Have you ever signed up for a race or a ride knowing that it would be a challenge for you? One of the reasons I wanted to do an Ironman originally was to see if I was up to the challenge. I wanted to see if I had what it took to get the proverbial job done. Along the way I wanted to learn how deep I was willing to go to reach my goals and hit my benchmarks, and in the world of Ironman I accomplished that goal in 2010 when I completed Ironman St. George. The training was an amazing experience in and of itself, but crossing the finish line was an unreal experience. All endurance athletes know the feeling – it doesn’t have to be done after 140.6 miles but can be at the end of any distance race that you have been working towards.
The Triple Bypass that is put on by Team Evergreen – or the cycling club in Evergreen Colorado – is one of those rides that is designed to test a person. The ride itself is 120 miles long and features climbs up three of the best mountain passes in the state for a total of 10,000 feet of climbing. The three passes – Juniper Pass, Loveland Pass, and Vail Pass – are all amazing and picturesque. At the top of Loveland Pass sits a crossing of the Continental Divide.
As tough as this ride is, Team Evergreen decided they would add another day to the ride to accommodate more riders. I can imagine in the planning meeting that someone with unkept hair was sitting in some dark corner and said in a half-crazy voice, “Do you think we could get the fringe riders to sign up for a return trip on Day 2 of the ride?” Obviously that person was thinking of us silly cyclists who just can’t say no to a challenge.
My buddies Shay Bertola and Juston Puchar signed up for the ride with me. The entry for the Triple Bypass is a lottery system and I thought it was well run. My friends and I all got into the Double Triple Bypass and as soon as we got confirmation of our registration, we began training. Locally, the weather has been crappy all spring. We have had a ton of snow and rain. Little did I know that learning to ride in the snow and rain should be a requirement for participation in the Triple Bypass.
We trained hard and we trained well. We were very well prepared for 240 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing over a two day period. We averaged over 200 miles per week and we climbed mountain passes as much as we could. I am not sure I could have been any more ready. Here is the profile for both days…
We left Friday morning to drive to Denver and it poured rain on us the entire drive. I am not talking sprinkles or just a nice steady rain. I am talking cats and dogs landing on your windshield. I am talking we made room for the bikes inside of the car kind of rain. Fortunately the Towne Suites hotel in Denver had no anti-bike policy and I was very, very grateful for that. Even if they did, you know I would have snuck my bike inside anyways.
The morning of the race we ate our prerace meal of oatmeal and ProBars and we set off to find the startline for Day 1 of the Triple Bypass.
First and foremost, the organization of the Triple Bypass is amazing. The volunteers are well educated and prepared. Even the law enforcement who was helping with traffic was outstanding. This is a well put on ride overall. There was one hiccup, and it was on Day 2, so we will talk about it in the appropriate place.
We got to the start area by about 6:30 a.m. One little trick – the parking is limited and they try to make you park in locations that are fairly far from the start area. Find the McDonald’s in Evergreen and park in their lot. They are nice and let you use the flushing toilets with real toilet paper instead of the port-o-potties that just stink. Don’t leave your car there, but it is a good place to prep for the day. We moved our car to the designated lots once we had everything ready. Another trick – when you are registering for the ride, you can choose where you pick up your packet pre-ride. If you are going to have someone with you who has a car, then select that you will pick it up Saturday morning at the start. It really is convenient.
One other word of advice – take cleat covers with you on this ride. The start area and all refueling stations are not on hardtop. There are several that are in dirt and when it rains, that becomes mud. Trust me on this one – regardless of your pedal choice you will be glad you have cleat covers.
First Climb of the Day – Juniper Pass
I was pretty well recovered and rested because of my great taper. My legs and body felt fantastic. Once we got moving I have to say I felt good. The climb was about 15.6 miles and it took us 1:38. I averaged 191 watts and 9.5 mph up the entire climb. The climb was actually fun because out little group of three stayed together for most of it. We made a lot of friends up that climb because everyone was still in a good mood.
There was an aid station at the top of Juniper Pass where we refilled water bottles and took a couple of pictures. The altitude peaked at 10,980 feet, which is up there, but I never really felt the altitude as much as I thought I would. At this point Shay turned around and went back to the car. A back injury a couple of months ago really hurt his ability to train. But being such an awesome athletic supporter, he got back to the car and drove to the rest stop in Loveland to wait for us. Later he drove the car up to Avon, which is where the finish line was for Day 1.
Going down the descent was probably one of the more fun descents I have ever experienced. It took us 26:52 to go the 15.0 miles of the downhill, which means we averaged 33.4 mph. The theme on this descent was to conserve energy – I averaged only 104 watts and my heart rate averaged 122 bpm. We must have passed 100 riders and there was one small group of four who passed us up. Juston and I jumped on their wheels and held on for the rest of the descent. The road quality was good and most everyone was riding on the right, so it was safe to fly down the mountain.
Second Climb of the Day – Loveland Pass
Loveland Pass was a little different. It was almost the same distance, but we had made the decision that we would take it a little easier on this pass because we knew what we had staring at us on Day 2. Loveland Pass was 16.0 miles long, featured 3,368 feet elevation gain, and averaged an 3.4% elevation gain. I limited my effort on this climb – I only averaged 178 watts and my heart rate stayed at about 154 bpm the entire time. I could have pushed this harder, but I needed something in the tank on Day 2. This was a great decision.
