Tuesday, August 1, 2017

2017 Denver to Aspen Classic Recap: Supersoaker!

Red skies in morning, sailors take warning! 2017 Denver-to-Aspen participants capture their only glimpse of sunshine for the entire day as a surreal sunrise illuminates the gloomy, moisture-laden sky. This spectacular photo by Chris Alstrin captures his wife, Laura Anderson, as she approaches the top of Lookout Mountain. 
On Saturday, July 29, 2017, 24 RMCCers gathered trepidatiously at the north end of Sloan's Lake Park in Denver, CO, the start the Denver-to-Aspen Classic. Denver-to-Aspen is considered by many to be the signature event of the RMCC and an event that many riders use to test their cycling fortitude and take the "next step" from rides like the Triple Bypass into the world of ultra-endurance road cycling. For several years during the 1990s, Denver-to-Aspen was run as a public event, attracting as many as 190 riders each year. The original Joe Lookingbill Denver-to-Aspen course traveled from the Denver Tech Center to west Littleton, where it would eventually meet up with US-285 near Conifer. From Conifer, participants would ride on US-285 over Kenosha Pass and through the wind-laden South Park Valley. In 2015, due to a noticeable increase in traffic along the US-285, the RMCC redesigned the Denver-to-Aspen course in the interest of rider safety. The new course, which was first used in 2015, starts in Denver and travels on lightly-trafficked frontage roads along the I-70 corridor, avoiding the highly congested US-285. The redesigned course features just under 16,000 feet of climbing in 181 miles, nearly 2,000 feet more climbing than the Joe Lookingbill course. It also includes four challenging climbs: Lookout Mountain, Loveland Pass, Fremont Pass, and the spectacular Independence Pass.

Loveland Pass, 38 degrees F in the rain. Perhaps too epic?!? No thanks! (Photo: Kale Olson)
The story of the day was the weather. The weather forecast in the days leading up to the event was not good. In Colorado, however, there is always a glimmer of hope that the weather forecasters would be wrong. Unfortunately for this year's Denver-to-Aspen participants, this was not the case! The Colorado monsoons were in full force and the rain began to fall gently from the sky well before daylight, a less than auspicious start to any ultra-distance cycling event and even more so for a 181 mile event that ventures into the heart of the Colorado Rockies! The monsoon rains were never very heavy, but they were soaking enough that the roads were wet for most of the day, making equipment and gear choices 100% essential for completing this event. As anticipated, temperatures were exceptionally chilly at higher elevations. On Loveland Pass, where participants encountered the heaviest rains of the day, temperatures were a bone-chilling 38 degrees F! Several riders decided to abandon between Idaho Springs and Loveland Pass due to the rain, chilly temperatures, and risk of hypothermia. In spite of the inclement weather, the monsoon rains never reached severe status. Although there were a few flashes of lightning as riders crested the course's high point at Independence Pass (elev. 12,095 ft), temperatures were just chilly enough all day to prevent the formation of strong thunderstorms over the course's high alpine passes. This year's weather conditions were a marked contrast to 2015, when 14 participants successfully completed the journey to Aspen in nearly perfect weather conditions, including plenty of sunshine, mild temperatures, light winds, and absolutely no rain.

The rain breaks for a few moments on Independence Pass. (Photo: Mark Lowe)
At the end of the day, 16 of the 22 riders who started this year's Denver-to-Aspen Classic would successfully reach the Woody Creek Tavern within the 16.5 hour time limit, an impressive number given the adverse weather conditions. Congratulations to all of this year's finishers who survived the Denver-to-Aspen Supersoaker Classic of 2017! 

