First Colorado Crooked Roubaix a true challenge

By Matt Pacocha, US editor | Tuesday, September 14, 2010 4.00pm

Wheat Ridge Cyclery’s inaugural Colorado Crooked Roubaix took riders on an epic 90-mile dirt road ride through Grand County,  Colorado on Saturday.

The route consisted of 5,000ft of climbing at altitudes approaching 10,000ft, with 60 miles on dirt and the rest on pavement. It wasn’t a race, but more of a gran fondo style challenge ride.

Some of the participants came to ride as hard and fast as their legs allowed, while the majority took in the spectacular scenery and hospitality of the ride’s five aid stations and catered lunch in Kremmling.

The course harked back a century to a time when races were run over epic routes and surfaced roads were merely a luxury. Some 158 riders met for a shotgun start from Winter Park, Colorado’s downtown Hideaway Park, at 7am in temperatures that hovered around the 20°F mark.

Ron kiefel at the top of the first 2,000-foot climb, still cold, after starting in 20-degree temperatures: ron kiefel at the top of the first 2,000-foot climb, still cold, after starting in 20-degree temperatures

Ron Kiefel, Wheat Ridge Cyclery president, at the top of the first 2,000-foot climb, still cold, after starting in 20-degree temperatures

Ron Kiefel, president of Wheat Ridge Cyclery and the first American to win a stage of the Giro d’Italia, opened the event with a moment of silence for the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Finishing times ranged from just over five hours – the first to finish was Robin Thurston, CEO of MapMyFitness.com – to more than 10.

The Crooked Roubaix was the idea of Gil McCormick, Wheat Ridge Cyclery’s advocacy guru and chief bike buyer. “Gil is always looking for epic things to do on the bike,” said Evan Lee, the shop's marketing manager.

“He developed this thing called the Crooked Roubaix that involved going out and riding road bikes on dirt roads around Crooked Creek, Colorado. It’s a challenge for oneself to go out there and do an epic adventure on dirt roads. He’s always had this dream to make it an organized Wheat Ridge ride.”

McCormick has been riding his high-country Roubaix for close to a decade. It was the shop’s successful orchestration of the Bailey Hundo – a 100-mile race aimed at promoting Bailey, Colorado as a mountain bike destination – in June that provided a platform to turn this personal challenge into a public one.

“Senator Chris Romer is a customer and he came to us and asked if we could pull it [the Bailey Hundo] off and we gave it a shot," said Lee. "Gil said that if we could pull that off then we could do his Crooked Roubaix."

A group amidst the crooked roubaix's 60 miles of dirt: a group amidst the crooked roubaix's 60 miles of dirt

A group amidst the Crooked Roubaix's 60 miles of dirt

“We love getting people out to ride, and doing something unique and different in the fall and getting people on dirt were key points,” said McCormick. “We'd very much like to see this become an annual Colorado destination event,” said Lee. “Something that people come to challenge themselves at each and every fall.”

Champions in the ride

Among those riding the Crooked Roubaix was 1984 Olympic road race champion Alexi Grewal. 50-year-old Grewal said he hadn’t trained, much less ridden, in the 20 years prior to the event save for a four-week stint he undertook in anticipation for it. He was doing the ride for himself and his 12-year-old son, Elijah. He said he wanted to see if he could do it again.

Alexi grewal on the crooked roubaix's first descent, where he fought a seizing headset: alexi grewal on the crooked roubaix's first descent, where he fought a seizing headset

Alexi Grewal on the Crooked Roubaix's first descent, where he fought a seizing headset

Two years ago, Grewal admitted using performance enhancing drugs and said he hoped his son would find the sport better than it was in his day. “I forgot how painful this sport is,” he commented on the climb from the final aid station in Hot Sulphur Springs up Cottonwood Pass, elevation 8,904ft.

After finishing the ride, while sipping a dark beer, Grewal recounted the sketchy first descent at mile 15. “My headset was locking up,” he said. “It was scary. There was some metal on metal contact in there and I had to stop and pour water on it to loosen it up.”

While Grewal’s legs looked as steely as any other bike racer’s, his equipment was eclectic. He rode a steel hardtail mountain bike whose stripped out rear brake bosses held no brakes. Nonetheless he completed the 90-mile route in the front group among a half dozen riders on $5,000-plus road bikes.

Just prior to the 7am start riders lined up for a safety meeting; alexi grewal and robin thurston (from left): just prior to the 7am start riders lined up for a safety meeting; alexi grewal and robin thurston (from left)

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Grewal (left) at the pre-ride safety meeting

He achieved this while sporting hulking Nike hiking boots, flat pedals, a locking headset and using a set of concentric chainrings mounted off-center to make up for a leg length discrepancy. On his head, in place of a helmet, the Olympic champ wore a Halliburton construction hard hat.

Despite any of the Crooked Roubaix riders’ attire or equipment, the majority experienced the ride as intended – a true challenge of bike and rider.

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