I thought this pass wasn’t that tough going west bound. The elevation peaks out at 11,990 feet at the top of the climb, which I thought I would feel in my lungs a little more. The climbing was a little tougher as we came up on the people who had started earlier than we did who were riding a little slower than we were. Lots of this climb was on a skinny road that needed a wider shoulder for the number of riders who were on the road. It seemed that as the day went on the number of riders who were obeying the rule of staying to the right as much as you can was beginning to fall.
It was on the descent that I saw some of the most awesome bike handling ever. Juston was out in front cruising at about 45 mph and we came upon someone who was passing slower riders. The masked rider we will call him didn’t look back when he went to pass the slower riders and pulled out right in front of Juston. Juston was in control, so he needed to swerve to the left to avoid the masked rider. In between the lanes on the road there was a small seam about six inches across and three inches deep – it would eat your wheel and you would never get it out. Juston bunny hopped the seam to cross the double yellow line, passed the other rider, and then bunny hopped back into the right lane once he had safely passed the slower riders. Thankfully, that section of the road was closed to normal traffic.
This climb was visually the most amazing of the ride. I loved the views from the top of the pass. We didn’t stop to take a ton of pictures because well, we didn’t. But those views I will remember for the rest of my life. If you are in Denver with a couple of hours to kill, take the time and drive up to Loveland Pass. If you have a day to kill, take your bike and ride to the top. You will be glad you did.
Third Climb of the Day – Vail Pass
I would hesitate to call this a Pass, so let’s call it the third climb of the day. Basically you have one more gradual ascent that you have to make all the way up to Vail where you start the final 25.1 descent into Avon. The difficult trait of this climb is the majority of it is done on a fantastic trail system that follows the river up the canyon. While normally I am sure it is amazing to ride on this trail, try packing a gaggle of riders trying to go up this final climb with walkers and riders going the other way. Mix in the fact that you have riders of different speeds and abilities climbing, and there are some real opportunities for danger. And not the good kind either.
This is how the climb went: Juston and I would bridge up to a group in front of us, sit on a wheel for about two to three minutes, and then go to the front to take our turn pulling. We would tell the leader of the line that we were going to take a turn and not increase the speed. When the one of us who was on the front pulled for about a mile, we would look back to drop off the front and the line would be gone. Repeat that process of bridging, sitting, pulling, and losing the line about twenty times and you have a summary of that ascent.
Passing on the trails was no simple task. You had to wait for a straight portion of the trail that had decent visibility so you could make sure there weren’t any riders or walkers coming the other way. Then you had to tell the people you were passing that you were coming up because you might startle them and cause them to crash. Case in point…
I was passing a slower rider who had on headphones. You know the type – “I know it says in about 125 different places that headphones are not allowed but the rules do not apply to me”. Apparently my “On the left” could not get through the Ricky Martin this guy was listening to and he was startled by my presence. He failed to hold his line and hit me in the butt with his handlebars. I happily looked back and him and dared him to say something to me. But, he just grunted and continued. Needless to say, but power spiked right then and I left him in the dust.
Then there was the descent into Avon. It was absolute heaven. The descent was just over 25 miles and it averaged about 2.3% downhill the whole way. We had a guy – let’s call him Rob from Denver – who caught our wheel and hung on. I think he was about 70 years old. He was an awesome rider. That guy had handling skills like a puma. He was a ton of fun to have around and we took him the entire time down to the finish line. He didn’t pull a ton because he said his legs were worked, but man when I am 70 I hope I can hang onto the wheel of a couple of guys in their 30’s. Rob could flat out ride.
Shay had driven up to the finish area and decided he would ride out and meet us. He got about 10 miles up the road and saw us coming down. He flipped a U-turn and couldn’t get on our wheels. We missed him or we would have waited for him of course, so he ended up finishing about 60 seconds after we did.
The total time in the saddle was 7:56 and the total distance according to my Garmin was 118.64 miles. The total elevation gain was 10,243 feet, which was about what the ride was advertised at. The average speed was 14.8 mph, which is slow. I attribute it to all the climbing that we had to do. While we bombed the downhills, you just can’t make up the time that you lose on the uphills. You really need to ride faster on the uphills to improve your average speed.
Overall I would call this leg of the ride a success. The aid stations were well-placed and well-stocked. The volunteers were cheery and helpful. The weather held and it started to storm after we had checked into our Avon hotel.
My nutrition was spot on. I used five bottles of 275 calorie Infinit and two 350 calorie ProBars. I also tried to remember to take two Enduralytes from Hammer Nutrition every hour, but I missed a couple here and there. But when I finished I felt good. My legs were a little tired, but I felt ready for Day 2 for sure. That night we ate Italian and I had a baked chicken breast and roasted potatoes and all the bread I could eat. I think Shay ate two baskets by himself.
My equipment performed really well. Man I love my Cervelo R3SL. I was telling Jeff Irvin from danglethecarrot.com how much I really like the look for the new Cervelo S5, but better aerodynamics would not help me much at 7.5 mph climbing up a 7.0% grade. That R3SL really has what it take on the climbs.
And if you are looking for something amazing to add to your rig, may I suggest the Zipp 101’s? You guys know I have been rolling those since about the first of June, and on the descents they are amazing. I can’t tell you how many people I passed as they were pedaling and I just sat on my bike, legs not moving. I also used my new Garmin GTU unit for the first time on a major ride. That thing is amazing and my family was able to track me all day long on an iPhone and on the net webs. I will be writing a review of it later.
After the ride it was time to begin to prepare for Day 2 of the adventure. We knew the ride back to Evergreen was going to be tough and that the weather would more than likely not cooperate. But we also had come to Denver to finish this ride. Come hell or high water, we were going to cross the finish line. At the time we didn’t know how true that saying would prove to be…