Typically, cycling century rides are stand alone affairs. One day. One hundred miles. Done. Go home. But not at the 2021 Ride the Rockies. Following a pair of testing but (relatively) shorter days to kick things off in Southwest Colorado, Day 3 sent the RTR peloton on a 100-mile vision quest from Cortez to Norwood. Yes… there was a century ride baked into the middle of this year’s 6-day, 418-mile event.

After an early Tuesday wake-up call and leisurely spin northward out of Cortez, riders merged on CO145 and began the long steady grind to the summit of Lizard Head Pass with stops in towns of Delores and Rico along the way. That translated to over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, with the day’s ride topping out at 10,222 feet, the tour’s high point thus far.

But while the trip up was challenging the be sure, the sublime scenery helped lessen the pain. Jagged mountains, alpine meadows, colorful wild flowers and the gurgling Delores River all provided ample eye candy. And the south side of the pass is far more gentle than its northern sibling, with grades rarely exceeding 5 percent. Sit, spin, and soak in the sights was the order of the morning. Well, that and staying hydrated. Once again the thermostat climbed deep into the red, with even the alpine reaching the mid-80s by lunchtime. But that was just a precursor of things to come…

Following a welcome refueling stop atop the pass, it was time to head down the other side. Initially the route remained on CO 145 before making a sharp left turn at the bottom of the main Lizard Head descent. That led onto Ilium Road and this year’s second unpaved segment, an 8-mile stretch of packed dirt road that traces the shores of the San Miguel River—and kept riders away from the tourist traffic around Telluride.

Once back on pavement, the route returned to CO145 for the final push to Norwood. The good news is that it was almost all downhill to the finish (and yes, I said almost). The bad news is that it was blazing hot, with temperatures once again rising into the upper 90s. And… there was a stiff headwind, which meant more pedaling and less coasting during those final fatiguing miles.

But perhaps the day’s biggest gauntlet was its last. Just after crossing the San Miguel River at Mile 95, the route pitched skyward for the 2-mile ascent of Norwood Hill, which gains just under 700 feet and has an average gradient of near 7 percent. And did I mention it was hot. Like blast furnace in your face hot. GPS devices aren’t perfectly accurate when it comes to temperature readings, but at one point near the top of the climb my Wahoo head unit displayed 113°. Fortunately, by that point the end was near, with just an easy spin remaining to reach the finish in Norwood where food (thanks Norwood community!!) and cold Eddyline Beer awaited.

Next up is easiest day of this year’s RTR, a 40-mil spin from Norwood to Ridgway. The route starts with a rapid descent back down Norwood Hill, then traces the banks of the San Miguel River for a dozen miles before turning northeast on CO62 for the gradual 13-mile grind to the summit of Dallas Divide, the day’s high point at 8,983 feet. Up top riders will enjoy stunning views of the San Juan Mountains, and then take off for the speedy descent all the way to the finish in Ridgway.