I used to just ride a mountain bike. I enjoyed being in the woods, coursing through trees, hopping over logs and getting dirty. Somewhere I strayed. In September, 2006 I bought my first road bike. Originally it was a purchase justified solely as a training aid for endurance mountain biking . . . specifically the 2007 Leadville 100. Then a strange thing happened on the way to the forum: I started to really enjoy the road. I enjoyed going fast on thin tires. I enjoyed exploring the countryside and covering large distances on a bike. I enjoyed getting into endurance shape without major wear and tear on the body. Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer the trail to the road, but over the last 3 years, I have become a full-fledged roadie and can hold my own with the velo-nerds.
After successfully completing two Leadville 100s and the Shenandoah 100, I decided in late 2008 that it was time to do some epic road rides. Two that jumped out at me were the Copper Triangle from Vail to Copper Mountain to Leadville to Vail and the Triple Bypass. In December, 2008, I checked the calendar and noticed that the 2009 Triple Bypass was scheduled for Saturday, July 11, 2009. The Triple Bypass is a 120-mile road ride from Evergreen, Colorado to Avon, Colorado. It’s name is derived from a route that climbs over three passes, namely Junger Pass, Loveland Pass and Vail Pass and contains some 10,200 feet of total ascent. Over 3500 bikers participate in the event each year and it is widely known as a road-biking rite of passage.
Registration for the Triple Bypass begins on January 1 and typically sells out in 5-6 days. I took no chances and registered early on January 1, 2009. It’s a good thing I didn’t delay as the 2009 version sold out within 38 hours. I tried to get a bunch of other guys to sign up, but everyone was either too late or couldn’t commit. No worries, I was prepared for a nice long solo ride looking at mountains and listening to tunes.
During the week before the 2009 Triple Bypass, I met a few other guys who would be doing the ride. One was Tom Skinner from DC. Tom was introduced to me through Dave Gonzales. The second was Howard Pollock from Denver. Howard was introduced to me through my brother after the two met at a restaurant in Vegas. I made arrangements to meet Howard and Tom at 6am in Bergen Park on the morning of the 11th.
Figuring out logistics for the Triple was a little bit of a pain. I didn’t want to drive from Vail to Evergreen as I would then have to get back to Evergreen after the ride to pick up the car and drive back to Vail. Fortunately, I was able to snag a ride from West-Vail from a guy named Brian at 4:30am on the morning of the 11th. The ride from West-Vail to Evergreen took about an hour and 15 minutes. We parked in a strip-center near Bergen Park, changed clothes and made our way over to the start area.
The Triple Bypass is a ride, not a race. You can start anytime you want between 5am and 8am and there are no time limits or deadlines. I met Tom and Howard at the start at 6:15am. It was a beautiful crisp Colorado morning with no clouds and a temperature in the mid-40s. Some storms were predicted for the afternoon, but storms are pretty much predicted every afternoon in Colorado. I think Colorado weatherman predict weather accuracy at a lower percentage than the batting average of a utility infielder with the Washington Nationals.
The route starts in Bergen Park at an altitude of 7800 feet and jumps right into an 18-mile climb on Rte 103. It is a totally relaxed climb with a grade of no more than 3-5% the entire way up. The pavement is pretty smooth and it was a perfect way to warm-up in the cool morning temperatures. The climb ascended a total of about 2400 feet to the Junger Pass at 11,200 feet elevation. The crowd moved along at a pace of about 5-6 mph and it took about 90 minutes to get to the top. Tom and Howard started with me and kept pace for the first 8-9 miles, but then I got itchy and picked up my speed and they dropped back. After topping out at Junger Pass, there is a mile or so light descent to Aid Station #1.
At the aid station, I found some food, refilled a bottle and got in line to use the porta-John. During that time, Tom and Howard arrived and decided to continue on ahead of me under the assumption that I would catch them. After Aid Station #1, there is a gorgeous 14 mile descent down past Echo Lake and into Idaho Springs. The scenery is breathtaking and I was able to hit speeds well into the 40mph range. Quite fun.
We rolled into Idaho Springs and then took a left west on the frontage road that ran parallel to I-70. The next 20 miles consists of some flat terrain and a very slight uphill grade that just keeps going and going. Aid Station #2 popped up after about 6 miles. I again grabbed some quick food and a bottle refill and then got a phone text from Tom that he and Howard had continued upward and were about 5 minutes ahead of me. From the Aid Station, the route continues on the frontage road and also includes about a 2-mile stretch of unpaved dirt road. From there it heads through the towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume before the grade slightly steepens as it heads up to Loveland Basin.
About 20 miles past Idaho Springs, just past the town of Bakerville, the frontage road ends and the bikers are dumped onto the Westbound shoulder of I-70. It is a pretty big shoulder and fairly smooth pavement, but it is still a little disconcerting to be riding on a highway. However, there was definitely safety in numbers as bikers extended for miles in front of me and miles behind me. The I-70 portion of the route climbs for about 5 miles at a grade of about 5%. It was a little monotonous and a little difficult to relax and enjoy because of the speeding cars, but I was still enjoying the ride. About halfway up the I-70 section, I caught and passed Howard. He said that Tom was farther ahead. I kept to my own pace and finally reached the Loveland Basin exit and was directed off the highway.
