Skieologians: Racing in Elephant Rock |

Skieologians: Racing in Elephant Rock

Sederquist takes on the final Elephant Rock century ride

The final Elephant Rock century ride took place on June 5, ending a glorious 35-year run.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

Since moving to Colorado in 2015, I’ve attached myself to the back of a few parades. The Broncos Super Bowl title, the current Avs Stanley Cup run and even a crystal globe championship during my first winter on the job (ski fans, don’t yawn!).

My latest hop was onto the Elephant Rock bandwagon — just in time, too. The nation’s premier century ride went out with a bang on June 5, closing a 35-year chapter of cycling celebrations. 

I was there to soak in the perfect weather, impeccably smooth and surprisingly quiet roads and most importantly, the wonderful faces and warm culture of a more vibrant-than-ever Colorado bike community. 

Starting off

My Friday night sprinter van spot was the quintessential Colorado van-life Walmart off exit 251 in Evergreen. Its tall pines and seclusion between rows, and its now-famous $1 bakery-fresh French bread — a Sederquist pre-race staple — topped off my carbohydrate stores. I consumed the entire loaf (don’t judge) and drifted off to sleep, counting my spinning revolutions like sheep.

All too soon, I was abruptly interrupted by my 4:48 alarm — that built-in extra 12 minutes is often lifesaving — and I nearly called the whole thing off to sleep in. Then I remembered how diligent readers of the Vail Daily would hold me to the fire if I quit, and in lieu of constructing hundreds of different email excuses to angry patronizers of the sports page, I shifted into autopilot and drove over to Jenny’s Market — another hidden treasure, since the coffee is hot at 5 a.m. — and filled up my factory-sized FeedCo. 52 oz. travel mug. 

After — I’m not making this up — going westbound on Interstate 70 for a mile, I wiped my eye-boogers out for good, course-corrected and turned toward Castle Rock. It was by far the most trouble I would experience that day. 

Filing into a parking spot at Douglas County Fairgrounds with the other million spandex-clad (I will use that phrase in every one of these features, so get used to it) lemmings, I tried to formulate a writing coverage plan while searching for more coffee. Luckily, Outside+ had me taken care of — they have everything at these events — and I checked in and rolled off the starting line around 7 a.m.

Some readers have wondered — dare I say, “hoped” — for more encounters with colorful characters — or caricatures — at this second stop of my Outside-inspired summer series. Elephant Rock didn’t disappoint. 

First, there was “Chad.” “Chad” — we didn’t actually confirm his name to be Chad — registered for the 100-mile route — and I’m not making this up — one day after doing the Outside Elephant Rock 12-hour mountain bike event. You may recall that this was actually my original plan, too. Unable to fulfill my own psychopathic endurance pledge, this coincidental registration alongside “Chad” made me feel terrible about myself, as Chad’s are known to accomplish. I yelled “Oh! Good for you,” in a very Christian Bale-like manner and stormed away as confused onlookers held their breaths (none of that happened). 

Twenty or so miles in, I met someone else. A rider recognized my Floyd’s of Leadville shirt and yelled, “If you got ‘em, use ‘em” as I accelerated past. Unsure if he thought I maybe had CBD product on hand — for what it’s worth, I’d be more likely to contact NASA for a ride to Mars — I slowed so he could catch up.

“Tell Tinker I say ‘hi,’” he said, referring to David “Tinker” Jaurez, the ageless mountain biker who has been winning endurance rides since turning professional at 16 in the mid-’70s. Entertained, I asked more questions, thinking this guy, who didn’t really strike me as the type who would have mixed things up with Jaurez — at least not recently — could be a great story. Unfortunately, right as things were getting good, he took a turn for the 45-mile route, and out of my life forever. 

Hope was not lost, however, for Arthur “Artery” McVeins, whose leg vessels resemble a topographical map of the Amazon River basin, stood waiting for me — and presumably whoever else wanted to see the 9th wonder of the world — at the second rest stop. There’s usually one or two Arthurs at every serious bike festival; they are the picture of what all mileage monsters aspire to be. Nervous that my hydration needs could catch up to me, I decided the popped leg vein look wasn’t worth the risk of keeling over from miscalculated fluid restriction, and I guzzled my Scratch Labs lemonade and wandered over to a group of puppies.

