Independence Pass – A queen worthy of her crown


Stage 5 dawned in Avon, signalling the day of the queen stage of the inaugural Mavic Haute Route Rockies. With 102 miles (164km) and 8,858 feet (2,700m) of climbing on the program, riders lined up in Avon knowing they would have to summit the mighty Independence Pass on their way to Snowmass Village.

For the first time ever in the history of the Haute Route, the overall stage win was taken by a female competitor. Attacking early on Battle Mountain, Emma Pooley made the difference from the front group and held on to cross the finish line with the fastest time of the day, over 30 seconds faster than her closest male competitor, Chris Pook. The overall standings remain unchanged once again, with Matthew Busche holding onto his leaders jersey and Emma Pooley extending her lead even further.

Rolling out in a secured convoy to the start of timing in Mintern, the peloton remained grouped into the foot of the first climb up Battle Mountain. After a fast and flowing descent off the top, over the Eagle river and through the White River National Forest, our Lanterne Rouge Anne Donley was already looking forward to Independence Pass at the end of the day: “I can’t wait for Independence, it’s a beautiful climb up and out of the trees on that side.”

“I usually go up there for my birthday in September”, she added whilst proceeding to cheer on her fellow riders as they recovered and regrouped before the assault on the longer but more rolling climb of Tennessee Pass.

After a lumpy start to the day, Petr Symersky from Luxembourg was refuelling atop Tennessee Pass but already looking ahead to the finale of the stage: “I’m ready to go, bring on Independence Pass! I’ve never ridden that high, I can’t train for that type of climb at home, it’s quite flat around where I live.”

The rolling 30 miles (50km) from the top of Tennessee Pass to the foot of Independence Pass included the only gravel section of the day and a winding descent alongside the picture perfect Twin Lakes. Canadian Haute Route veteran Eric Piscopo was appreciating the views on the day: “The scenery is beautiful, you have to remember to look up every once and while.”

At 12,095ft (3,687m) above sea level, Independence Pass is the highest point of the week and was the final timed ascent of the day. Rising above the tree line into the thin air, riders could appreciate the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape and squeeze out their final ounces of energy on the day.

A slightly breathless Philippe Lesage, journalist for French website Velo 101 and serial cyclosportive rider, reflected on one of the best bike rides he’d ever done: “That’s hands down the best and most beautiful stage I have ever ridden in all my time on the bike.”

Dynamic father and son duo from Switzerland Christian and David Pfefferle had also enjoyed the challenge of riding up to 12,095ft (3,687m): “We’ve never even been this high when we go ski-mountaineering at home,” said Christian. “To go this high whilst riding your bike is simply amazing,” added David.

King and queen of the mountain prizes were also on offer for the fastest male and female riders up Independence Pass. The fastest man was Matthew Davis of Rhino Velo Race Team, Emma Pooley took home the prize for the women.

After layering up and filling their bottles for the final time, riders were able to enjoy the beautiful sinuous descent off Independence and through the town of Aspen before a short climb back up into the town of Snowmass Village for the finish line of stage 5.

The longest stage of the week lies ahead tomorrow; the 170km course from Snowmass Village to Crested Butte includes several gravel sections such as the renowned climb up Kebler Pass to finish the day.