It was raining lightly as I dove into the sharp right hand turn under an overpass at mile 113. My tires struggled vainly to maintain purchase with the slick pavement and when they finally let go it was sudden and violent. I slammed into the pavement and began a long slide, finally coming to a halt 10 meters later.
My primary concern as I lay there on the ground was that Mickey was going to catch me and take the “Stage Win”. I had dropped him just minutes earlier on the run-in from Vail Pass where I somehow got max KOM points.
I was riding the Triple Bypass as hard as I could because I had something to prove. With the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race just over a month away it was time to give my fitness a real test. A 120-mile road ride to 11,000’ over three gigantic Rocky Mountain Passes seemed like just the thing.
Note: The Triple Bypass is a 120-mile road ride through the Colorado Rockies over three distinct mountain passes; Juniper Pass (11,140’), Loveland Pass (11,990’) and Vail Pass (10,560’). In total there is well over 10,000’ of climbing for the day at some serious altitude.
To be honest, coming into the Triple Bypass I was freaking out a little bit. I desperately needed to know I was on track – I needed to know that the innumerable hours and miles I was putting in on the bike were paying off. For the last several weeks my power levels had been off target. I had been struggling to achieve basic intervals and self-doubt was getting hard to control – was everything ok? Do I have the legs to even finish Leadville this year? What was going on?
The “race” began right at Kilometer Zero as my buddy Mickey separated from our group of eight friends to draft on a slightly faster rider. I knew that if I didn’t follow him, I’d never see him again so I went too. I was putting in exactly the right effort as rider number three in our group and we began the first climb over Juniper Pass to Echo Lake.
Gaining just 2,585’ over 13 miles meant I could spin easily upward as the altimeter quickly approached 11,000’. Within a few miles, Mickey and his lead-out man picked up the pace and I let them go, wary of blowing up to soon. As I watched them pace out of sight, I figured I wouldn’t see him again until the finish line. It was hard to think straight above 10,000’ and my power dropped by at least 10%. I focused on setting an even rhythm and eating on schedule to avoid The Bonk.
At some point, DMoz passed me. This guy is skinny enough for concern and just completed Ride the Rockies in great form. Combine that with the fact he lives at elevation and now you’ll understand how frustrating it is to have him pass you chatting the whole way. I watched him go figuring I’d never see him again either. He managed to beat Mickey to the top taking max KOM points for himself.
Skipping the Aid Station at Echo Lake, I tipped my bike over and began speeding downhill towards Idaho Springs at 50mph in some sections. The speed and roads were exhilarating, the inexperienced descenders were not. I warily passed many cyclists who need someone to show them how to keep a line through a corner.
Marcos caught me on the outskirts of Georgetown, at the base of the second pass where I was planning to stop at the Aid Station. We stopped together and chatted while we filled up bottles. I was a bit nervous because he looked strong and I really wanted to maintain my current 3rd place among the team. I mean, a podium is a podium, right?
DMoz caught up to us while we were stopped causing a brief moment of confusion. We thought he was ahead of us. I guess we rocketed downhill past him. Unfortunately, 140lb guys just don’t go downhill as fast at 195lb guys… He took off a few minutes ahead of us and again I figured that would be the last time I saw him.
After a 14-minute stop, we were off again across a 2-mile stretch of gravel road. Many riders were unnerved by the rocks, gravel and potholes, but for some reason reveled in it. After a little while I no longer heard Marcos behind me and figured he had slowed up to do his own pace. Smart. On a ride like the Triple Bypass, you have to ride your own pace. 120 miles is a loooong way to go.
The road tilted upwards, but never very sharply as we climbed towards Loveland Pass. At 11,990‘, this would be the high point of the day. Again, the extreme elevation took its toll on me and I began to dream/hallucinate the strangest things. I forced myself to eat and set an easy, steady pace as I got higher and higher. At some point on US-6, above 11,000’, I decided that it was more comfortable to pedal with my eyes closed. Of course, as I was passing a cyclist every few minutes, this was a bit of a hazard. Somehow I worked it out.
My trick to achieving long climbs is to watch my altimeter. If I know where the top is, I can have a little party in my head every 100 feet – “Yeah! Only 2,300 feet to go! Heck, it’s actually even LESS THAN 2,300 feet now!”
