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54 mph on 1″ of rubber

Finding my form

Saturday I joined great buddies Jonathan, Val, and Lew in Summit County for the Copper Triangle. This is a big ride that benefits the Davis Phinney Parkinson’s Foundation. The Copper is only 6 years old, but it has gained huge momentum in its participation due in large part to the beauty of the ride. It’s also very well supported with volunteers at the aid stations, which really helps.

We started early from Lew’s house in Frisco and rode the 7 miles to Copper for the official start. The ride from Frisco is a gradual uphill the entire way so we were able to get nice and warm (except for my fingers, thanks to the fingerless gloves!) before we started the first real climb of the Copper Triangle.

From Copper Mountain resort we headed straight up Fremont Pass. This is a great climb several miles long, and tops out at over 11,300 feet. Since we had a nice warmup from Frisco, we all climbed pretty well. I was feeling great despite a nasty bout of what I think is gastritis. I slept horribly the previous night and had experienced acute stomach cramps for days before the ride. (I’m still having some, actually.) But on the ride I felt strong and my stomach was fine, so I climbed better than ever before.

I stopped at Fremont Pass and waited for my friends to join me. Fremont descends nicely before a climb up toward Leadville, and on that downhill I hit one of my highest speeds ever. I clocked slightly over 54 mph on my little bike computer. I was fully tucked into an aerodynamic position, butt back, belly resting on the bike saddle, hands in, neck down, and looking up just enough to make sure the bike was pointed in the right direction. WHAT A RUSH!!

I connected with some really strong riders and we rode together for the next 60 miles or so. Up and over Tennessee Pass, then over the highway near Red Cliff and into a really fun, twisty, and fast descent into Minturm (which, by the way, is a really cute town if you’re visiting). We stayed together all the way to the first rest stop in Vail, and I think I took off before they did because I didn’t see them again for quite a while.

I had burned a lot of energy because by the time I god to Vail I was feeling pretty cooked, and I still had the nasty side of Vail Pass to climb. (The hardest side is the west side; it’s longer and steeper.) I pulled off at the last Vail rest stop before the climb and reloaded bottles, grabbed a fistful of Oreos, and stretched a while. Slightly recharged, I began the arduous slog up Vail Pass.

The climb uses recreational paths, which is a bit of a mixed blessing. We’re isolated from the much faster moving auto traffic, but the paths are pretty narrow and two-way. As we climb up the 7 miles or so from base to summit – often at grades between 9-12% – there are fast-moving cyclists coming downhill from the opposite direction. There is a yellow line that separates the lanes, but you have to be alert and know when to pass slower riders (or ride far right to let the faster riders pass you).

I had already ridden the west side of Vail Pass twice before in less than a month, so I knew the layout pretty well. I remembered that the climbs really break up into four sections, so I just picked my easiest gear (34 x 27) and just kept grinding away. At the end of each of those sections there is a part that levels off (by which I mean that the gradient drops from 9-12% down to around 5-7%. Still steep, but it feels like a respite). I counted down those sections and finally found myself atop Vail Pass. I knew that it was “all downhill from here”…literally.

Atop Vail Pass I dismounted, reloaded bottles again, ate as much as I could choke down, and stretched as I waited for my friends to join me. About 20 minutes went by before I saw my buddy Lew roll up. His legs were completely locked up with cramps that he couldn’t dismount his bike. I ran over and held him up while he kicked out of one pedal. I then had him lean on me while I extracted his bike from beneath him. He’s local to Summit County and rides Vail Pass quite a lot, but he had really pushed himself hard up that final climb. He was able to rehydrate and stretch enough to get his legs working again.

A few minutes later Jonathan and Val joined us atop Vail. After a few minutes’ rest we began the beautiful descent through the Gore Valley into Copper Mountain.

The descent is 5-6 miles long and sweeps and winds into the valley above Copper. I was still feeling strong and got on the wheel of a guy who looked like a semi-pro or continental rider and held his wheel. We descended together all the way into the Copper Mountain resort and past the finish line.

This year’s Copper Triangle was my best ride in the mountains to date. I can feel my cycling form getting better with each passing week, even though my stomach is a bit of a wreck. There is one more big organized ride I’m considering this year, which boasts that it’s the hardest century (100-mile ride) in the United States: www.deercreekchallenge.com. I’m rather intimidated by the route description but this would be a great way to learn more bike routes around Evergreen and it would be a huge achievement for me to finish off the cycling season. There will still be a lot of riding left this year for me, but I will certainly not be doing any more big, sponsored rides until spring 2012.

After a dinner of copious pizza and a few Fat Tires we headed home from Summit County and plopped into the hot tub. Exhausted, I slumped into bed before 10 PM.

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