33rd Ride the Rockies departed Breckenridge, returns Friday afternoon | SummitDaily.com

33rd Ride the Rockies departed Breckenridge, returns Friday afternoon

Before 2,000 cyclists departed Breckenridge Recreation Center to start the annual Ride The Rockies multi-day bike tour on Sunday morning, a handful of riders took in an extra dose of Summit County cycling on Saturday.

For the first time in the tour's history, Ride The Rockies conducted its pre-tour prologue event from Breckenridge, down to Fairplay and back to the start and finish line of this year's tour. The prologue totaled 54 miles of pedaling and 4,434 feet of elevation gain.

And this year's prologue not only provided cyclists the chance to ride wheel-to-wheel with some of the state's most acclaimed pros, such as Olympian Mara Abbott. It also for the first time featured a gravel cycling component at and around Boreas Pass on the return from Fairplay to Breckenridge.

"Specifically on the dirt you have to be so aware," said Steamboat Springs pro cyclist and first-time Ride The Rockies participant Amy Charity. "You can't go in a pothole that is too deep, you can't hit a sharp rock or you will instantly flat. It's fairly intense focus to ride on dirt like that and in a group."

Despite the gravel terrain more suited for a mountain bike on the return to Breckenridge, the U.S. pro and 2016 Olympic road racer Abbott opted to remain on her preferred road bike for the Boreas Pass portion.

Along with Charity and pro cyclists Petra Schmidtmann, Chris Anthony, Chris Carmichael and Ron Kiefel, Abbott and the Prologue's "VIP" riders departed Breckenridge in the morning and cycled up and over Hoosier Pass and down through Alma before circling counter-clockwise back north at Fairplay.

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At Fairplay, prologue participants had the option of returning via the unpaved route up and over Boreas Pass and back to Breckenridge. The majority opted out of the return haul for a motorized shuttle back to Breckenridge. But for the professionals like Abbott, Anthony, Charity and Schmidtmann, Saturday's clear skies and relaxed atmosphere encouraged them to have as much fun as they could on the gravel return — even if it meant staying on their road bikes.

Also as part of the prologue, cyclists got the chance to dine and check out the heart-of-the-Rockies historic sights in the middle of South Park City with the celebrities like Abbott.

"It was a really awesome day," Abbott said. "The group stayed together. There were lots of different options. We stopped for tamales in the middle of the ride. We got a tour of South Park. There were some really scary looking dummy things in the museum. Chris Anthony led the really scary cycling section, we had to go up some dirt, which is kind of fun. And we got to go down some dirt."

After departing for the prologue experience at 8:30 a.m. from One Ski Hill Place at the base of Breckenridge Ski Resort's Peak 8, the group of Abbott, Anthony, Charity and Schmidtmann were the first to return to the departure point just before 3 p.m.

And though all four pros pedaled ahead of the rest of the pack at the very end of the return to Breckenridge, Charity was the only one to do so on a gravel bike.

"It was bumpy, it was really, really bumpy," Charity said. "So I knew they'd have a harder time on the gravel. You get on one of these gravel bikes and it's a Cadillac. You have smooth sailing going down the bumps and that's not the case on a road bike. I remember how jarring it is. Everyone is skilled enough to do it. It's just a comfort thing.

"There was a really steep pitch on the dirt on Boreas and so that I would say was the hardest," Charity continued. "Somebody said it was over 10 percent grade, and it must have been, so I think that was the biggest challenge. Gravel, you can't necessarily get out of the saddle, so that makes it challenging. You need to kind of sit back and make sure you still have traction going up."

This year's Ride The Rockies features riders from more than 47 states. Saturday's first day of the full six-day tour required riders to bike 77 miles and climb more than 4,400-feet. The course took them up and over Fremont Pass and Tennessee Pass before finishing in Edwards, Colorado. Subsequent stops on the 419-mile tour include Steamboat Springs, Grand Lake, Winter Park and a conclusion back in Breckenridge on Friday afternoon

"As Colorado's longest cycling tour we made this first day one to remember with two of Colorado's most beautiful and challenging passes to climb," said Ride The Rockies director Deirdre Moynihan.