That’s right — puppies. The sponsors for this rest stop were Guide Dogs for the Blind by Highlands Ranch Puppy Raisers. I thought of my wife at home, caring for a baby and our crazy dog while I enjoyed a perfect century ride. I said a prayer and hopped back in the saddle. 

The sponsors for the second rest stop on my 100-mile journey were some hardworking four-legged friends.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

At this point, I decided to lock my riding rhythm. My cadence was nearly thrown off permanently when I glanced over at one of the beautiful ranches along the route and saw a sign for a “Barn Sale.” This tantalizing temptation undoubtedly would have convinced my garage sale-loving, antique store connoisseur, hobby-farming twin brother to quit biking at that very instant, but the sound of my rubber ripping across tarmac brought my daydream of racing Mack Dorf back to life.

Unlike my 29er mountain bike, which weighs about as much as a Tesla battery (and looks 1/1000th as trendy as a Tesla), my road rig — a 2013 Trek Madone 7 series — is so light I can literally pick it up between my pinky and thumb. It flies. 

Knowing the reasons for the eventual Elephant Rock shut down — Castle Rock’s exponential growth from 10,000 citizens in 1987 to 80,000 now and a projected 150,000 in ten years — I fully expected crowded roads and a potentially bumpy, construction-riddled route. I found neither. Cruising along, I hovered around 20 mph through each section of the course.

It’s hard to pick out a favorite stretch; it was excellent. Most century rides include an inevitable shaking of the fist at the sky — usually the uphill, against-the-wind segment that ruins all of your hard-earned speed averages. I waited for this moment of hopeless, creaky cranking to present itself, but it never came. As we stretched over South Perry Park Road near Palmer, 75% done, I actually gained power and went into a joyous sprint for no reason, gapping some poor, confused elderly rider who obviously couldn’t see that I was making my move on stage 12 of Le Tour. 

In its first year, 1200 riders showed up at Lewis-Palmer High School for the inaugural Elephant Rock Ride. In 2008, the largest group ever —  7,800 — rode the course. Governors have signed bike laws here, $1.3 million dollars have been raised for various groups, and over the 35 years, 150,000 people have done the event. Including me.

“Elephant Rock — many ride their first century or just get back out onto their bike — it’s meant a lot to the cycling community,” event director Scott Olmstead said at the event as I ate my delicious chicken barbecue and coleslaw post-ride lunch. 

“We wanted to be a little forward-thinking and, the experience — it’s a tough, fine line — it gets harder and harder to put this event together.”

“We’ve been super happy working with Castle Rock and Douglas County over the years. It’s bittersweet to kind of close it down,” Olmsted told Denver 7 after the event. 

Along the road, many of the riders I passed wore past Elephant Rock jerseys. If you’ve ever been to the November Velo Swap in Denver — the world’s largest cycling expo — you will undoubtedly find vintage Elephant Rock swag. I hoped my tires would magically intertwine with an Elephant Rock lifer — someone who had done every single one — but I was not so lucky. 

Denver 7’s Kristian Lopez, however, was.

“It’s sad to see this be the last one,” Bob Shaver, who has rode in the event since its 1987 inception, told her.

“The growth is tough, especially for somebody who has spent their whole life living here. It’s really problematic because our infrastructure was not prepared for it.”

The bike expo at the Elephant Rock event is legendary.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

At Wildhorse Gravel, my first event in the summer series, slower sections gave me ample time to chat with folks. At Elephant Rock, I found myself entranced in the fast-moving wind whipping by my cheeks as I bent over, striving for the most aerodynamic position on every straight.

I earned a few high-class hors d’oeuvres after my 100-mile effort.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

As I wandered around the vibrant finish-line bike expo, I thought about the theme of this event. For me, it wasn’t a day for talking to people, tuning out to music or listening to a podcast, as I normally do while cycling.

Professional cyclist Starla Teddergreen walks about cycling for women and girls in Colorado at the post-ride expo.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

This day was a pure celebration of all there is to love about a perfect bike ride. For that, I needed to simply soak in the breeze, the sun and the rhythmic churning of my salt-crusted legs.

Even though the road century is gone, Olmstead said another event is in the works for the same weekend. I think I’ll plan on being at the front of that parade.

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