Words: Andy Hampsten | Photography: Jordan Reid, Kevin Scott Batchelor and Jason Paul Stewart | Date:
I moved to Boulder after my first mountain ride here. It was 1979. I remember that the route ran from downtown to Nederland, taking me across hills, at altitude, for an hour or so. It concluded with a seemingly unending descent, from the town of Ward, via Lefthand Canyon, and back to Boulder. I hadn’t ridden in mountains anywhere else at that point in my life and my heart was sold as soon as I discovered the inviting forests and forbidding terrain. It was here, after all, that Davis Phinney first learned to ride, and with very few roads passing through, I’ve never regretted settling here. In fact, I still spend most of my riding energy heading into the mountains west of the city, both on my mountain bikes and on my fat-tired road bike.
So when my main bike shop — University Bicycles — asked me to ride the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race out of Boulder, I could hardly say no. My University Bicycles team-mates are a great collection of pleasant ‘type-C’ fellows. Some might race, but I’ve never once caught a trace of ‘data’ from them. We met the morning of the ride and confirmed our plan: go easy on the climbs, be mellow on the descents, drink and eat well and have fun. And yes, 20 minutes for a great coffee in Nederland, halfway through the day’s seven major climbs, would work just fine in helping us reach our goal of finishing the ride.
Fortunately the ride started at Skratch Labs in Boulder, famous for their tasty sugar water and homemade rice cakes (and, I have to confess, I shamelessly dropped names to get an extra helping of the bacon-loaded variety). We set off in the belief that, while our strategy was a solid one, it was going to be a long, hot day on our bikes. Two days earlier, I had ridden to the top of the second big climb and left two gallons of water. That had been a hot day, too, so I had taken a shortcut on the dirt roads into Nederland to do a cafe test. The single origin Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a roast courtesy of Boulder’s Ozo’s coffee house, was fantastic, but by the time I had finished, the wall clock said it was late afternoon. It had taken me five hours and I had only ridden a fraction of the Gents Race course.
On the day of the race we fared better. Our team rolled into Ned, ate, sipped and filled bottles – and rolled out just before noon. Above the town we encountered a ‘bonus’ dirt loop, on which we were caught by some teams but also managed to roll up to others, and just before the tricky descent of Logan Mill Road.
Being with bike people, I knew the loose rocks on this steep descent were all we needed to remind us to stick with our ‘nice and easy’ descending plan. Not everybody concurred with our approach and we were passed three times by one frantic rider on skinny tires. Bicycles on our own team included a few cross bikes, my dirt road bike, complete with 33mm tires, and only one bike with 25mm tires. The owner of that machine, Dave, rode his machine as gently as he could. For the record, we never flatted or had any other hiccup.
As morning turned to afternoon, the sun became hot and, mercifully, another team shared the remains of their water stash with us at the base of Switzerland Trail. But our cut-off time to reach the top of the trail, 2.30pm, was fast approaching. By now, 75 miles in, I was nagging my team, and hoping they hadn’t regretted inviting me. We made it to the top on fumes. Water and snacks were shared, the time limit was extended, and I thought we were going to be fine. Then, however, we encountered a problem. One of our team, Ryan, didn’t want to get back on his bike; in fact, he let us know he’d been feeling horrible and nauseous all morning. How does anyone get over 75 miles of steep dirt feeling nauseous? I filled him with every tale of bonking lore I could remember and we pushed on, just as a brief rain shower arrived. It was sufficient water to cool us off and Ryan was humble enough to accept the ‘hand of gawd’ on his back for a few hills. We made it to Ward and a cold can of Coca-Cola.
After keeping down some Coke, Ryan stayed with us and we plunged down from Ward towards home. Lefthand Canyon was just as I remembered it, the same sublime mountain valley that had sold me on Boulder County some 35 years earlier. Before we reached our destination, however, there was the small matter of Lickskillet Road. Seven-tenths of a mile that, even on a good day, can feel like an entire mountain. To know this road is to avoid it.
We met up once more at the top before rolling down Sunshine Canyon, tired and elated to have all seven huge climbs behind us. I have never ridden so many great roads in my own backyard at one time. They certainly added up but, ridden in good company, seemed to confirm my hunches that I’ve made some good choices. Riding in great company over great terrain is as much fun as I can have.