The 34th Ride the Rockies powered by Flexential kicked off under sunny skies on Sunday in Crested Butte. On tap for the event’s 1750 participants was a supremely scenic 65-mile spin that featured the punchy Jack’s Cabin Cutoff climb (most of it on gravel), and then the long grind up to Taylor Reservoir, elevation 9575 feet. Next came a rapid run back down Taylor River Canyon to the small tourist hamlet of Almont, before continuing south to the finish in Gunnison. Total climbing was a leg testing 2500 feet, and the wind was significant factor for better — and occasionally worse.
Indeed, following the annual event’s ceremonial ribbon cutting and blessing of the bikes, riders faced a steady headwind as they rolled out of the famed mountain town and down Highway 135 along the banks of the swollen Slate River. Finding friends to share the workload was key, lest you found yourself slogging solo in the wind.
It was the opposite story heading up to the reservoir, though, where a steady breeze from behind helped ease the pain of the gradual 15-mile climb that only gets truly steep in the final mile. Alas, the out-and-back format meant that uphill tailwind became a downhill headwind, making the ride to Almont nearly as challenging as the climb to the reservoir. Once to Almont the route turned left back onto Highway 135 for the final 16-mile spin to the finish at Gunnison’s Jorgensen Park.
While the wind was certainly a burden at times, the route’s superb scenery more than made up for the extra efforts. From the stunning snow-capped peaks surrounding Crested Butte, to the rushing whitewater of the Slate, East, Taylor, and Gunnison rivers, to the glowing green countryside, and majestic Rocky Mountain views at the turnaround point, stage 1 of Ride the Rockies was perpetually easy on the eyes.
Next up is the seven-day tour’s longest stage, an 83-mile trek from Gunnison to Buena Vista, which features the first truly big climb, the long haul to the summit of Monarch Pass. The day’s first 32 miles are mostly flat, but again riders must beware of the wind, which often whips down valley. Just after passing through the tiny town of Sargents, the real work begins, as riders grind their way towards the first of the 2019 RTR’s two Continental Divide crossings.
From the base of the climb it’s 8.4 miles and 2750 vertical feet to the Monarch Pass summit at 11,312 feet. The good news is that the road’s grade averages a reasonable 6 percent, making it possible to sit and spin. The bad news is that oxygen is sparse above 10,000 feet, so riders must make sure to measure their efforts.
Once over the pass, it’s a rapid descent to Poncha Springs, before the route turns north on US Highway 285 for the final push to the finish in Buena Vista. This stretch includes stunning views of the towering Collegiate Peaks, frequent glimpses of the frothing Arkansas River, and a pair of gentle climbs. Combine all that with a favorable weather forecast and it should be another great day at the 2019 Ride the Rockies.
~ Jason Sumner