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Blue Sky Velo» Blog Archive » Triple Crown Report

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Triple Crown Report

After competing in the March Gator Half Triathlon in Bradenton, FL, I was looking to take a
break from triathlon for the remainder of 2012. In addition to some cycling races, I wanted
another summer challenge, and I found it in the form of the Colorado Triple Crown Series. The
Colorado Triple Crown is a collection of single day, timed double century road cycling events.
They are, simply put, the most challenging road cycling events in the state of Colorado. These
events include the Joe Lookingbill Denver-to-Aspen Classic (180mi and 13k feet of climbing),
Colorado Death Ride (225mi and 16k feet of climbing), the Grand Loop (200mi and 15k feet
of climbing), and the (new) Cripple Creek Crippler. Since the early 1990s, the RMCC has been
riding the three individual events of the Colorado Triple Crown as preparation for Paris-Brest-
Paris (PBP), Boston-Montreal-Boston (BMB), and other longer endurance cycling events. In
2009, the RMCC formally organized these events into the Colorado Triple Crown. Completion
of three of the Colorado Triple Crown stages in a single calendar year earns the cyclist the
unique designation of a Colorado Triple Crown Finisher. To date, there are only 13 riders in
RMCC history who have accomplished this feat. I completed the first three events. Here is my
story.

In preparation for Denver-to-Aspen on June 16, I did a handful of century+ rides north up Rist
Canyon and/or up thru Glenhaven, thru Estes, and then along the Peak to Peak Hwy. I tried to
ride these in the heat of the day while practicing pacing and nutrition. The morning of June 16
started out at 3am, with 17 brave souls riding almost immediately uphill, gaining 3,000 vertical
feet, from the RTD Park-n-Ride to Conifer. The 7- 15% grades up and around Deer Creek Canyon
were a wake-up call, but at least it was relatively dark (even with my excellent Ay-Up lights), so I
couldn’t see myself suffering. I made it into the Conifer checkpoint feeling good, but the stretch
from Conifer to Kenosha Pass (9,997 feet) was a slog, as it was beginning to warm up and I
failed to take in enough nutrition. I took my time fueling up at the Kenosha Pass summit
checkpoint, making sure I applied liberal sunscreen for the long road ahead. South Park is
known for its westerly winds, and the 20 mile stretch from Kenosha Pass to Fairplay can feel
double that; we lucked out with zero head wind, and I made good time, especially since I was
able to draft with another rider up over Red Hill Pass (9,993 feet). I got dumped on at the
summit of Trout Creek Pass (9,346 feet), and then the sun came out for the rest of the day. The
stretch from Buena Vista to Twin Lakes was rough: a slight headwind and a gentle uphill slope,
coupled with the 85 degree heat made for some miserable riding. Plus, I was well into territory
that I’d not ventured into since my last double century, the 2006 Grand Loop. Legs and sit
bones were barking. Fortunately, I was again able to ride a good chunk of pavement with
another rider, and we limped into the Twin Lakes checkpoint. After throwing down some
calories, water, and another Red Bull, we motored on and up Independence Pass (12,095 feet).
I rode this pass 12 years ago, but today it took me double the time. At the summit, I could only
drink water as my stomach shut down and any food I had with me tasted like chalk. Fortunately
it was downhill for the next 30 miles. After bombing down the west side of the pass and
zigzagging thru Aspen, I made my way into the small hamlet of Woody Creek and the finish. The
family was eagerly awaiting my arrival, and I sat down to a big plate of French fries and a
Sunshine Wheat. Although I ‘qualified’ to ride the other Triple Crown events, I was pretty sure
that I had had enough.

