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