Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Houston...We Have Lift-Off!! The Inaugural Cycle to Saturn Recap

RMCCers tackle a new challenge: the Cycle to Saturn Double Century,
a reincarnation (of sorts) of the Saturn Cycling Classic (2000 - 2002),
one of the most brutal road races ever contested in the U.S. 

“It’s the nature of the human being to face challenges. It’s by the nature of his deep inner soul…we’re required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream.”
– Neil Armstrong

August 10, 2002
Many of America’s most decorated bicycle racers--names including the likes of Jonathan Vaughters, Scott Moninger, and Chris Horner--started the third (and final) Saturn Cycling Classic (2001 – 2002). The Saturn Cycling Classic was one of the most brutal road races every contested on U.S. soil…140 miles from Boulder, CO to the mountain resort town of Breckenridge, CO. The route included seven mountain passes, climbing over 14,000 feet, and boasting an average altitude of over 9.000 feet! The route included some of the nastiest roads every ridden by a professional peloton in the U.S.!  Virginia Canyon Road (i.e., Oh My God Road) was an intimidating combination of rough pavement, gravel, dirt…and no guardrails! The climb over the Hors Categorie, Guanella Pass, was an even more daunting task. The road over Guanella Pass consisted of extremely rough pavement, which deteriorated rapidly near the summit of climb (11,671 feet) into a nasty mixture of dirt, gravel, rocks, and washboard. Lead riders would often switch to mountain bikes at the summit of the pass to conserve energy and minimize the risk of a mechanical mishap. At the end of the race, only 20 of the 150 racers who started would even finish! For many reasons, this was the last time this race was ever contested. And the race vanished into American cycling folklore…R.I.P…

Guanella Pass, flanked by Mt. Bierstadt to the east, is the first high alpine climb
of the "Inner Ring of Saturn."

-All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.”
– Sally Ride

Fast-forward to 2014…
On August, 9, 2014, members of the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club (RMCC) "toed the line" for the Cycle to Saturn Double Century, resurrecting the major portions of the Saturn Cycling Classic from over a decade ago. Granted, much has changed since 2002. First, for logistical reasons, the start location was moved from Boulder to Golden. Second, participants ascended Golden Gate Canyon—not the highly populated Coal Creek Canyon—as the first major climb of the day. However, the crux of the Saturn Cycling Classic course, including the bumpy dirt and gravel descents down Virginia Canyon (Oh My God Road) and Guanella Pass—remained intact. Event organizer, Mark Lowe, explained, “We really wanted to use Coal Creek Canyon as the first major climb. But we decided that Golden Gate Canyon was a much safer canyon to use because it has much less residential traffic and it sustained only minimal damage during last September’s Front Range floods.” Mark continued, “the Golden start location also made much more sense logistically for creating a double century event. Starting and ending in Boulder would have meant a much longer and more challenging day…not a realistic expectation considering the current course already has over 20,000 feet of climbing!” In spite of the intimidating dirt and gravel sections, the roads are in much better shape than when the professionals last attempted this route in 2002. The northern half of Guanella Pass, in particular, is much improved after the Federal Highway Administration completed a massive paving project from Georgetown to the summit of the pass in 2012.

Views from the spectacular Loveland Pass (on a sunnier day)!

“Failure is not an option!”   Gene Kranz

For many Cycle to Saturn participants, this was their final opportunity to complete the 2014 Colorado Triple Crown. Riders who had aspirations of completing the Triple Crown, Colorado’s most difficult endurance road series, had to complete three of the four RMCC-sponsored double century events to successfully complete this year's series. Unfortunately, gusty winds and an unusually late winter storm thwarted many riders attempts at completing the Joe Lookingbill Denver-to-Aspen Classic in June. And to make matters even more challenging, the RMCC Board of Directors cancelled the Tim Kalisch Memorial Grand Loop after the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) closed US-36 from Lyons to Estes Park--an essential corridor of the Grand Loop--to bicycle traffic for the remainder of 2014 for flood-related road repairs. So for many riders, failure was not an option. Many participants had to complete the intimidating Cycle to Saturn course—a route that only professional racers had ever attempted—to successfully complete this season’s Colorado Triple Crown.  