Eventually I reached Loveland Pass and rather than stop to shoot a photo of the sign, I bombed the descent directly. Again, speeds near 50mph were the order of the day as I shot down to warmer and slightly thicker air. Along the way I saw and passed DMoz again. This time I shouted as I went past. Technically, I was in second place – I thought he’d catch me on the final climb over Vail Pass, but it began to seem likely for me to catch him on the final descent into Avon. The second step of the podium sure seemed nicer than the third…
DMoz and I stopped at the school in Frisco and refilled bottles, chatting about our experiences so far. He left first as I searched for the porta-potties.
The elevation at the Aid Station was around 9,000’ and with Vail Pass only 10,500’, I knew this would be a relatively shallow climb over 12 miles. I was feeling really good as I left the Aid Station and decided to up my tempo a bit to see what was in the tank. If I blew up on the last climb, no problem.
I quickly caught DMoz on the lower parts of the climb. He started grumbling about my quicker pace and fell off a bit. We started to get sprinkled on and he passed me when I stopped to put on my vest, but I passed him back when he did the same.
I was going up and up on the bike trail now, passing other riders at a healthy clip. It was a bit dodgy as the trail was only really wide enough for three across (both directions) and there was a lot of blind turns. For some reason, many riders rode the centerline, making it dangerous to pass them. Maybe they were entranced by the yellow line or something, but it was a bit annoying.
One woman I passed had a radio blaring music in her jersey pocket. She stepped up her pace and passed me back, with “The Love Shack” going the whole time. I got perturbed and passed her again, but she hung onto my back wheel with some other top-40 drivel blasting out. I think they invented earbuds just for her. Feeling quite good now, I picked up the pace even more until I could no longer hear her.
Rounding some corners near the top of Vail Pass I sighted a rider I recognized. Could that be Mickey? He had stopped, but was getting back on and pedaling again. I furiously chased and yes, it was Mickey! Instantly, I saw how I would beat him to the top of Vail Pass and then hammer alone to the finish. There was a slim chance it would work. I slowed as I passed him and asked if everything was ok. I got an unintelligible reply and took off for the top of the Pass, just about a half mile up. Later I found out he had no real idea where the top was and was just following me up. It was a bit confusing at the top and I made the mistake of going through the parking lot instead of straight to the top. Suddenly, I saw Mickey in front of me, just meters from the top and had to all-out sprint to get there first. Mickey gave me a funny look and asked, “Is this the top?”
We began coasting downhill together toward the finish, just 25 miles away. I asked him if we would share the top step or fight it out. Mickey had that twinkle in his eyes but admitted he didn’t have the legs to chase now. He was going to let me do all the pulling. Fine and fine.
We rocketed down the initial steep sections of bike path like two fighter jets, Mickey right on my wheel. He later told me it was one of the best descents of his life and I have to agree. We flew down the curvy bike path cooking some corners a bit too hot and diving into holes between riders to pass.
I had racing fever as we hammered the final miles into Avon. We picked up another rider who was willing to work and I started trading 30-second pulls with him. While in the draft I calculated how fast we’d have to go for me to take an hour off of last years’ time of 9:20. It began to seem possible.
At some point Mickey came to the front and did a terrific pull. I was next and knew what would happen – he went right off the back after his amazing effort. I kept the watts up, not waiting. The top step of the podium would be mine alone. Sorry, buddy. Down and down we went, rocketing through the roundabouts in Vail while the State Police stopped traffic for us.
Back on the bike path, we traded a few more pulls. With my turn over, I rested, knowing I only had a few seconds until it was my turn again. I looked up and saw bike path bend into the tunnel and prepared for a hard turn.
And that’s how I found myself sliding across the pavement wondering how far back Mickey was.
My collarbone was not broken. My arms were not broken. I had almost no pain – the rash hurts later. I checked for blood and even the rash didn’t look so bad. Something was wrong with my bike, but I couldn’t figure out what. It didn’t go or something. I told my new friend to go on without me – I was fine. He cruised on and I got back on my bike trying to figure it out. I really didn’t want Mickey to catch me – how stupid would that be? But there was some kind of odd clicking sound – I shifted and it went away. Perfect!
I cranked it up again and caught my friend, explaining everything was fine now. We started trading pulls again and I made sure mine were long and fast. I had a bit of a deficit to make up in order to keep to my schedule of arriving an hour faster. Suddenly, the finish line loomed in front of us. We had both set new PRs for the Triple and congratulated each other.
I came to a halt all by myself in the midst of a huge crowd, breathing hard, sweat dripping off me, feeling the sting of the fresh road rash and ache in my legs after a 120-mile ride through the mountains and let it all sink in…
Leadville, here I come!