Humans have a short term memory. I decided about two weeks later that I would attempt the
CO Death Ride. Since about 2002 when I took a road trip down to Durango and read about the
Death Ride on a local flyer, I was intrigued and a little bit scared. The morning of July 1 started
super early; in fact, I never went to sleep until about 10pm the night before, tossing and turning
until about 1am, finally dragging my butt out of bed for the 1:30am roll call. Calories and Red
Bull come in handy that early in the morning. It was a gentle climb from the town of Ridgway to
Ouray, and 18 of us headed out at a somewhat brisk 18mph pace. The group split apart as we
turned the corner on 3rd Street in Ouray to begin the climb up Red Mountain Pass (11,019 feet).
The 6- 9% grades to the summit didn’t seem so bad since there were about 5 of us that rode
together in the pitch black darkness and silence of the night (thank goodness for my Ay-Up
lights!). I had ridden this pass about 8 years ago in the daytime, remembering the steep drop-
offs without any guard rails as the automobile traffic crept inches by me. That night/morning,
zero cars passed us during that climb up Red Mountain Pass; however, I still made it a point to
ride the yellow line lest an errant wind gust came along to sweep me off those cliffs. The
summit was somewhat anticlimactic; we were up and over it without much fanfare, and then it
was the exhilarating descent into Silverton. It was now about 4am or so, and a couple of
vehicles were on the road. The air temperature dropped from the comfortable warmth of a
steady climbing pace to almost 35 degrees as we bombed down the pass at 35mph. After
swapping out our empties for some fresh bottles at the Silverton checkpoint, it was off and
over Molas Pass (9800 feet), down to the low point, and then up and over Coal Bank Pass
(10,640 feet). I was feeling pretty good in the pre-dawn light, making sure that I took in enough
calories early on. It was then a nice descent thru Hermosa and into Durango, and I made good
time in my drops. Another rider caught me as we edged into Durango, so the two of us made
our way thru town into the next checkpoint. Here, I spent a leisurely 15 minutes slathering on
sunscreen and shedding clothes for the heat ahead. Heading west out of Durango, we had to go
over our 3rd major climb of the day, Hesperus Hill (8109 feet). This 10-mile climb was just as
hard as the first three passes of the day: the cars whizzing by on Hwy 160 and 75+ degree heat
was beginning to take a mental and physical toll. This stretch was interesting as Hwy 160
passed literally thru a stretch of active wildfires outside of Mancos. There were orange cones,
fire crews, National Forest Service trucks, and sheriff vehicles in plain site along a 3 mile stretch
of road, with flames and smoke seen rising in the not-so-distant hills on either side of the
highway. In fact, we were lucky that this stretch of road wasn’t closed. The heat was really
beginning to take its toll, and I pulled into Dolores with 3 empty water bottles. The Dolores
checkpoint was at Sol Cycles (yes, Dolores, population 933, has a bike shop), and after loading
up on fluids and calories, I was off on the 2,000 foot climb up the Dolores River Valley to Rico.
By this time I was baking in what seemed like 95 degree heat and no shade. At the final
checkpoint in Rico, I downed an icy cold Coke and more solid calories, refilled all 3 bottles, and
headed out for the climb up Lizard Head Pass (10,222). Surprisingly, this climb didn’t seem too
tough, although the steep climb out of Ophir was hard on the legs after a short but blazing
descent. I stopped at the small general store in Placerville for some ice and more caffeine, then
the final push up and over the Dallas Divide (8,970 feet) back into Ridgway. These final few
miles were not easy as I fought a headwind and steady warm rain as I climbed the Divide. The
gorgeous views of the Sneffels Range to the south were a treat. As I made my way thru town

and crossed Hwy 550 back to our motel to record an official finish time of just under 16 hours, I
had a smile on my face, feeling a full 180 degrees different from my aching finish at the Denver-
to-Aspen ride a couple weeks earlier.

I had two rides down, and now one to go. I completed the Grand Loop in July 2006 in just over
15 hours, and although 6 years older, I now had the fitness, experience, and confidence to
complete this- in what I hoped- would be a slightly faster time. On July 28, twenty of us
gathered in the 3am pre-dawn darkness in downtown Golden. The front riders set a fairly fast
pace as we rode up the new widened shoulder of Hwy 36 up to Boulder. A few of took pulls and
made it to downtown Boulder in good time, unbelievably getting stopped by the traffic signal at
Broadway and Walnut. I felt fresh as we made our way from Boulder to Lyons, a route I’ve
ridden literally hundreds of times over the last 15 years. After a quick 5 minute check-in at the
Diamond Shamrock in Lyons, the climbing began: from Lyons, thru Estes, and up to the Alpine
Visitor Center (11,796 feet). With cool temps and little traffic, it was actually a very pleasant
climb and the legs felt pretty fresh. After refueling and layering on the sunscreen, I bombed
down over Milner Pass (10,758 feet) and into Grand Lake. At the official checkpoint in Granby,
the temps were starting to heat up, just in time for the 25 mile-long, rolling slog down Hwy 40
thru Tabernash and Fraser into Winter Park and up over Berthoud Pass (11,307 feet). I was
pretty pleased with myself up until making the hairpin turn and starting the Berthoud Pass
climb; I was way ahead of schedule and would probably beat my 2006 time by 90 or so minutes.
But alas, that hill got the better of me, and my legs were wobbly as I unclipped at the top of the
pass for the final check-point of the day. At that altitude and riding in that heat, I had already
drank 8 bottles of water at about 150 miles into the ride. I downed another bottle, put one in
each bottle cage, and stuffed one more in my jersey, and I was off. Unlucky me: there was
traffic and rain on the descent into Berthoud Falls, so my average speed was only up to around
25- 30 mph verses the customary 30- 40mph. I got a respite from the rain in Empire, but then
as I hit the frontage road along I-70, thru Idaho Springs, along the bike path, and back onto the
short 1 ½ mile stretch of I-70, the skies opened up and unleashed a torrent of cold rain. I was
almost there, with only the infamous 7- 8% steeps of Floyd Hill standing in my way. As I made
my way down Lookout Mountain Road into Golden, I was on track to better my 2006 time by 30
or so minutes. After dodging the downtown Golden traffic from the Buffalo Bill Days
celebration, I made my way to the Parfet Park parking lot and spryly exited my bike. I’d
completed the Triple Crown, finishing each event stronger than the previous one.

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