Views for Virginia Canyon back toward Central City

18 glutton-for-punishment RMCCers "prepared for lift-off" for this year’s Cycle to Saturn Double Century. This year’s event also welcomed a small contingency of riders from Missouri, who attempted to tackle the debilitating high alpine climbs of the Cycle to Saturn course and their first Colorado Triple Crown event. The mission at hand was daunting:
  • 201.7 miles, 20,000+ feet of climbing!
  • An average altitude of over 9,000 feet. The average altitude of “Inner Ring of Saturn” (i.e., Georgetown-to-Georgetown), including Guanella Pass, Kenosha Pass, Red Hill Pass, Hoosier Pass, and Loveland Pass is just below 10,000 feet!
  • 9 categorized climbs:
    • Golden Gate Canyon. Consisting of three shorter climbs, Golden Gate Canyon is a Hors Category climb that ascends steeply into the foothills to the west of Golden, climbing 4,100 feet in 18 miles. 
    • Black Hawk to Virginia Canyon Summit. The five-mile grind out of the gambling communities of Black Hawk and Central city is a Category 2 climb, climbing nearly 1,420 feet in five miles, punishing participants with sustained grades of 10-12%, some of the steepest climbing of the day.
    • Guanella Pass. Climbing steeply out of the Victorian mining town of Georgetown, Guanella Pass Road is a daunting Hors Category Climb, gaining 3,200 feet in 11 miles.  Flanked to the east by Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans, two of Colorado's most accessible 14,000 foot peaks, Guanella Pass crests well above timberline. 
    • Kenosha Pass: Kenosha Pass is a Category 2 climb that ascends gradually along US-285 from Grant, gaining 1,300 feet in seven miles. Many riders find this climb to be one of the most challenging of the day, especially since the traffic along US-285 can be a bit unnerving! 
    • Red Hill Pass: A Category 4 climb, Red Hill Pass doesn't appear to be more than a "bump" on the elevation profile, but this little "bump" can feel debilitating to riders who already have 12,000 feet of climbing in their fatigued legs for the day. 
    • Hoosier Pass: Climbing gently out of Alma, Hoosier Pass is a Category 2 climb that gains 1,200 feet in six miles before making the twisty plunge into Breckenridge, the finishing point of the original Saturn Cycling Classic.
    • Swan Mountain Road: This short climb skirts the eastern edge of Lake Dillon, connecting Breckenridge to Loveland Pass Road and gaining less than 500 feet along the way.
    • Loveland Pass. One of Colorado's most spectacular mountain passes, Loveland Pass Road is a Category 1 climb that gains 2,500 feet in 8.6 miles from the Keystone Resort, offering stunning views of high alpine peaks along the Continental Divide. 
    • Floyd Hill: A Category 3 climb, Floyd Hill parallels I-70 to the east of Idaho Springs, punishing riders with 8% grades and 900 feet of additional climbing in 1.9 miles. 
  • 2 long, bumpy descents on packed dirt and gravel roads:
    • Virginia Canyon Road (Oh My God Road) to Idaho Springs, 7 miles
    • Geneva Road: Guanella Pass Summit to Grant, 10 miles (nearly 6 miles longer than expected as, unbeknownst to RMCCers, CDOT had started the final stages of paving Guanella Pass from Grant to the summit of the pass). Fortunately, none of this year's participants experienced any major delays. Guanella Pass will likely be completely paved from Georgetown to Grant by sometime early in 2015.
  • Stunning high alpine mountain scenery, easily rivaling the Colorado Death Ride and Tim Kalisch Memorial Grand Loop as the state's most spectacular double century course. 

Looking up Oh My God Road, the first of two difficult rough dirt and gravel sections
on the Cycle to Saturn course.

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."  
–Neil Armstrong

At the conclusion of this year's event, 11 of 19 participants successfully completed this year's Cycle to Saturn Double Century within the 19.5 hours time limit. All participants, including the speediest of riders, approached this new course with a great deal of trepidation. The long downhill packed dirt sections descents of Virginia Canyon and Guanella Pass, the intimidating high-alpine "Inner ring of Saturn," and the potential for nasty monsoon thunderstorms wore on the psyche of all Cycle to Saturn participants! Many participants, including the brave-hearted riders from Missouri, found the persistent exposure to high altitude debilitating and had to abandon en route to Breckenridge. And as with the previous three Triple Crown events of 2014, Mother Nature had her way with this year’s participants, sprinkling riders with thundershowers, some of them quite heavy at times, for nearly 75 miles from Fairplay back to Idaho Springs. Frigid temperatures on top of the stormy Loveland Pass nearly derailed other riders attempts at completing the event.  Many participants were hypothermic after making the long, chilly, and wet plunge from the summit of Loveland Pass back to Georgetown. Many riders had to take refuge in support vehicles to warm up before completing final 40 miles of the event. In the end, 11 of 19 riders proved that it is possible to Cycle to Saturn (and back) in a single day and resurrect one of Colorado's greatest race courses from cycling folklore! Mission accomplished!

