Broken Arrow Road to Pleasant Park, riders made the thrilling descent down Deer Creek Canyon back to Littleton. At the finish in Ken Caryl, the first to arrive were Steven and Walter, in record-setting time. Triple Crown veterans, Eric and Ryan, finished soon after. The other riders out on the course were experiencing typical Colorado afternoon thunderstorms, and getting wetter by the minute. As riders reached the finish in varying states of hypothermia from the chilling rains, several new Triple Crown finishers were minted, including two of the “trois lanteren rouge”, David Nelson and Mike Turek, who were accompanied by Jason Turner, redeeming himself for his failed 2013 attempt at the Crippler.

Congratulations to all of this year’s riders who tamed the Cripple Creek Crippler…well, sorta!!

This year's event, like the other Colorado Triple Crown events for 2014, was ridden in remembrance of RMCC member, Mark Stanton, who passed away last September from a cardiac arrhythmia. Mark completed his first and only Cripple Creek Crippler and Colorado Triple Crown in 2013. Mark's day was marred by mechanical problems, including numerous flat tires during the first 30 miles of the ride. Facing adversity, Mark forged ahead, completing the course without any assistance from the RMCC support vehicles, successfully finishing within the 18.5 hour time limit...a true testament to his character!

Views of Cripple Creek, CO during this year's pre-ride.
2014 Cripple Creek Crippler Event Summary

  • 208 miles, approximately 19,500 feet of climbing (perhaps more?)
  • Categorized climbs:
    • HC: none
    • Cat. 1: none
    • Cat. 2: Deer Creek Canyon, Brook Forest to Black Mountain, Buffalo Creek climb, County Rd 126 (out of Deckers), Platte River to High Grade
    • Cat. 3: many
    • Cat. 4: many
  • 21 preregistered riders (our largest number of preregistered riders ever!)
  • 17 ride starters, 2 early withdrawals, 1 late withdrawal, 1 no show, 1 pre-ride. Of the riders who started on "race day," 16  men, 1 (very ballsy) woman
  • 15 official finishers (88% finishing rate), completing the course within the 18.5 hour time limit, 2 DNFs.
  • Congratulations to Steven Philips and Walter Zitz, who completed the extremely challenging course in 12:43 (16.35 mph), establishing a new course record! 
  • Congratulations to Diane Benoit, our lone female competitor, who completed the course in 15:51 (13.12 mph). This was Diane's second Cripple Creek Crippler.

Special thanks to this year's event volunteers:
  1. Corinne Warren. For those of you who didn't attend this year's event, Corinne did an amazing job keeping participants well-hydrated and well-nourished with her homemade oatmeal raisin cookies and blue berry muffins! 
  2. Dennis Howell. Dennis always provides support for riders on the course when it is needed! Thanks again, Dennis! 
  3. Mark Lowe, driving the primary support vehicle in place of RMCC president, Charlie Henderson.
  4. Riders Jason Turner and Mike Coughlin, whose personal support vehicles provides support to riders along the course.
Brief Results (Complete results with splits will be posted on the new RMCC website later this year:

Name Age City, State Total Time
Zitz, Walter 28 Lakewood, CO 12:43
Philips, Steven 47 Boulder, CO 12:43
Franz, Ryan 36 Boulder, CO 12:50
Nelsen, Eric 42 Evergreen, CO 12:51
Rudolph, Steve 54 Westminster, CO 13:39
Coughlin, Mike 40 Ontario, CAN 13:39
Cannon, Tim 51 Telluride, CO 14:00
Miller, Tom 45 Denver, CO 14:17
Howell, Craig 36 Littleton, CO 15:40
Benoit, Diane 56 Morrison, CO 15:51
Schroer, Steve 46 Littleton, CO 16:00
Nelson, David 60 Greenwood Village, CO 16:44
Turek, Michael 47 Longmont, CO 16:44
Turner, Jason 39 Monument, CO  16:44
Shannon, Kelly 53 Denver, CO DNF
Griffith, Scott 40 Albuqerque, NM DNF
Miller, Tim  44 Castle Rock, CO DNS
Lowe, Mark* 40 Arvada, CO 13:55

*Pre-rode the course on 7/24/14 in order to provide support for this year's event.

