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Vail TT Recon: Route Mystery Solved

July 28, 2011

Ever since the parcours for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was announced, I’ve been puzzled by exactly what the time trial route would be up Vail Pass. I’ve ridden over Vail Pass, more than a few years ago, and aside from the thickest coating of salt that’s ever matted my hair together, can only recall pedaling up a bike path going east-bound (the harder direction). How, I wondered, could the follow vehicles drive on a bike path? I replied to one of Brian Holcombe’s tweets about the route, asking if it was possible that it traveled over the bike path. He replied that it was his understanding that it ended in the cul-de-sac proper. What did that mean? And if the route followed the “old pass” road as a fellow LOC volunteer had said, just what was the condition of the “road?”

Today I decided to put this mystery to rest. I headed west on I-70, took exit 180 for East Vail, and drove east on the South Frontage Road (Bighorn Road) for about two miles until it crossed under I-70. I parked with about a dozen cars near a sign that pointed left to the Gore Creek trail and up the road to Vail Pass, 8.9 miles.

A little further on, a gate crossed the road. Only cyclists, hikers, and as I was to find out, horseback riders, could continue.

Old Vail Pass Rd, Closed to Vehicles Gate

This alone solved a good part of the mystery. A road apart from I-70 east-bound up the pass existed, and what I had remembered as a bike path — because no vehicles were allowed — was in fact bike path and road, or rather what you might call a country lane. Using my shoes as measuring sticks, I estimate the width of the road at about 18 feet.

With the road warm under full sun, air temperature about 77 degrees Farenheit, and grass and daisy wildflowers nodding uphill from a tailwind, I started the climb on foot.

Wildflowers along Old Vail Pass Rd

Soon a middle-aged fellow in blue pedaling at a moderate pace approached me. He stopped at my request. In his opinion, the wind typically came from the west, blowing up the hill. I asked him about the road. “The road goes on for about 4 miles,” he said, then the bike trail starts and continues the rest of the way up the Pass. Because of trail damage you ride on the shoulder of I-70 for a bit. “But it’s fine,” he said, “cement barriers separate the bikes and the cars.” Later I met another local who said the wind always blows on this road, but he wasn’t convinced it is always a tailwind.

The road has acted as canvas for several artists, whose work endures.

Old Vail Pass Road Art, Merckx's 5 TDF Victories

Old Vail Pass Road Art, Go Grandma, My Favorite

Old Vail Pass Road Art, Ladies with Soccer Balls

I’ll post something on the road’s condition separately.  It’s not a smooth surface.  It is relatively straight, with some sweeping curves, a pretty consistent ascent with a few places where it levels off a bit. The commentators for international TV might find our beetle problem in Colorado interesting fodder for fill-ins; it scared me to see how many of these scarecrows stand around Vail, which up to last year — at the ski resort across I-70, had seemed immune to these hungry little devils. On a positive note, spectators might enjoy the first golden tint on the Aspens at higher elevation.

There are many Aspens on Old Vail Pass Rd and the surrounding hills

Beetle trees on Old Vail Pass Rd

About two miles up the road the Two Elk trail branches into the grass and down the hill toward what I think is Gore Creek.  The trailhead sign listed a warning; Leopards, take heed.

Leopards aren't afraid of bears, are they?

Signs of a different type of animal on the side of the road, their presence perhaps contributing to some of the road conditions described in my next post:

Remains of beaver dam on Old Vail Pass Rd

The road continued up for another two miles.

View looking up Old Vail Pass Road, after mile 2

At about mile four, a sign appeared, pointing the way to the bike path that ascends the remaining four miles to Vail Pass, elevation about 10,600 feet.

Bike path turn-off from Old Vail Pass Road

Old Vail Pass Rd, sign for turn-off onto bike path, half-way up Vail Pass

Then probably less than a quarter mile up the road from the bike path turn-off, the paved road ends. A dirt road appears to continue, though I’m not sure for how far.

Finish of the Vail UPCC TT, the Cul-de-Sac?

This seems to be the finish line. I still wonder how the vehicles will go back down to town; with an 18 foot-wide road, I can buy (though with concerns) riders flying downhill on the same road as those racing up, but the vehicles? Perhaps motorcycles will replace follow cars à la one of the TTs at this year’s Giro, with the passenger carrying a spare bike? The map on the race website shows the route ending before the top of Vail Pass, so I think the mystery is solved — the race ends in this cul-de-sac as Brian believes, and will not continue on the approximately 9 foot wide bike trail to the top. Whew.

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2 Comments
  1. Charlotte permalink

    WOW – thanks for this information! Coming from Texas and just looking at the map it “looks” like you could be at the finish line … no problemo! But now, I’m wondering where would be the best place that one can actually “get to” (if you only have a rental car) and watch this TT!

    • Hi Charlotte, so happy you found this helpful! I can only tell you what I think should happen about access to the course as a spectator (you can pose a question on the UPCC Facebook page, though). You should be able to ride or walk up the Old Vail Pass Road pretty close to when the first rider will come through if you want to watch there. It’s not so steep on the frontage road, and the riders’ efforts will take their toll later on into the 10 miles, so if I were to pick where to watch it would be on Old Vail Pass Road, or, at the start area in Vail Village to see the guys warming up and start; it may be pretty packed there. There’s a lot of in and near Vail sporty type folk who will likely go to see the race. Have a great time!

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