I always try to do new races when I can, especially on trails that I’ve never been on before. A big reason why I love mountain biking is to constantly be exploring new places to ride and visit. You could spend a lifetime exploring all the places to ride a mountain bike just in the US alone. For some reason I had overlooked the Royal Gorge as a place to ride, I knew that there were trails up there but I had never checked it out nor had I ever even been out to see the Gorge.
The Royal Gorge itself is beautiful and incredible! definitely worth checking out. The bridge that you can walk across is a total tourist trap, it’s like 25 dollars to walk across the bridge, I’m sure its a cool view but definitely not worth it. Skip the bridge and just go for a ride or hike on the many trails that are in the surrounding area. You can tell that the trails that are being built in the gorge area and in and around Cañon City are being done by professional trail builders. They really are doing a great job and there trails for every level of mountain biker out there.
The venue and camping for the race is picture perfect, its a nice little campground right on the course with fire pits and picnic tables at every site. At the moment the campground is free to camp but that will likely change because it’s the nicest free campground I’ve ever seen. The course was 100% single track and a good mix of smooth and fast riding and some decent technical stuff to keep you honest. The views all over the course are world class, early on you have spectacular views of snow covered peaks, then you get to traverse mini gorge fingers halfway through and finally near the end of the course you have an amazing view of the gorge and can see all the way down to the Arkansas river.
This spring has been a crap shoot as far as weather goes and in the days leading up to the race it looked like anything could happen. On the morning of the race we awoke to blue skies and chilly temps, the forecast was calling for mid 60’s and a 20 percent chance of rain so I started of with arm warmers and a vest.
Any time I don’t have to do a running start I am a happy camper, it’s not that I don’t enjoy running, I do, just not in carbon soled bike shoes! For the start we had a long dirt road climb for about a mile then into the course. I figured I would sit on some team guys for a bit but we were going pretty slow and I was cold so I wanted to get warm quick so I jumped up front and put down a harder pace to warm up a bit.
I was in lead ahead of a couple team guys by a few minutes about halfway through the lap and I’m going uphill and all of a sudden my tire springs a huge leak in the sidewall. It was a very strange sidewall cut/hole, there were no rocks to speak of, the only thing I can think is that I rolled over some glass just right or a nail or something. As soon as I heard it I jumped off my bike to try and get it to seal up, upon inspection I new it would need a plug but was possibly to big for a plug or even two plugs. This is where you have to make a decision try to use the plugs and use the one CO2 that you have and hope it works or just put a tube in and have to race with a tube the rest of the day. I chose to go with the plugs and I did end up needing to put two bacon strip plugs in the hole crossed my fingers and aired it up and it held! Thank goodness. I was back on my bike and now chasing back to the two team guys that had passed me.
After the first lap I had to get resupplied with another co2 and more plugs just in case, after a bit of scrambling around I was back on my bike and out for more racing. As the day progressed I stayed very consistent with my lap times, between 52 and 57 minutes all day long, other than my first lap with a puncture fix and an extra mile of climbing at 58 minutes.
We kind of got the tour of Colorado spring weather throughout the day, at times the sun came out and it was almost hot, the wind came and went then came again and we got brief periods of rain and some grapple (not hail and not snow, soft hail or hard snow depending on how you want to look at it).
I had it in my head that I was shooting for 12 laps but 13 was definitely possible, I came in off my 12th lap with 52 minutes left, to get a 13th lap I would have had to match my fastest lap and that wasn’t happening, maybe I could have had it without the first lap slowdown, but at any rate a beer and pizza were calling my name. I have really fallen in love with the 12 hour format, especially when its great riding. It’s long enough to really put the hurting on you and everyone no matter what age, sex, or class finish at the same time and you just eat and drink and be merry, isn’t that how all bike rides should end?