Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic: A group of front runners from the 2013 event. Wiens, who “owned” the famous Leadville 100 MTB race from 2003 through 2008, is shown in the green and black kit at the left. (Photo: Kevin Krill/Crested Butte Photography)
You would think that if Dave Wiens agreed to put his name on a road cycling endurance event, it must some wicked tough high altitude test of rider fitness and determination in Colorado. And you would be right.
The event begins at WSCU in Gunnison, CO. (Photo: Kevin Krill/Crested Butte Photography)
Wiens won the crazy difficult Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race every year from 2003 to 2008. In 2007, he was just under two minutes ahead of second place finisher Floyd Landis. In 2008, he finished almost two minutes in front of Lance Armstrong. In 2009, he finished second to Armstrong and ahead of the other 1,400 riders.
The event that bears his name is the Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic, a 134-mile/ 215-kilometre loop from Gunnison to Crested Butte, Co. with more than 9,400 feet/2,800 metres of climbing that features a 5,500-foot/1,700-metre climb beginning at the 100-mile/162-km point.
(Different online GPS systems usually give different elevation gains for an specific ride. For example, RIDEwithGPS.com gives 11,177 feet of climbing for the Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic course. Strava.com puts the climbing at 9,200 feet for the same course. However, an event spokesman says an average of several GPS systems puts the event’s climbing at just over 9,400 feet.)
All this is not made any easier by the altitude: Gunnison sits at 7,700 feet/2,350 metres above sea level. The finish at Crested Butte is at 9,900 feet/3,000 metres.
Registration is now open and will be capped at 400 for the third edition of the event on August 31, 2014. The 2013 event had 138 riders, double the number of the 2012 event.
A large group hangs together in the early part of the event. (Photo: Matt Burt)
By the look on his face, Dave Wiens is not cutting the riders in the 2013 event any slack. (Photo: Kevin Krill/Crested Butte Photography)
Stage 2 of the 2014 U.S.A. Pro Challenge stage race, which calls itself the most difficult bike race in America, will run from Aspen to Crested Butte August 19. Although the U.S.A. Pro Challenge has not yet released the stage’s exact route, a spokesman for the Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic told CyclingWEST he and his colleagues have learned the stage will tackle the same 5,500-foot monster into Crested Butte as will riders in their August 31 event.
This monster is Kebler Pass, a dirt road which Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic riders encounter at the 100-mile point and must endure for 27 miles before a seven-mile descent to the finish in Crested Butte. Although surfaced with dirt and gravel, conventional racing or granfondo-type road bikes with 23 mm to 28 mm width tires are the rig of choice for local riders who play on this grind — although obviously the lighter the better.
The Kebler Pass section of the course is dirt and gravel, but fully rideable with road bikes. (Photo: Matt Burt)
The long road ahead for Eryn Barker on the Kebler Pass resembles the many miles she has already ridden. Eryn was the 2nd woman to the top of the pass in 2013. (Photo: Matt Burt)
I’m sure these riders are having fun, but you wouldn’t know it to look at them. (Photo: Matt Burt)
The folks at Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic say local planning officials have told them that the three-mile dirt stretch of the final seven-mile descent into Crested Butte will be paved this summer prior to the date of the USA Pro Challenge. The paving project is fueling the expectation that the pros will take Kebler Pass and this descent in this year’s Stage 2.
“We are 99% sure they are coming over Kebler from talking with the state patrol and city planners.”
(Nobody will be unhappy when this stretch of the descent is paved, but it is ironic that the locals have shrugged off the dirt surface as just part of the adventure, while the world’s best road pros believe it would be unsafe at racing speed.)
A gorgeous day in the high mountains at the 2013 Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic. (Photo: Kevin Krill/Crested Butte Photography)
Fitness and determination comes in various ages and genders at this event. (Photo: Matt Burt)
The objective of the Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic is to give riders support, nutrition and, if necessary SAG — and to help fund the new Mountain Sports Program at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison. These sports include mountain biking and skiing (skiercross, boardercross, free-ride and cross-country), but may soon also include snowboarding, cyclocross, road cycling, ski mountaineering, trail running and whitewater kayaking, according to the WSCU website.
Wiens was appointed as the first director of WSCU’s Mountain Sport program in June of 2012 with duties including managing, coaching, recruiting, budgeting and fundraising. In addition to his well-earned rep as the man who “owned” the Leadville 100 for all those years, Wiens was a professional mountain biker from 1988 to 2004 and a winner of two World Cup events and two U.S. Mountain Biking National Championships.
Caution: Be prepared for this event
The Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic website provides this caution for entrants: “Be prepared. The sun can be very warm if it is sunny at high altitudes. It can rain and bring temperatures down quickly. If it rains very hard, it may become slick with magnesium chloride mud. Your bike will get dirty. You are in a very remote setting with no cell phone coverage at high altitudes.”
“This is not a race. It is a timed tour. You will have the fun of riding a tour but at the end you can compare how fast you did it with your friends, very fast riders (if your friends aren’t very fast) and the USA Pro Challenge riders from the week before.”
“Only riders that have determination and have ridden extensively should register. One option for groups of varying abilities is to just stop (and arrange a ride home) in the beautiful aid station in Paonia while others continue on.”
Bottom line: “It can be very hot at high altitude in the sun or it can be very cold if it rains. Or both.”
And I suppose it goes without saying that the USA Pro Challenge pros can call on their team cars for mech support and rain gear. Riders in the Dave Wiens West Elk Bicycle Classic? Not so much.
Gunnison, CO, with WSCU in the foreground (Photo: WSCU)