The entire climb from Idaho Springs to Loveland Basin took about 2 hours. Aid Station #3 was in the Loveland Basin parking lot and it was a huge party. There were multiple tents of food and beverages, there was music blasting and there were hundreds of bikes strewn across the ground. It was a hot sunny day, so we caked suntan lotion on our skin and were content to hang out for awhile and enjoy the atmosphere. I found Tom pretty quickly after I rolled in and Howard arrived about 10 minutes later. We were now about 4 hours into the ride and had covered about 58 miles. I certainly wasn’t exhausted, but was definitely starting to feel some weariness in the legs.
From the Loveland Basin Aid Station, the next 4 miles are the toughest miles of the whole day. It is a 4-mile stretch of exposed Highway 6 that takes you straight up from Loveland Basin to Loveland Pass. It is a beautiful wind-blown stretch of road and it climbs some 1300 feet from Loveland Basin, topping out at 12,000 feet at Loveland Pass. The descent down the other side is an amazing 10 mile descent that rides past the Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski areas. Unfortunately, I had a bit of good luck-bad luck about 2 miles into the descent as my rear-tire exploded at 45 mph (the bad luck), but I was able to jam the brakes and slow to a stop on the shoulder without sliding out and killing myself (the good luck). I checked the tire for debris and inserted a spare tube. It popped. I inserted a second tube which also blew up. Sheesh. I inspected the tire again and found that there was a tear in the sidewall of the tire and it was too big to fix. Huge bummer. I hailed a support van, threw my bike in back and caught a ride to the next Aid Station in Frisco.
What sucked most about this was that I missed my reward for the 30-mile climb from Idaho Springs to Loveland Pass. As we drove down in the van, every single rider expressed his/her descent-happiness with huge shit-eating grins. Just past Keystone, the route turns off Highway 6 and continues up and over a little hill called Swan Mountain Road. I was in the van for this little climb and descent, which covered about 2 miles and would have taken about 8-10 minutes to ride.
The van dropped me off in Frisco at Aid Station #4 where I proceeded to the service tent and bought a new tire and several new tubes. Back in business again. I met back up with Howard and Tom and, after checking some weather reports and taking note of some storm clouds, we were on our way. It was now about 12:30pm. From Frisco, the next 10 miles or so consist of a bike path that follows I-70 from Frisco to Copper Mountain. The path is slightly uphill, so our pace was moderate, but it was a nice stretch with trees on both sides sheltering us from the wind.
At about 1:15pm, we arrived at Copper Mountain. One more climb to go. The climb from Copper Mountain to Vail Pass is actually relatively mild. I had climbed it a few times before, so I knew what to expect. It was about 4 miles long and climbed about 800 feet. Thus the grade was some 2/3 the steepness of what we faced when climbing the 4 miles from Loveland Basin to Loveland Pass. Tom and I stayed together the whole way up and were thrilled to hit Aid Station #5 at Vail Pass at around 1:45pm. For all intents and purposes, we were done for the day. Yes, we still had 30 miles to the finish, but it was all downhill from here.
We waited for Howard at the aid station and took our time sampling the refreshments and talking with the other riders. Now the storm clouds were really gathering, so we put on our jackets for the descent and hit the road at about 2pm.
I have done the Vail Pass descent some 7-8 times and knew all of the turns, so I was really able to fly down. I just love this descent. A few of the turns are pretty sketchy . . . especially on the top section which consists of 3-4 miles of narrow bike path. About halfway down, the path opens up to an access road that drops the final 3-4 miles to East Vail. It is easy to reach speeds of 45-50mph on this section. From East-Vail, it is about 8 miles to the center of Vail and then another 12 miles to the finish.
I was mostly solo for the Vail Pass descent and all the way down to the East-Vail exit at I-70. At that point I looked back and saw a paceline of about 6 riders approaching and noticed that Tom was part of the paceline. I slowed my own pace to let them catch me and then latched on the back. It was now cold and raining, so we all were pushing to get to the finish as soon as possible. The next 12 miles were about as much fun as I’ve ever had on a road-bike as it was my first time as part of a well-functioning paceline. We kept a speed of between 28-30 mph the entire last 20 miles and rotated perfectly among the 7 riders. It was very cool to pass other riders as if they were standing still.
We reached the finish at Nottingham Park in Avon at about 3pm. Our total elapsed time was just under 9 hours. Our total ride time was around 7 hours and 30 minutes (estimated to account for my time spent in the service van). The scene at Nottingham Park was great. There were several huge food tents, a beer tent, a massage tent and a bunch of tents for sponsors to show off their merchandise. I hung out with Tom and Howard for about 45 minutes and then had to take my leave and ride back to my house to relieve the babysitter. Ironically, it started to pour rain about 5 minutes after I walked through the front-door.
So, here’s the wrap-up. Long day in the saddle, but the only really strenuous section was the 4-mile section between Loveland Basin and Loveland pass. The first two climbs were long and arduous at 18 miles and 30 miles each, but both were at very gradual with small grades and both were quite doable for any biker in even moderate shape. 120 miles in the Colorado rocky mountains is still a hard day and quite an achievement for the average biker. That being said, it doesn’t hold a candle to the exertion that we expend at the Leadville 100. By mile 45 at Leadville, the legs are on fire, exhaustion is already setting in and questions are arising as to how the hell to get through the next 55-60 miles. I never felt anything close to that kind of distress at the Bypass. Sure I was tired at the end, but no moreso than after a hard 3-4 mile mountain bike ride. I’ll certainly do the ride again if I happen to be in Colorado on the same date next summer. Hopefully, I can get some more friends to join.