See the flowers?!? It really is summer! (Photo: Nat Schub)
The 2017 Denver-to-Aspen Classic will be remembered as one of the top three worst weather events in the history of the Colorado Triple Crown. The other two events were the 2014 Cycle to Saturn Double Century and the 2015 Colorado Classic Double Century. During the 2014 Cycle to Saturn, riders got sucker-punched by bone-chilling thunderstorms on Loveland Pass. Many riders did not have access to their rain gear because the support vehicle that was carrying the participants' gear bags was stuck in traffic after a terrible traffic accident had closed US-285 in both directions at Red Hill Pass. Participants had to complete the event without rain gear. Nearly every rider was hypothermic while descended Loveland Pass, and several riders decided to abandon in Georgetown with less than 45 miles to go. The 2015 Colorado Classic Double Century was a PTSD-provoking day that lives in infamy for many Colorado Triple Crown veterans. Weather forecasters had predicted a "zero percent chance of rain" for the day. Unfortunately the weather forecast was completely botched and nearly every rider got caught in bone-chilling thunderstorms that turned the dirt and gravel roads on Kebler Pass and Cottonwood Pass into a cycling "mudfest."

Yikes! Here comes another batch of rain! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)

2017 Denver-to-Aspen Event Summary:

  • 181 miles, 16,000 feet of climbing
  • 5 categorized climbs:
    • Lookout Mountain: Cat 2 (Golden to I-70 entrance) 
    • Loveland Pass (elev. 11,990 ft): HC (from Georgetown)
    • Swan Mountain Road: Cat 4
    • Fremont Pass (elev. 11,318 ft): Cat 1 (from Copper Mountain)
    • Independence Pass (elev. 12,095 ft): HC (from Twin Lakes)
  • 3 crossings of the Continental Divide: Loveland Pass, Fremont Pass, and Independence Pass
  • 26 pre-registered riders
  • 22 ride starters, 3 early withdrawals, 1 no-show. Of the riders who started, 19 were men, 3 were women.
  • 16 official finishers (73% finishing rate), successfully completing this epic course in under 16 hours, 30 minutes  (>10.97 m.p.h.), a true testament to the "badass" personalities of the Triple Crown riders. 
  • Congratulations to Caleb Carl, who continues to dominate the competition. Caleb finished in 12 hours, 16 minutes (avg. speed 14.75 mph), an impressive time considering the adverse weather conditions and the fact that he was off of the bike for 30+ minutes at Keystone, trying to warm up after a hypothermic descent down Loveland Pass. Great ride, Caleb! 
  • Congratulations to Laura Anderson of Boulder, CO, for being our first female finisher. Laura finished this year's Denver-to-Aspen with a time of 14 hours, 46 minutes (avg. speed 12.25 mph). Laura also becomes the first female winner of the Colorado Triple Crown stage race since Diane Benoit (2013). 

Special thanks to this year's volunteers! We cannot run these events in their current timed format without their help. Our volunteers had to endure the same tough conditions that the riders did, so extra kudos for your help!!
  • Kieran Johnson
  • Kale Olson
  • Nat Schub

Cale Carl survived near hypothermia and a prolonged period of time off the bike in Keystone to finish first at this year's soggy Denver-to-Aspen Classic! Excellent ride, Caleb! (Photo: Nat Schub)
Ryan Franz celebrates his 40th birthday by riding the Denver-to-Aspen Classic. You know how to pick a party, Ryan! Happy birthday and great ride! (Photo: Nat Schub)

Chilly day in the rain, but D2A #9 is in the bag. (Photo: Nat Schub)
Josh Peter followed his racing instincts to stay on the heels on Caleb, Ryan, and Mark all day.  Great ride, Josh! (Photo: Nat Schub)
Nat Schub and Steve Rudolph at Woody Creek. Steve, who thrives in cold and wet conditions, calls for a ride to pick up him up...perhaps a few details that he should have sorted out before riding all the way to Aspen! :) (Photo: Mark Lowe)
Ray Rupel arrives safe and sound at the Woody Creek Tavern to complete another Denver-to-Aspen and Colorado Triple Crown. Excellent ride, Ray! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Nate Hartikolis, who clearly had the most appropriate bike of the day, arrives at the Woody Creek Tavern to complete his first Denver-to-Aspen Classic and Colorado Triple Crown event. Great ride, Nate! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)

