I grew up in Denver and this ride promised to deliver the iconic sights and nostalgic memories of the city I knew and loved as a kid!
Century ride days are LONG and early mornings are what get you through, even if it means setting the alarm for 4:00AM… The start times for the Denver Century Ride were broken into 3 waves, 6:00AM, 6:15AM, 6:30AM, with 200 or so riders in each wave. Wave starts string the riders out which helps the smaller peloton groups move through intersections without causing traffic jams. Did I mention this was an URBAN ride??? If you’ve never worked as a bike messenger, ridden a newspaper route, or made a daily commute by bike – you are in for a shock! This route took us through the heart of the city with all of its traffic lights, stop signs, merge lanes, driveways, and lots of cars; as the day wore on, these would increase exponentially. The website warned of the conditions but I thought, really, how bad could it be? I found out. I think I might have had PTSD for a couple weeks after the ride:)
Twenty years ago, Denver’s Stapleton Airport was replaced by the new Denver International Airport. The vacant 7.5 square MILES of Stapleton’s empty runway and concourse space became the largest urban in-fill project in the country! The land where planes once taxied and took off became a thriving neighborhood of homes, parks, shops, and restaurants and a model for urban redevelopment worldwide. Northfield, (i.e. the field north of I-70), an open-air, retail town center, became the commercial section of the Stapleton neighborhood project and was the location of the Denver Century Ride start/finish line.
Riding through Denver on an early Saturday morning was blissful and turned out to be the most relaxing part of the ride. Granted the legs were fresh and the temperature was cool but the shady streets lined with homes and the big parks with expanses of lawns and lakes all looked so inviting. No one was stirring downtown yet and we had the place to ourselves while riding past City Park, The Zoo, Curtis Park, RiNo, LoDo, Coors Field, Union Station, Mile High Stadium, Elitch Gardens, The Aquarium, Highlands and Sloan’s Lake.
As we made our way into the suburbs of Edgewater, Wheat Ridge, Applewood, and Green Mountain, things started to heat up and by the time we got to Golden it was HOT! The climb up Golden’s Lookout Mountain was one of the highlights in my book, challenging but not impossible, with the entire Front Range spread out before you. William Frederick ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody’s final resting place is at the top of Lookout Mountain, I wonder what he would think of Denver now?
The fastest section of the ride was the screaming downhill on the backside of Lookout Mountain and then onto Highway 40 for a final descent back to the plains. Flat out fun! Once we were on relatively flat ground again we cruised by Red Rocks Amphitheater, Bandimere Speedway, down to Morrison, and past The Fort Restaurant. I thought the climbing was done for the day and was caught off guard when we started going back up into the hills of Willow Springs Road and Turkey Canyon, guess the tour operators wanted to give us our money’s worth.
In the southern suburbs, we pedaled past the acres of green fairways of the Red Rocks Country Club and the Pinehurst Country Club to the Town of Bow Mar, an exclusive enclave of older ranch style homes on estate sized lots with cute street signs. The Mary Carter Greenway Trail through Littleton was a cycling oasis and a cool way to naviagate the town. We passed the Cherry Hills Country Club just before coming to one of the last aid stops at Kent Country Day School.
We had one time restriction, a 2:00PM cutoff at the Cherry Creek Dam Road which was closed to cars for the ride; if we wanted to cross the dam we had to enter before they reopened the road. I’d stopped to take a lot of pictures along the way and spent too much time at the aid stations. As I rode through the Denver Tech Center, I realized that 2:00PM cutoff was coming up quick! All along the route I’d been vigilant about stopping for lights, cars, stop signs, and doing everything by the book but when I saw a couple of guys in full-on race mode riding lights out I knew they were my ticket to making it to the dam road in time. We rode at breakneck speeds, still watching out for traffic but not being too vigilant about the stops. We made it to the dam road with 10 minutes to spare but then our roll was slowed when it started to pour rain just as we started across the reservoir. The last place I wanted to be was on a high, exposed road with pelting rain and gusting wind but add to that the consistent pounding of riding over expansion joints every 20 feet and it became a very long ride over the dam and around Cherry Creek State Park. It took its toll.
By the time I reached the last aid station at mile 91, I was over the ride and I just wanted to get off the bike. But the rain had not stopped and continued to get worse. Several of us huddled under the tent with the volunteers waiting for things to clear until we decided that wasn’t going to happen, we’d just have to tough it out and go on. We jumped on a portion of the Highline Canal Trail where at least there were no cars. The entire route up to that point had been marked with excellent signage and bright yellow directional arrows on the streets but inexplicably once we turned off the HCT, all signs disappeared and we were lost! A dozen riders all got out phones and started looking for the best way forward to the finish line but no one could agree on a route and we ended up all going our separate ways.
A phone map will show you the fastest way for a car to get from Point A to Point B but that may or may not be the best/safest way for a bike to go. I watched as a couple of the guys I ‘d been riding with headed toward I-70 and thought no way. Another group took off in the opposite direction and promised that was the right way but they were heading away from the finish. I looked at my map and plotted the most direct route – unfortunately it was also along the two busiest roads – Alameda and Quebec. NOTE: do not ever, under any circumstances, ride a bike on those roads! Heavy traffic, no shoulder, no fun – I tried to stay on the sidewalk as much as possible.
Just two miles from the finish, (the ride total was actually 102.2 miles), I faced the biggest hurdle of the day – crossing the rat’s nest maze of the I-70 and I-270 interchange. I don’t even like to drive a car through that area let alone ride a bike through it! I could see the finish line only two miles away but how was I going to get there? In front of me the gazillion lanes of traffic swooped every which way. I watched the traffic through two light changes and saw that when the Quebec light turned red there were about a 30 seconds of clear road. I waited for that red light and then rode like a possessed demon through the I-70 underpass with thankfully no cars! As I exited I saw the I-270 bridge ahead with no sidewalk in sight and no shoulder. Would my luck hold out again? Could I make it across the bridge without any cars? But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a concrete path! There was a bike path going under the bridge and over to the Northfield shopping area to where the finish line was! I hopped on that bike path and was never so relieved in my life!
This ride was one for the books, I hit all the emotions from giddy-happy to grumbling-deflated to thankfully-exhausted. Would I do it again? Probably not. Should you do it? Yes absolutely! The best thing about this ride was that no matter where you were, the city skyline could be seen shining like the Emerald City in the Land of Oz!