USA Pro Challenge: Loveland Pass a classic Colorado cycling route
Loveland Pass tops out at 11,990 feet in elevation. With Loveland Ski Area to the east and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area to the west, the pass serves as a lofty lookout across the Continental Divide. Those that wish to avoid the clutter and hassle of Interstate 70 traffic and opt for scenic views instead are welcome to take exit 216 and wind their way to the top of the pass.
But, the road also serves another purpose — a challenge to road bikers who are looking for a lot more work than a typical ride, and a lot more of a reward.
Known for its steepness — over a 6 percent grade in some places — and tight turns, Loveland Pass has featured in number of professional racing stages over the years. The most recent is happening today, Tuesday, August 18, as Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge gets underway. The first 5 miles of the Loveland Pass road on the Summit County side will serve as the grueling finish for the second stage.
The riders start in Steamboat Springs, bike over Rabbit Ears Pass and then make their way to Summit County by way of Kremmling and Ute Pass. Once they pass through Silverthorne and Dillon, they will turn east and tackle Loveland Pass all the way up to Arapahoe Ski Basin for the highest portion of the stage.
It’s another three miles up to the top of Loveland Pass. And, though this year’s Pro Challenge won’t take on the full length, other races have, and many Summit County locals will.
In the past, Loveland Pass featured in such races as the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic, which later became known as the Coors Classic. This multi-stage race drew talent from around the world. It featured both a men’s and a women’s race, something the current Pro Challenge now shares with it. Stages for the Coors Classic included areas throughout Colorado and, in varying years, neighboring states as well.
Though there are no more Coors racers vying for red polka dotted king-of-the-mountain jerseys, the Loveland Pass road is not devoid of cyclists. Far from it.
Bikers share the road with cars and trucks on both sides of the pass.
“It’s very difficult. It’s 8 miles of all uphill with no breaks,” said Arnie Henden, long-time cyclist and member of the Summit Biking group.
“It’s a really good road surface,” he added. “The highway department maintains it very well. It’s smooth, it doesn’t have a lot of dangerous pot holes or cracks to worry about, but it’s usually pretty windy.”
Weather is one thing Henden suggests people look out for when they plan to bike the pass. Going early helps, too, and having enough fitness to make it to the top. Some people turn around at the top, while others ride to the other side and back, while others might even make it a trip all the way down to Idaho Springs, or vice versa.
Bringing food and water, a partner and “a bike with lots of gears” helps too, he added.
It’s not all pedal pushing and uphill grind, however. Those who persevere and make it to the top have the whole world to look down on.
“I think the thing that makes Loveland Pass cool is that when you get to the top, you’re on the Continental Divide, on a paved road and I think any time you can do that, it’s special,” said Jeff Westcott, Summit County local, mountain biker and occasional road biker. “The views are astounding, and it’s hard work getting up there, but boy, is it worth it, both in terms of the views and the return trip down.”
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