Mike Turek, David Nelson, Erika Van Meter, and Felix Wong arrive safely at the Woody Creek Tavern! Congratulations on surviving the challenging conditions! And congratulations to Erika and Felix for completing their first Triple Crown! (Photo: Mark Lowe)
Scott Griffith, Oksana Kovalenko, and Chris Baker are relieved to have arrived at Woody Creek with about 15 minutes to spare! Chris played the role of the pacer all day, helping Oksana and Scott complete their first Triple Crown! Great ride, guys! (Photo: Mark Lowe)
Oksana and Erika are preparing a trip to Disneyland after successfully completing their first Colorado Triple Crown! I'm very happy for you guys! Congratulations! (Photo: Mark Lowe)
Let the fun begin! Riders charge up Lookout Mountain during the pre-dawn hours with rain showers overhead! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Riders roll into the soggy checkpoint in Idaho Springs! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Oksana Kovalenko and Erika Van Meter arrive in Idaho Springs. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Ryan Franz, Mark Lowe, Scott Griffith, and Caleb Carl arrive at the first check point in the water-logged Idaho Springs. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Nate Hartikolis and Steve Rudolph arrive in Idaho Springs. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)

Laura Anderson and Chris Alstrin arrive at the first checkpoint. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Harris Rosenthal attempted to take revenge on the Denver-to-Aspen course that hospitalized him in 2015.  Mother Nature threw a monkey wrench in Harris' plans though. Keep your head up and look forward to the next adventure, Harris! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Felix Wong rolls into Idaho Springs en route to his first Colorado Triple Crown! (Photo: Kieran Johnson) 
Mike Turek had some mechanical problems but was able to persist and complete the 2017 Denver-to-Aspen Classic! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Long-time RMCC member, James Howe, attempts his first Denver-to-Aspen since 2005. James' plans were thwarted by the soggy weather. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Under heavy cloud cover, Loveland Pass peers down on the I-70 corridor. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)

Rando and Colorado Triple Crown veteran, Ray Rupel, charges up Loveland Pass. In true rando spirit, Ray was never phased by the rain all day! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Eric Jacobshagen chases Ray Rupel up Loveland Pass en route to completing the 2017 Denver-to-Aspen Classic. Great ride under challenging conditions, Eric! (Photo: Kieran Johnson)

Chilled by the rain, Caleb Carl reaches the summit of Loveland Pass (Photo: Kale Olson)
Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside! Clicking my ruby heels together and saying to myself, "There's no place like home!" (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Ryan Franz approaches the summit of Loveland Pass at just below 12,000 feet!  (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Chris Baker still manages to smile in the chilly conditions on Loveland Pass. (Photo: Kale Olson)
A contemplative Josh Peter at Loveland Pass wonders what the heck he got himself into! (Photo: Kale Olson)
Ryan Franz pulls into the checkpoint at Loveland Pass. (Photo: Kale Olson)
David Nelson searches through his drop bag for his rear wheel that's been missing since the Grand Loop. (Don't worry, David! I've got your wheel. I'll remove my "For Sale" post from Craigslist!) (Photo: Kale Olson)
Nat Schub helps fill Nate Hartikolis's water bottles on Loveland Pass (Photo: Kale Olson)
Erika Van Meter keeps good spirits in spite of the downpour on Loveland Pass. (Photo: Kale Olson)
Mike Turek savors a Coke on Loveland Pass. (Photo: Kale Olson)
Eric Cann attempts his first (and hopefully not his last) Denver-to-Aspen! (Photo: Kale Olson)
Oksana is a bit chilled but excited to have reached the checkpoint at Loveland Pass. (Photo: Kale Olson)
High alpine vistas from Independence Pass. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
A chilly alpine pond on top of Independence Pass. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Impressive views of Independence Pass Road. (Photo: Kieran Johnson)
Yikes! Approaching the summit of Loveland Pass in the frigid rain (Photo: Nat Schub)
A spectacular but ominous sight to chilled riders at 12,000 feet! (Photo: Nat Schub)

Timing is everything. The spectacular Maroon Bells outside of Aspen.....48 hours after the Denver-to-Aspen Classic! (Photo: Mark Lowe) 

By completing the 2017 Denver-to-Aspen Classic, the following riders have successfully completed the 2017 Colorado Triple Crown. Congratulations!!

  • Laura Anderson (1)
  • Ryan Franz (5)
  • Scott Griffith (1)
  • Oksana Kovalenko (1)
  • Ray Rupel (4)
  • Erika Van Meter (1)
  • Felix Wong (1)