Rock on, riders

Elephant Rock an annual challenge, treat for enthusiasts

Posted 6/7/10

Riders from across the country are lured by the scenic and challenging roads of Douglas County each year for the Elephant Rock Cycling Festival. The …

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Rock on, riders

Elephant Rock an annual challenge, treat for enthusiasts


Riders from across the country are lured by the scenic and challenging roads of Douglas County each year for the Elephant Rock Cycling Festival.

The roads can play host to all manner of riders, each looking to complete different degrees of personal physical challenges.

On June 6, about 7,000 of us set out to tackle one of five distances.

There were families on the seven-mile loop, recreational bike riders pushing their limits on the 25- or 34-mile courses and hard-core cyclists on $5,000 bikes gutting out 100 miles.

For my two friends and I, the 62-mile ride provided much of the same challenge and scenery of the century ride, without quite as much of the pain.

Setting out from the start at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, riders followed Lake Gulch Road south through rolling green farmland. From certain high points, riders — a total of 4,500 on the 100-and 62-mile courses — could be seen snaking along the road for miles below. The still-snow-covered top of Pikes Peak, partially obscured by clouds, loomed straight ahead in the distance.

About five miles in, it became apparent the hills were not going to be the only challenge on this ride. A 20 mile per hour head wind from the south kept riders struggling along slowly in their small chain ring, even on the flat sections. The first aid station — at 16.8 miles in — took us an hour and a half to reach. Because of the wind, we were setting a dishearteningly slow pace.

Fortunately, the aid station was fully stocked with fruit, muffins, bagels with peanut butter and jelly, Pop-Tarts and water. Unlike a bike race, in which cyclists speed by an aid station as volunteers shove Gatorade bottles into outstretched hands, Elephant Rock’s aid stations were much more relaxed. Riders milled about, talking, snacking, laughing and commenting on the vicious head wind.

Although there were plenty of serious cyclists, Elephant Rock is not a race, it’s a ride. Even in the century ride, a milestone distance some use to gauge personal fitness levels, the only three prizes awarded go to the oldest, youngest and last finishers.

After a brief rest and morale boost, we set out to tackle the next eight miles south. The sun had risen higher in the sky and was cutting the chill in the air. We slowly pedaled on toward Pikes Peak.

At mile 24.4 came the split from the 100-mile course. Century riders turned left onto Walker Road to complete a longer loop through the Black Forest, while 62-milers went right.

Finally, as we turned west, there was a respite from the wind. Cruising up and down the hills of the aptly named Rollercoaster Road, we rolled into the second aid station in Palmer Lake at mile 33.5. Now just over the line in northern El Paso county, we had climbed to the high point in the ride of 7,200 feet in elevation.

A strong tailwind combined with steep downhills made the next 11 miles the fastest of the day. We flew by horse ranches, farms and rocky outcrops as Perry Park Road wound its way downhill. Approaching speeds of 40 mph in places, we arrived at the next aid station in less than half-an-hour. After enjoying a rest while just coasting downhill, we decided to forgo stopping at this last aid station and continued on with the final push to the end.

Tomah Road proved challenging, with a relatively big hill climb, but that was nothing compared to the last challenge the course had in store.

Turning south onto the I-25 frontage road, it was obvious the wind had picked up and was gusting even stronger than earlier in the day. Riding into the wind and averaging a painfully slow 8 mph, cyclists began working together to make riding easier.

People who had been riding two or three abreast while chatting suddenly put their heads down and moved into single file. I noticed the rider behind me was very close to my back wheel, making me nervous. I tried to drop her but I couldn’t. I tried slowing down to let her pass but she wouldn’t.

Looking behind me, I realized what was happening. Riders had formed a pace line to block the wind and draft off each other — and I was leading the pack. Triathlons do not allow drafting so this technique was new to me.

After a few minutes, the rider behind me passed.

“Want a pull?” she shouted above the roar of the wind.

I hopped on her back wheel and tried to hang on while she took the brunt of the wind for a while.

We soon crossed over the highway and began riding north on the frontage road back to the fair grounds. With the wind at our backs, we made quick work of the last few miles of the course.

“Thanks for the pull!” came a shout as someone who had been behind me in the pace line flew past.

We rolled back into the fairgrounds four-and-a-half hours after we started. It was not exactly a blistering pace, but it still wasn’t bad for a very hilly and windy ride.

We disappeared into the sea of spandex and neon jerseys in search of food, three more cyclists who had completed their personal physical E-Rock challenge.


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