Event Summary:
  • 22 preregistered riders
  • 18 ride starters, 3 withdrawals, 1 no show. Of the riders who started on "race day," 16 were men, 2 were women.
  • 11 official finishers (61% finishing rate), completing the course within the 19.5 hour time limit, 7 DNFs.
  • Congratulations to Eric Nelsen and Mark Lowe, who posted the fastest time for the day of 13:55 (14.49 mph). 
  • Congratulations to Diane Benoit, our speediest female competitor, who completed the course in 17:32 (11.50 mph).

Special thanks to this year's event volunteers:
  1. RMCC club president, Charlie Henderson, who sacrificed another long day to provide event support. 
  2. Craig Howell, who sacrificed over 21 consecutive hours to provide support for this year's event!
  3. Mike Turek, who helped support riders in Breckenridge.

Brief Results (Complete results with splits will be posted on the new RMCC website later this year:

Name Age Total Time Avg. Speed (mph)
Nelsen, Eric 42 13:55 14.49
Lowe, Mark 40 13:55 14.49
Rudolph, Steve 54 14:30 13.91
Franz, Ryan 36 14:32 13.88
Philips, Steven 47 15:24 13.1
Miller, Tom 45 15:45 12.81
Benoit, Diane 56 17:32 11.5
Rupel, Ray 59 18:25 10.95
Schroer, Steve 46 18:42 10.79
Barnes, Graham 43 18:50 10.71
Warren, Corinne 46 19:25 10.39
Turner, Jason 39 DNF
Dougan, Dan 38 DNF
Jackson, Jim 43 DNF
Perdue, Dave 48 DNF
Schrock, Josh 31 DNF
Shannon, Kelly 53 DNF
Miller, Tim  44 DNF
Eckenroth, Jason 37 DNS

Congratulations to all of this year's finishers! 

Long-live the Saturn Cycling Classic! 

Mark Lowe and Eric Nelsen at the conclusion of the ride. Mark, who was glad to have survived unscathed after a front tire blowout while climbing Kenosha Pass, was eventually able to catch up with Eric on Loveland Pass while Eric took shelter at the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort during a thunderstorm. 

Happy to have survived the mission to Cycle to Saturn,
Steve Rudolph is all smiles at the conclusion of the ride.
Ryan Franz at the conclusion of the event. Ryan unfortunately rode through the dirt sections of Guanella Pass Road shortly after a water truck had passed by, turning the road (as well as Ryan and his bike) into muddy mess! 
Steven Philips, refueling at the control point in Breckenridge, had another excellent day on the bike. Steven was able to complete the ride and still muster enough energy to meet his wife for an anniversary dinner! Impressive!
A natural climber, Triple Crown veteran, Tom Miller,
was wondering why the Cycle to Saturn course
didn't have even more high alpine climbs!
(Remember: I've got the keys to this car!" :) 
Diane Benoit completes her third Triple Crown by completing Cycle to Saturn. Congratulations, Diane!
Ray Rupel's morning got off to an ominous start after he crashed during the first descent of Golden Gate Canyon. Ray amazingly was able to get back on his bike and complete this challenging ride with bruised ribs. Congratulations, Ray, on completing your second Triple Crown!
Not fully recovered from the High Country 1200 km in July, Corinne Warren persevered to complete the Cycle to Saturn Double Century and her first Colorado Triple Crown. Congratulations, Corinne, on a stellar season!
(FYI: Corinne bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie...just sayin'!)

Jason Turner and Steve Shroer in Breckenridge, a bit chilled
after the cool, wet descent down Hoosier Pass...
and preparing for the even chillier ride over Loveland Pass!
RMCC president, Charlie Henderson, and Graham Barnes at the Breckenridge checkpoint.

With the conclusion of the Cycle to Saturn Double Century, the following riders have successfully completed the 2014 Colorado Triple Crown. Congratulations to all of you!

  • Diane Benoit, 3rd Triple Crown
  • Ryan Franz, 2nd Triple Crown
  • Steven Philips, 1st Triple Crown
  • Ray Rupel, 2nd Triple Crown
  • Steve Schroer, 2nd Triple Crown
  • Corinne Warren, 1st Triple Crown

The conclusion of the inaugural Cycle to Saturn Double Century marks the conclusion of the 2014 Colorado Triple Crown. This season—our sixth Triple Crown—has indeed been one of the most challenging weather-wise! With wind and nasty winter weather thwarting many riders attempt to complete Denver-to-Aspen and with the unfortunate cancellation of the Grand Loop, this year’s repertoire of events left riders who had aspirations of completing this year’s Triple Crown with few options, except to complete some of the most difficult double centuries in the nation, including the Colorado Death Ride, the Cripple Creek Crippler, and Cycle to Saturn Double Century. So “hats off” to all of this year’s Colorado Triple Crown finishers for persevering through a difficult season!

We’ll see you in 2015!