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Courage Classic Day 1: Conquering Vail Pass

August 4, 2010

Courage Classic - Tennessee Pass

The day started off bright and early. My team, Iron Will, loaded our gear into the truck and headed up Highway 91 to the starting line in the small town of Leadville, located at “The Top of the Word” at 10,040 ft. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, I saddled my bike with the rest of my team started the first leg of the three day tour. My legs quickly settled into a circular rhythm, as my lungs struggled to adjust to the altitude. Before I knew it we reached Tennessee Pass, the first pass of many I would climb over the next three days. I reloaded my water bottles with Gatorade and sped down from the pass at 40 mph.

Courage Classic - Team Iron Will

The steep decent soon ended, and once again I climbed, this time towards the summit of Battle Mountain. Much steeper than the first, I started to feel the burn in my legs. I knew I had to save my energy though, because the true test of the day still loomed after lunch, the infamous Vail Pass. I reached the top of the climb and quickly descended through the small mountain town of Minturn and arrived at West Vail for lunch.

I fueled up on turkey and pretzels, both anticipating and dreading the grueling climb ahead. Vail sits around 8,000 ft, while the pass stands at 10,666 ft. An omen, perhaps? After the break, I rolled out of the lunch area and spun my pedals to force the blood through my legs again. In the distance I noticed Interstate 70 winding toward the pass at a seemingly vertical grade. Cars with engines have a hard enough time gaining the summit, let alone a biker attempting it with nothing more than two wheels and a pair of legs.

I ignored the aid station at the bottom of the pass, deciding not to lose my focus or momentum on an unnecessary pit stop. Immediately after the aid station, the bike path steepened drastically. I set my jaw, shifted to my lowest gear, and vowed to not stop pedaling, enviously watching the cars speed by on the nearby interstate.

Mile after mile slowly ticked by, when all of a sudden the bike path swerved under the interstate. On the other side stood one of the hardest hills I’ve ever climbed. Already in my lowest gear, legs screaming from the climb, I stood in my saddle and pedaled with everything I had just to keep from falling over. I inched my way up the extreme incline at a snail’s pace, passing bikers who had either resorted to walking their bikes up the hill, or were lying next to the trail, to exhausted to continue. I so badly wanted to unclip from my pedals and lie down with them, but I knew I couldn’t stop.

Courage Classic - Finish Line

More determined than ever I gave one final push and crested the top of the incline. The next few miles, still quite steep, put me in a zone. In my mind I kept repeating to myself “just keep pedaling.” Finally, after 10 grueling miles, I heard the ringing bells of the volunteers welcoming riders to the summit of Vail Pass. I had conquered the beast without so much as putting a foot down on the pavement. With a feeling of victory and accomplishment I refilled my water bottles, ate a couple cookies, and coasted down into Copper Mountain Resort and the finish line.

Stay tuned for recaps of day 2 and day 3 of the Courage Classic…

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From → Charity, Road Biking

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