I was climbing as well as a 220 pound guy can climb up a steep mountain pass about 60-miles into Colorado’s infamous Triple Bypass yearly bike ride.
I still had another 60-miles to go to complete the ascent and descent of three very long and steep mountain passes to get to the finish line in Avon, Colorado. I reached into my back pocket to get a gel when I lost concentration and dropped with a thud from the road like an over ripe apple onto the loose sand they were using to pad the new tarmac.
One second I was climbing and the next I was lying on the side of the road like beached whale still clipped into my pedals. About every two seconds a rider would yell out, “Are you OK?,” as I struggled to free my bound feet.
I was totally fine except for the fact that I couldn’t get free from my shackle-like clips. I had just taken the world’s slowest fall into the world’s softest sand. It was like plopping into fresh powder, except warmer and much more embarrassing.
After struggling for about 5 minutes like an unturned turtle I figured out it was easier just to slip out of my shoes and be done with it.
Standing only in my socks by the side of the road I was happy to have restored what little dignity I still had left as I got back on my road bike for the rest of this crazy adventure.
When I first moved to Colorado I had of course heard about the Triple Bypass. It was a legendary ride for a few crazy types who were willing to try to ride just over 120 miles with three mountain passes and over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Just to put it into perspective that’s about the average day in the Alps for the boys on the Tour de France.
And just to put it into even more perspective please note that I don’t and indeed have never shaved my legs. That’s about the level of rider I am when compared to the serious cyclist.
I knew I was in for a long hard day when I started the ride at 6:30 a.m. with a nice steep 2-hour warm up climb to the top of the first pass. There was no dinner, no foreplay, no pleasant conversation…just a sharp right turn after I mounted my bike and right into the granny gear. In fact, I have never before in my life spent so much time in such a teeny tiny gear.
As much as I love my BMC Time Machine, this was no time to for bravery so I wisely opted to ride my Giant road bike with a triple gear for the Triple Bypass. I did see one guy (from Manchester, England as it turned out) on a triathlon Scott time trial bike, but he was not nearly as amused as I was by his valiant struggle up the mountains.
I reached the top of the first Pass at 8:30 a.m. feeling pretty proud and smug. I had now covered about the first 12 miles of the ride in just under two hours. When I did the math my heart sank, I was averaging just about 6-miles-hour. Let’s keep this perspective train rolling. The boys on the tour climbed two very similar mountains in the Alps today and the leaders averaged about 39-kilometers an hour…which is about 1 million more miles an hour than I could ever dream about.
Well there was nothing I could do about it but fill up my empty water bottles and begin the long descent to Idaho Springs. That part was easy. Now I’m sure that no one would ever mistake me for a contender for the “King of the Mountains” polka dot jersey. I’m not small, I’m not thin, I’m certainly not Columbian and I’m certainly not dancing on my bike as I struggle up even the smallest grade.
I can, however descend like the wind. All that weight and bulk that are such a huge anchor on the climb magically turn into a powerful booster rocket on the descent. Usually very few cyclists can pass me on a downhill unless I sit up and let them. So naturally I really love this part of the mountain rides. Unfortunately, in the mountains, what goes down has to go up. All too soon I was climbing again and this time up I-70 toward Loveland Pass.
This is by far the worst stretch of the Triple Bypass as all two thousand riders must negotiate about a 5-mile stretch of the highway just before the Loveland Ski area. And this part of the ride is not only dangerous, as cars whizz by at over seventy miles an hour, but also smelly and dirty, as huge semitrailer trucks and overloaded RV’s struggle up toward the Eisenhower Tunnel spewing huge clouds of spent diesel fuel.
It came as a great relief when I saw the exit toward Loveland Pass because I knew the highway would soon be behind me and the lunch stop lay just minutes ahead.
Lunch was fast PB and J sandwich followed by a few slices of watermelon. I really wish the organizers of such epic rides took the lead from Ironman and provided some Coke or Pepsi at these rest stops. For me nothing tops the tank up on a huge effort quite like a bit of cold sugar water with massive amounts of caffeine.
I stopped drinking soda a few years ago because it really is a huge and needless sugar bomb when combined with a typical lunch or dinner, but during an Ironman or Epic ride a huge sugar bomb fortified with caffeine is just what my body craves.
Instead I filled up my water bottle with water and plopped in a Nuun tablet. When I was first sponsored by Nuun I wasn’t really sure of how my body would react to the new stuff, but over the last several months I have really come to appreciate the ease and convenience of the little tablets. Unlike the mystery aide drink they had on the ride, the Nuun is always the right consistency and taste. When they mix up the power drinks at the rest stop they always seem to use different amounts of powder and this means that sometimes it taste just right but most times it is either too strong or too week.
I actually used up an entire bottle of Nuun tablets on the ride, and I was so happy to have such a convenient and personal supply of my very own perfect hydration mix.
After recovering from my fall, I met up with some of the other brave raceAthletes at the top of Loveland pass. It was so nice to see a few friendly faces among the sea of strangers. That’s really one of the greatest parts of team raceAthlete…the ability to show up at a race or a ride and know that you have somebody to share your pain and/or joy.
I was now just over halfway through the ride. In fact I had finished the hardest part of the ride. What I didn’t know was that the Triple Bypass would throw me a bit of curve.
Next time I take on the rest of the Quadruple Bypass as I head for the finish line in Avon.