BEAVER CREEK — Before yesterday’s pro riders had traveled the 70-or-so miles from Steamboat to Wolcott, hundreds of amateur cyclists got a chance to ride to the finish in front of them.
We’d call it a fun event, but, considering the finish of the Steamboat to Beaver Creek stage contains the race’s “King of the Mountain” climb, maybe “cool” is a better word.
“It’s so cool to be able to ride the course unimpeded with the roads being closed and get enjoy the same course that the riders have to ride,” said Reed Nelson, a cyclist from Kansas City, Mo., who’s visiting Vail for a few days to follow the race.
I met Nelson after the race had finished. He and three of his buddies participated in the “Scout the Stage” pre-ride, a somewhat-common offering at races like these.
Nelson said the true rider of the group was Kelly Fisher, a fit man in his thirties who rides a lot.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” said Fisher. “ I had to stop three or four times just have a quick breather and then take off again.”
I talked to Nelson some more and learned that he’s a bit of a Scout-the-Stage groupie.
“We rode Independence Pass two years ago for a Scout the Stage, and we’ve done Hoosier (Pass),” Fisher says.
“And I’ve done Alpe d’Huez and Tourmalet,” Nelson chimes in. “At the Tour de France.”
“Really!” I say.
“Yeah, and this way harder than that,” he replies.
And that about says it. I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into when I agreed to ride the 28-mile route from 4 Eagle Ranch to Beaver Creek, but up until that climb, I was feeling pretty good.
At one point I thought I may even try the whole 100-mile route some day.
Until I hit that climb.
For a local, the difficult part of this course would start not with the climb, but with the realization that, en route to Beaver Creek, you’re being deliberately forced to go past the Bear Lot entrance at Prater Road, because that route would be too easy. Past the Elk Lot and on to the main entrance the riders went, and past the flags on Village Road which is where the climb really began.
A right turn on Holden Road marked the start of the King of the Mountain — 5 kilometers of climbing that no one who chose to do it that day will ever forget.
“The higher you went, the harder it got,” said Fisher.
There weren’t a lot of switchbacks, so the opportunities to get a little momentum going were minimal. People chatted a little to each other as they attempted to take it on, with “how superhuman these pros are” dominating the topic of conversation.
I stopped to walk my bike up a few times, and noticed walking up the hill wasn’t really much slower than riding. To think that the pros were going 15-20 mph up that hill is mind-blowing.
The pro race saw its fair share of lead changes on the King of the Mountain. Americans Tom Danielson and Larry Warbasse each took a turn leading field for part of the climb, Mathias Frank, of Switzerland, was right in the pack for a while along with two other riders, but Danielson was first to reach the King of the Mountain and his group had dropped Warbasse and Frank along the way.
What decided the race?
Going into the race, many assumed the King of the Mountain climb would be what decided the race, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Inadvertently, I stumbled upon the answer as I made my way down the long descent following the summit.
A very small amount of rain had fallen on the Scout the Stage riders, as we were on the course a few hours before the pros, but it was enough to make me a little nervous on the descent.
A guy I was riding with said his speedometer reached 45 mph at times, and we were both taking it easy and using our brakes.
We heard after the race was the pros were hitting speeds of 65 mph, and by the time they reached the descent, it was raining pretty heavily.
Despite the fact that Danielson was first up the King of the Mountain, he was overtaken not long into the descent by Acevedo and van Garderen. Acevedo and van Garderen were able to muster up the stones to ride aggressively on the sketchy descent, so it came as no surprise to see the two of them neck-and-neck at the finish line. Acevedo finished less than a wheel’s length in front of van Garderen.
When they got off their bikes they looked a little sore, but for the most part they walked away like it was just another day on the job.
My surprise at how casually they were able to walk away and take a seat soon turned to appreciation, the kind of appreciation you can only harbor from having been through something similar yourself.
And I knew I wasn’t alone, as the hundreds of Scout the Stage riders who were also watching must have been feeling the same way.