Community, local cyclists gear up for scenic event

Ride the Rockies expected to draw nearly 5,000 applicants for 432 mile ride, only 2,000 spots open

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS The ride will take 2,000 cyclists an estimated 432 miles across the state of Colorado in just six days.

During the journey, riders will be challenged by the heights of Cottonwood (12,126 feet), Tennessee (10,424) and Rabbit Ears (9,426) passes. But local rider Karen Connell thinks the biggest challenge of the ride will come on day five when the adventure takes her to 12,183 feet as she passes over Trail Ridge Road towards Estes Park. That section of the ride is just 65 miles, but the description of that section has made an impression on Connell who is a first-time rider.

"I think most people think Rabbit Ears is going to be the most challenging," Connell said. "But I think Trail Ridge is going to be the biggest test. I hear it's really windy up there and there is a lot of climbing."

Connell's husband, Tony, got the pair involved in the race after he saw an article in the newspaper and proposed the idea to Karen. She thought it sounded like fun, but never imagined they would be selected to take part in this year's ride.

Each year Ride the Rockies draws 4,300 applications for a race that can only allow 2,000 riders, according to Ride the Rockies spokesperson Becky Risch. Risch said the lottery is the most effective way to limit the state's most popular bike tour.

"When we found out we were selected we said, 'Oh no, now we have to do it,'" Connell said.

The couple bought new bikes and most of the equipment they would need to complete the trip. They also started a training program that will prepare them for some big-time climbs and more than 400 miles of cycling.

But the Connell's commitment went much further than just donating a few bucks to equipment and spending the last three months training for the event. The Connells have two small children, a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, who will travel with a babysitter in the caravan in this year's race.

"It's going to be a family adventure," Connell said. "We really want to finish the ride, but if our kids need us or the weather gets really bad, it will not be the end of the world if we have to pull out. That's how I feel. I'm not sure, but my husband may be a little more serious."

The couple is looking forward to coming through Steamboat during the journey.

"It will be great to come to Steamboat, see our buddies, do some laundry and sleep in our own beds for a night," she said.

Tony, who owns Connell Resources, will have an opportunity to ride through one of his company's projects on County Road 131 as he comes into Steamboat Springs on Tuesday.

"I'm sure a lot of his workers are going to be out their cheering him on," Karen said.

When the Ride the Rockies bike ride comes to Steamboat Springs Tuesday, the riders will be greeted by concerts and other special community events.

Seven cyclists from Steamboat will be taking part in this year's Ride the Rockies. Joining the Connells will be Esther DelliQuadri, John Shikles, Henri Stetter, Paul Strong and Douglas Warner.

While those riders will get to take part in the entire Ride the Rockies experience, the city of Steamboat will also be treated to a taste when the riders stop by along the route.

"It always is a huge boost," said Sandy Evans-Hall, executive vice president president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. "Especially on a Tuesday night when we wouldn't normally have it."

The host communities provide a number of services for the cyclists including group meals, camping facilities, showers and entertainment.

In return, cyclists generate more than $175,000 in spending in each of the communities on hotels, restaurants, retail businesses and other services along the route.

Evans-Hall expects lodging to be up by 25 percent this month and she attributes most of that to Ride the Rockies.

"We are looking forward to coming back to Steamboat and Routt County," said Paul Balaguer, tour director. "We are loaded and excited to get going."

Balaguer said Steamboat has always been a top choice for stops on the tour and he was sad that the schedule wouldn't allow for a layover this season.

"If we had a layover in Steamboat we would have had to go through Rocky Mountain National Park on a Friday, and the Parks Service wouldn't let us do that. It's understandable."

So the tour had to settle for a one-day stop in Steamboat, but Balaguer expects that riders will make the most of their stay.

"Steamboat has tons of hotel rooms, great restaurants and everybody loved the hot springs," Balaguer said.

"Besides that, it's beautiful up there."

The ride will begin in Crested Butte on Sunday. Riders will travel 75 miles that day en route to Buena Vista and climb the 12,126-foot Cottonwood Pass. From Buena Vista riders will trek another 75 miles to Edwards.

On Tuesday, they will travel the 80 miles from that community to Steamboat Springs.

The trip will then take riders from Steamboat to Granby along U.S. 40. From Granby the journey will continue over the Continental Divide to Estes Park.

The final leg will take cyclists from Estes Park to Boulder. (John F. Russell is a reporter from the Steamboat Springs Pilot/Today.)

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