Even on foot, Lance is faster than most bikes
I'm getting pretty darn tired of getting smoked by Lance Armstrong.
First it was on a mountain bike ride on his first visit here in September 2002. Then it was during an Aspen Cycling Club mountain bike race in the Hunter Creek Valley in September '08. Then it was on a ride two weeks ago on Smuggler/Hunter Creek. But, last weekend was different; very different.
I was getting set to start the annual Aspen Mountain Hill Climb, organized each year by Coach Chris Keleher of the Aspen High School Cross Country Running Team, bright and early last Saturday morning. As usual, there were only a handful of intrepid mountain bikers, but plenty of runners to take on the brutal steeps of Aspen Mountain via the dreaded Summer Road. This is one steep-ass race course. Thus, not many cyclists show their faces for the gruesome challenge. I got a good look at the riders' (nervous) faces. But since the runners were starting 15 minutes behind us, I didn't catch their mugs. They wouldn't be a factor…..or so I thought.
“Three, two, one, GO!” And our quaint group of bikers took off up the steep dusty and rocky road. Wow. This is fun; NOT! But I have the lead. Sweet! A few minutes later, I blow up and watch two top local racers get by me. Then they gap me. Ouch! I have a pretty big gap on the guy behind me though. So, I might as well settle in for the duration; steep wall climbs followed by short flats to “recover”. Yeah, recover; right.
I'm maintaining my position in third up past Bonnie's and finally enjoy a bit of a downhill respite before the final grueling pitches to the Finish. On a turn, I take the opportunity to glance back to check my lead on my buddy in fourth and the good news is that he's out of sight. The bad news, in fact sad news, is that two runners are closing the gap on me. I had a 15-minute head start on the bike; holy mackerel dudes! One guy is in bright yellow and a dark “homie” baseball hat. The other guy, who appears a bit younger, is in a white T-shirt and black shorts; generic runner guy.
Lance is a pretty good runner too.
There's no way these runners are going to close it down on me. It never happens that way in this race. So, I shift to a bigger gear and start hammering my guts out, leaving a section of small intestine and half a lung in the powdery dirt. I look back to admire my newfound lead, but instead discover the mysterious man in yellow on my wheel.
What the heck?! Who IS this guy, crushing my bikin' butt? I say “great job” and he says “what's up” — a real intriguing race dialogue. He passes me. I sit on his heel as long as I could. He pulls ahead and drops me without obvious effort.
The second runner passes me. This can't be frickin' happening. He get about 10 meters on me and we're about 50 meters from the Finish. I shift, stand and sprint and beat the generic runner guy at the line. Nice! Well, I guess, third place on the bike and one really sick runner passing me isn't too bad.
Then, I meet the man in yellow, with the hat and sunglasses disguise. He removes the get-up and I see it's Mellow Johnny; Lance himself with a big smile on his face.
“That was awesome man!” I congratulated him. We shared a few laughs, talking about the race for a few minutes. He asked about the remaining Aspen Cycling Club races and sounded like he'd be in and out of Aspen for the next several weeks at least.
As he enters semi-retirement, it seems like Lance will be spending more and more time hanging out here. He's smitten by Aspen; our super friendly residents, stunning natural beauty and our exceptional athletic opportunities. I hope to see The Boss again sometime soon. I just hope he doesn't run past my bike again! Jeez!
Erik Skarvan is a longtime Aspen resident. He founded Sun Dog Athletics in 1996 and leads tours and gives lessons in road cycling, mountain biking, fitness hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and other outdoor adventures.
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