The Triple Bypass Ride
It sounded like a good idea back in April – 120 miles of cycling with 10,000 feet of climbing. And do it twice.
In 2014, our friend Dean failed to finish the ride and he was hoping to conquer it in 2016. A momentary lapse in judgement had Joel and I signing up for the two day Double Triple Bypass event.
The Triple Bypass Ride happens every July departing from Evergreen, Colorado, just outside of Golden. The Saturday route begins climbing pretty much from the start and traverses Juniper Pass (11,140 ft), Loveland Pass (11,990 ft) and finally Vail Pass (10,560 ft) before finishing in Avon. For those registering for the Sunday route, it is riding the same route but from Avon back to Evergreen.
For those of us who (foolishly) registered for the Double Triple Bypass, you ride both days. Saturday has 3,500 riders; Sunday has 2,500 riders with roughly 1,000 doing the Double. Those numbers should have been a warning sign.
Now that it’s finished, I can report that it was pretty brutal for these flatlanders. Cycling at altitude in the Rockies is not something that we could train for in Minneapolis. We came away tired yet triumphant from this crazy endeavor.
Training for the Ride
Joel and I used to do some amateur bike racing and I even coached triathletes so we knew that a training plan was key to our survival. We were pretty smart about the preparation, ramping up our mileage on the bike so that we were able to ride a couple of centuries (100 milers) before the event.
In a repeating three week cycle, we would increase the hours on the bike for two weeks then back off a few hours during the third week to let our bodies rest. Repeating until we reached 20 hours a week on the bike with a final taper down during the last two weeks so our bodies would be ready to go. Both of us were experiencing some issues (like knee pain for me) that could easily have flared up to be show-stopping injuries so lots of stretching and changes to our bike fit kept us healthy.
Once we started to incorporate hills into our rides it became obvious that we didn’t have gears low enough to ride actual mountains. Working with the mechanics at our local bike shop – One On One Bicycle Studio – we decided on a fairly low cost option to swap out the rear derailleur for one that was laying around the shop. The new derailleur would accommodate a bigger cassette on the back so with a new chain I had some nice granny gears that would let me climb pretty much anything paved in the Rockies.
Each day of the Triple Bypass would be at least 12 hours long so our next focus would be getting enough calories in and staying hydrated. Carbo Pro added to a sports drink in each water bottle provided 300 calories plus electrolytes. The goal was to drink at least one bottle an hour with extra plain water depending on the weather. Snacks at the rest stops would supplement anything we chose to carry with us.
In early June, the Hillfest Ride put on by Lifetime Fitness in the rolling hills near the St Croix River was the perfect test for our new equipment. My strategy was to be conservative with my legs by using my lowest gear on all climbs – minimizing any stress on the knees. Combined with a steady intake of food and drink, this 60 mile ride had 3800 ft of climbing and was a great success.
One last prep ride of 120 miles was the final test of our readiness. The course would take us once again into the Wisconsin hills. Three separate loops gave us bailout points if anything went horribly wrong during the day.
Which happened even before we got on the bikes – Joel had somehow left his shoes and helmet at home… Thirty minutes away. He had no choice but to return home to get them and catch up to us somehow. Luckily for Joel, Dean managed to pick up a huge piece of metal and gashed his tire only a quarter mile from our start. Once Dean’s tire was swapped out, Peter (a pediatrician) had to answer a consultation phone call. By the end of it all, Joel caught us at our first water stop 25 miles down the road.
Amazingly, all went well from that point on.
Day One – Saturday Evergreen to Avon
The goal was a 5:00 am start as they open the course – last minute shuffling got us rolling at 5:45. By the end of the day we could have used those 45 minutes.
Peter and John had ridden on ahead at a faster pace while Joel, Dean and I would ride together for the day. The immediate climb up Juniper Pass seemed to go on and on but we finally reached the top by 8:30. Then came the mildly frightening descent. (I am very glad that my brakes were in good shape.) And then it was uphill once more!
Weather is always a factor and this year it was the heat that was taking riders down. Dean was really struggling with the heat and the gradual ascent to the lunch stop so our progress up Loveland Pass was very slow and our time at the rest stops too long. But we had made a pact that we would finish the route no matter the pace – cuz we weren’t coming back to try it again!
We reached the summit of Loveland Pass with a handful of others and we celebrated together. Then the last sag vehicle passed by letting us know that we would be on our own from that point. Gathering our courage, we rode on reaching the next rest stop as they were loading up the supplies. Generous souls that volunteers are, they resupplied us as we headed for the last pass.
The route would be the bike path from Frisco to Copper Mountain and up to the top of Vail Pass. It was a gorgeous ride alongside ponds with birds singing as the sun was beginning to set behind the taller mountains. As the trail began to pitch up, Dean gave in to the inevitable. He legs just weren’t going to let him finish before dark so he called for a pickup. Joel and I were to carry on without him.
At that point we had twelve miles to the summit and the sun was going down. As we passed through Copper Mountain more volunteers offered supplies but we just needed to keep pedaling. A local rode up and told us of his riding companion that ended up in the ER from heat exhaustion thus his hustling up the pass with us so late in the day. We couldn’t keep his pace so sent him on without us.
Miraculously (for us), when we finally hit Vail summit the local was just about to descend after stopping to put on more clothing – the temperature was dropping fast. The rest of the route is 28 miles downhill through Vail and into the town of Avon. He guided us down the path slowing for sharp turns and deer crossings. As we made it into Vail, he rode between Joel and I since he had no lights on his bike and the route was along the road now. He turned off in Vail and we soldiered on.
The next 15 miles were actually very peaceful trails alongside creeks and a bit of road as we made it to the finish line sometime after 10pm. (The only reason it still remained in place was that it was the starting line for the Sunday return trip.)
We had made it! We had conquered the Triple Bypass!
Day Two – Sunday Avon to Evergreen
Our merry band had been a bit shattered by Day One. Peter and John didn’t even want to attempt Day Two. Dean had been wise enough not to have registered for it. Joel and I wanted to do at least part of it – we had paid for it after all! And other than a lack of sleep, we weren’t feeling too bad.
Problem was, our planned logistics counted on Peter and John starting the ride. We had 6 people, 5 bikes and only one car that could carry 4 of each. A bit of thought led John and his wife to rent a car and head back to Denver for a day at the condo pool. Dean would drive the rest of us to the lunch stop on the descent from Loveland Pass so Peter, Joel and I could ride out half the miles.
Sounded easy to do just the one pass with lots of miles descending… We started up the climb with the fastest and the fittest riders but the altitude and the heat took their toll. It was to be 16 miles up in the blazing afternoon sun. We started stopping every half mile or so to cool off under whatever shade we could find. At 10 miles up, the water stop was a long recovery time in the shade before we made our final push.
We cleared the last rest stop near the back of the riders but at least today we weren’t the actual last riders. A long, fast descent had us cross the finish line at 6:45 with plenty of time to eat the delicious spread of food and even get massages before the festivities shut down. Plus we got our finisher medals – yay!
This was a major accomplishment for us and a successful one thanks to careful preparation and knowing when to cut things short. I’m glad we were able to complete the route on Saturday but Sunday would have been too much. We still clocked in over 70 miles on Sunday and that’s plenty good in my book.
Overall, I’m glad we did the ride but I wouldn’t attempt it again. I’d be more inclined to do something similar without the altitude. The Tour de France is making the Alps look kinda fun…