102MI, 8,858FT | 164KM, 2,700M+ · Wednesday 28th June
Before describing Stage 5, it is important to recognize the next two days may be the hardest rides you have ever done. Every multi-day cyclosportive has a “Queen Stage”, but it is difficult to determine whether it will be Stage 5 or Stage 6, because both qualify. Good luck.
Stage 5 features three prominent climbs: Battle Mountain, Tennessee Pass, and the monstrous Independence Pass. Battle Mountain played a pivotal role in Jens Voigt’s USA Pro Challenge stage win into Beaver Creek (although you’ll be going up the side he descended), and Independence Pass was featured frequently in the event. Although Battle Mountain and Tennessee Pass are two separate climbs, it might be better to consider the first 27 miles (44km) of Stage 5 as one big climb with a short reprieve after about 13 miles (21km).
After reaching the top of Tennessee Pass at 10,424 feet (3,177m) you can try to recover over the next 9 miles (15km) or so before facing a short kicker to get into Leadville, Colorado. At 10,200 feet (3,100m) above sea level, Leadville is the highest city in the United States, even more so since recreational marijuana use was legalized in Colorado. Leadville is a historic boom-and-bust mining town, and after the last mining bust local Ken Chlouber started the Leadville Race Series, which includes the iconic 100-mile Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race and Leadville 100 Run.
Once you reach Leadville you can enjoy a 10-mile (16km) gradual descent before hitting a short dirt-road climb. When you reach an inviting blue reservoir on your right, you have also reached the last descent you will get before climbing up Independence Pass. Use it wisely.
The start of the climb up Independence Pass is the little town of Twin Lakes, Colorado. Don’t blink or you might miss it.
Independence Pass is a monster of a climb. The start is at about 9,100 feet (2,770m) above sea level, higher than the highest summit reached in the Tour de France. The Strava KOM on Indy is 52:30, set during the 2012 USA Pro Challenge. This climb routinely takes moderately fit cyclists two hours to climb – or longer. To reach the 12,095-foot (3,687m) summit you must ascend nearly 3,000 feet (915m) over just short of 16 miles (26km). Because of the elevation, you will experience a serious penalty for pushing too hard. Your climbing power will diminish 10% or more, and recovery from hard efforts will be difficult and take longer than normal. Perceived exertion is your best gauge of intensity at this elevation.
You also need to be prepared for snow, hail, thunderstorms, and cold temperatures. In June there are often afternoon thunderstorms at high elevations. Temperatures can drop 30 degrees in a matter of minutes and the rain itself is not a warm summer shower. It can be surprisingly cold. You can start the climb in warm sun and ride into a snow squall or a painful hailstorm. Be prepared. At minimum, carrying a jacket, warm full-finger gloves, and a skull cap should be considered mandatory.
The view and experience of riding to 12,095 feet (3,687m) above sea level and reaching the summit of Independence Pass is beyond compare, but don’t linger too long gazing at the amazing lakes at the top. On the warmest, sunniest day the descent to Aspen can be bone-chilling cold. If you reach the summit in poor weather, it is essential to proceed down to a lower altitude quickly.
There are spectacular sights and road conditions on the way down Independence Pass. You will descend from high-altitude treeless tundra into pine and aspen groves, and because the road was carved into the side of the mountain there are sections that are a single-lane wide with rock on one side and a sheer cliff on the other. Having earned your way to the summit, be sure to enjoy the descent.
Rolling into Aspen feels like returning to civilization after a trip through the wilderness, but don’t get complacent. The cruelest joke of Stage 5 is the finish. After braving Indy and glimpsing the luxuries of Aspen, you still have one more climb awaiting you. After passing by quite possibly the largest concentration of private jets at the Aspen Airport, you will start the climb to Snowmass Village. A molehill compared to what you have already conquered, it will still be challenging due to the elevation and the 90+ miles (145km) in your legs. Fortunately, you will have beautiful scenery to distract you from the feeling in your legs.
Stage description by CTS
Finding something to do in Snowmass Village is never hard, although choosing between so many great options can be. Each season has its own special flavor and mountain town lure. You’ll have to come back year after year if you want to explore it all—that’s a given.
Start with summer, when the long, sunshine-filled mountain days provide the perfect setting for packing in multiple activities. Ride the rapids of the Roaring Fork River or enjoy the legendary fishing from its banks. Heed the call of the nearby Maroon Bells, head out for a hike or ride over 80 miles of scenic single track. A day that starts with a hot air balloon ride can just as easily end at the weekly Wednesday night rodeo.
And then of course there’s winter. Ranked #1 overall resort by Transworld Snowboarding Magazine, the sheer volume of Snowmass’ 3,332 acres demands repeat visits to explore the iconic terrain in its entirety. Whether you’re new to the sport or have been sliding down the slopes since you took your first steps, Snowmass’ cruisers, glades, steeps, terrain parks and halfpipes beg the question, “Can it possibly get any better?” The answer is yes when you consider that the adventure doesn’t stop at last chair. Nordic trails abound, the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center (open year-round) features a variety of programming and exhibits, and ice climbing is sure to give your adrenaline a boost.
Spring arrives with the promise of long days on the river as snowmelt hits the Roaring Fork, Arkansas, and Colorado rivers. Mountain meadows burst into bloom, and Snowmass’ legendary concert series kicks off. You’ll hear a lot of hooping, hollering, laughing, and choice exclamations in Snowmass Village throughout the year, but we guarantee that “I’m bored” isn’t likely to be one of them.