Walter Zitz and Steven Philips arrive at the checkpoint in Cripple Creek.  Walter and Steven established a blistering pace early during the ride that decimated the field. The duo finished in a course record time of ...

Steven Philips, Ryan Franz, and Walter Zitz at Cripple Creek

Savvy Triple Crown veteran, Eric Nelsen, catches up the ride leaders at the Cripple Creek checkpoint. 

Mike Coughlin from Ontario, Canada and Steve Rudolph at Cripple Creek.  Mike was a bit stunned by the blistering pace established early during the ride. (Yup, this is how we ride these things. You will be well-prepared for the Hoodoo 500!) 

Triple Crown veteran, Kelly Shannon, at Cripple Creek. Kelly encountered some untimely G.I. issues in Deckers that derailed his attempt at completing his second Crippler. But don't worry, Kelly has informed me that he will be back for redemption in 2015! 

Redemption! Steve Schroer en route to completing his first Cripple Creek Crippler. Steve's 2013 Crippler was marred by mechanical mishaps. 

Diane Benoit looks comfortable in Cripple Creek! Diane was hypothermic as she made the final descent down Deer Creek Canyon to successfully complete this year's Crippler. Diane was the only female competitor this year who had the kahunas to attempt and complete this EPIC course. Hats off to you, Diane! 

Mike Turek and David Nelson at the Cripple Creek checkpoint. Both riders successfully navigated a heavy thunderstorm while climbing out of Cripple Creek to successfully complete this year's ride. 
Tom Miller wins the award for "most combative" rider of the day. Tom mysteriously mangled his chain and rear derailleur during the steep climb up to Cripple Creek. A brief surgical repair to his chain and derailleur adjustment allowed Tom to hobble the final 85 miles and 6,500 feet of additional climbing back to Ken Caryl. Congratulations on completing your fourth Colorado Triple Crown! 

Telluride's Tim Cannon successfully completes his first Cripple Creek Crippler and Colorado Triple Crown. But as Tim will admit, it wasn't easy! (Although I do think that jersey looks good on you!) Congratulations, Tim!
Holding a red taillight to signify "Lanterne Rouge" (i.e., the competitors in last place in a bicycle race),  Jason Turner, David Nelson, and Mike Turek successfully complete the Crippler. (Sometimes it's not about finishing fast, it's just about finishing!) Congratulations to all of you, especially for surviving the less than stellar weather conditions
at the conclusion of the ride.

By completing the Cripple Creek Crippler, the following riders have successfully completed the 2014 Colorado Triple Crown. Congratulations to all of you!: 
  1. Craig Howell: 3rd Triple Crown
  2. Mark Lowe: 5th Triple Crown
  3. Tom Miller: 4th Triple Crown
  4. Eric Nelsen: 3rd Triple Crown
  5. David Nelson: 1st Triple Crown
  6. Steve Rudolph: 3rd Triple Crown
  7. Mike Turek: 1st Triple Crown
  8. Walter Zitz: 1st Triple Crown

Colorado Triple Crown Stage Race 
With the cancellation of this year's Tim Kalisch Memorial Grand Loop, this year's Colorado Triple Crown "stage race" represents the total cumulative time for the following three events:
  1. Joe Lookingbill Denver-to-Aspen Classic (180 miles, 13,500 feet)
  2. Colorado Death Ride (225 miles, 17,000 feet)
  3. Cripple Creek Crippler (208 miles, 19,500 feet)
Total distance/climbing: 613 miles, 50,000 feet

Congratulations to Walter Zitz, for successfully claiming the number one podium spot during this year's staged event. This year's stage race podium includes:
  1. Walter Zitz (total combined time of 35:54)
  2. Eric Nelsen (total combined time of 37:28)
  3. Steve Rudolph (total combined time of 39:06)
Alas, there were no female stage race finishers this season.

Next up...Are you ready to Cycle to Saturn?!?