Ready for her 30th consecutive Triple Bypass, Susan Meinerz reflects on event’s grassroots
Year one, in 1988, was the inaugural race, when a 29-year-old Susan Meinerz and a small group of bike riders from Evergreen received donations from the local Safeway and bagel store to fuel their one-day bike ride up and over Squaw, Loveland and Vail passes.
Wearing specially designed yellow, cotton T-shirts — complete with hearts across the front — and atop heavy bikes, Meinerz and company braved snow and rain atop Loveland Pass to explore what’s now become an annual 120-mile westward voyage complete with 10,990-feet of elevation gain: the Triple Bypass.
“We just thought, ‘this seems crazy,” Meinerz recalled of 30 years ago. “Hopefully we make it.”
Ten years later was the year of the race Meinerz remembers as the “fiery furnace,” when a 98-degree July day wreaked a heat-wave of havoc on the Bypass course.
“One of our friends, who’s extremely fast, ran into us at Vail Pass,” Meinerz recalled. “And he’s like, ‘Hey, Sue. Let me pace you into the finish line.’ And we started a pace line. I was flying beyond my abilities, but I thought, ‘I can’t lose him, because I am going to die on the side of the road.”
The ride twenty years after the inaugural, in 2008, is remembered as the year when only 500 of more than 3,000 competitors made the finish line due to torrential rain never before seen during a Triple Bypass.
“It basically was pouring right off the bat, first thing in the morning,” Meinerz said. “And I’d always over-prepare and bring more things than I needed. And that year someone on the way up said, ‘Are you camping?’ Because I had my CamelBak with a jacket, gloves and leg warmers, for protection. I put it on at the top of Squaw Pass, and I think he probably didn’t finish in just his bike jersey.”
And now this Saturday, with the 30th edition of the Triple Bypass race, the 59-year-old Meinerz will look to complete the Triple Bypass course for the 30th consecutive year.
If and when she does, she’ll remain the only rider to complete the course each and every year the event has been held.
Through it all, from the sometimes frigid conditions at the top of Loveland Pass to biking through oppressive heat while descending like a speed demon down Vail Pass to the course’s finish line, Meinerz has maintained the same mantra in order to complete the daunting 120-mile, one-day ride from Evergreen to Avon: Go at your own pace.
“With the different ride sections, there are parts where in some years I’ve felt good and in others felt bad,” Meinerz said. “So find a good pace and keep going. Because stopping will do you in, whether cold or wet. Your legs can stiffen up. And treat it one section at a time. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself.”
Thirty years after the event launched, Meinerz and some other members of the Team Evergreen cycling club that created the event rather serendipitously are still the mainstays.
Though the event has grown exponentially from its launch in 1988, Team Evergreen is still at the heart of the ride. In this 30th year, the event has decided to expand with two new options for this Saturday: a 75-mile “Double Bypass” from Georgetown to Avon and a 30-mile “Single Bypass” from Copper Mountain to Avon.
With all of the modern bells, whistles and pomp and circumstance that surround the event these days, it has come a long way from the origin that led to the event’s inception.
More than 30 years ago, the “Grandma and Grandpa” of Team Evergreen, as Meinerz put it, Bob and Carol Middleburg, put an advertisement in the local Evergreen newspaper to find riders to cycle with.
So many people answered the Middleburgs’ ad that a club was created, Team Evergreen. Not soon after, the idea for the Triple Bypass was born. The rest has been high-altitude cycling history.
“And I remember one of my friends stop for a cigarette at one pass before going to the next one,” Meinerz said. “You don’t really see that anymore.”
Back during that first year, Meinerz recalls more riders sporting corduroy shorts or jeans than bike pants. As for car traffic, it wasn’t as bad as the Interstate 70 of today.
Without a bike path from Georgetown to Silver Plume, Meinerz and the other riders had to wrestle with the smog of trucks on the shoulder of the road while climbing perhaps the toughest stretch of the trip, uphill from Idaho Springs to Loveland Pass.
“What you remember from the highway definitely is the smoke from the diesel trucks,” Meinerz said. “It seemed like whenever us bikers were on the side of the road, truckers would blast you with the diesel. And, of course, they’d honk their horns.”
In all her years of riding the Triple Bypass — whether that be on a heavy steel Centurion bike that first year, a lighter Italian Pinarello bike in later years or on a custom racing bike Saturday — Meinerz has never taken a spill.
On Saturday, when she comes to what some old-school riders call “The Yahoo Stage” — the final descent from Vail Pass to the Vail Valley — Meinerz will once again take in all of the earned-glory of the Triple Bypass, but part of her may also wish she still had that heavy old Centurion.
“Back then,” she said with a laugh, “the downhills were probably better.”
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