Participants in The Denver Post Ride The Rockies Cycling Tour have had a long time to dwell on the climbs that await the 35th edition of the event.
Durango was slated to host the start and finish of the 2020 Ride The Rockies. But, like so many events, it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One year later, Ride The Rockies announced it will host a 2021 tour and carry over the route plan from 2020 into this year.
“When we postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19, we did not consider an alternative route for 2021,” said Ride The Rockies Director Dierdre Moynihan. “The route we had originally designed for 2020 is a great route showcasing southwestern Colorado – great climbs, great communities. We really had no reason to consider another area or to make it a virtual ride. Ride The Rockies is about showcasing Colorado, and we are dedicated to the communities we had been working with now more than ever.”
The event will ride into Durango on June 13 and loop around Southwest Colorado with a finish June 18 in Durango. There is also a prologue event from Durango to Pagosa Springs scheduled for June 12. It will be the first time Ride The Rockies has stopped in Durango since 2017 when it was part of a route that began in Alamosa and finished in Salida.
Ride The Rockies plans to register 2,000 riders and have anywhere from 1,500 to 1,800 cyclists attend. There are also an estimated 100 volunteers who help put on the event. That means big opportunity for hotels, restaurants, bike shops and other local businesses.
“This is a great way to kick off our 2021 summer season,” said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District. “Our hotels were impacted the most in 2020 in terms of percentage of revenues lost when comparing to 2019, so filling them up at the beginning of summer is a great start to our high season. We expect retail and restaurants to also benefit.”
Ride The Rockies could provide an estimated $1 million boost to the local economy. Because the route is a loop, Durango can expect cyclists in town for at least three days, while many will have family members spend the entire week in town. The tour also will stop in Cortez, Norwood and Ouray County. The Denver Post Community Foundation awards a $3,000 grant to a nonprofit in each host town. Norwood is a first-time host town for the event.
“Ride The Rockies provides funding for local communities to help with costs associated with hosting the event and also supports local nonprofit organizations with grants and fundraising opportunities,” Walsworth said. “Durango also benefits in that some riders who are not familiar with Durango will come back to visit.”
Ride The Rockies typically has cyclists represented from all 50 states as well as international visitors. It is a noncompetitive event.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and public health officials have been supportive of cycling events resuming as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the state gets a better grip on the pandemic.
“It is such a sense of hope for the future to know we can get back out there and start doing some of the things we have not been able to do for a year,” Moynihan said. “Even the less-than-exciting tasks such as ordering porta-potties bring a smile. We have worked hard to ensure the integrity of Ride The Rockies and its traditions and culture while making appropriate changes to ensure a COVID-safe environment.”
Moynihan announced COVID-19 guidelines during an online announcement Wednesday. Among the major announcements was that all participants must either provide proof of vaccination or receive a negative test within 48 hours before the start of the tour. Testing also will be available on-site during the entire ride.
Cyclists will be asked to stay 6 feet apart when in lines and spaces where groups congregate, such as campsites. Some changes have been made to provide touchless water bottle fill ups. An extra shower truck will also be provided, and showers will be spaced out and not done in the typical communal style. There also will be a disinfecting team and more portable toilets provided. Moynihan said the goal is to shorten lines and shorten usage.
Ride The Rockies also asks that no cyclists share equipment, and tents at camping sites must be separated by 10 feet to provide wide aisles. All campsites will be outdoors this year, as school gymnasiums will be closed.
“Ride The Rockies has a COVID-19 plan in place and has hired someone to oversee the creation and implementation of these plans in all the communities they visit,” Walsworth said. “They have reviewed their plans with BID, Visit Durango and the La Plata County Fairgrounds, and it appears they have thought of everything to keep everyone safe.”
While Ride The Rockies provides a meal service plan through a caterer, Moynihan encouraged participants to eat at local restaurants in each town along the route.
“The towns work very hard to make sure all their restaurants know that you’re coming,” she told riders during the online announcement. “Especially this year, more than ever, get out in those communities and support them. Many of the communities we’re going through survive through tourism. As a matter of fact, it’s their only industry. You can only imagine what they feel like now with a year without tourism. Please get out and support the restaurants.”
The optional prologue will be held June 12 with a ride from Durango to Pagosa Springs. Riders will be given an option of completing a 62- or 79-mile ride. Once in Pagosa, participants will have access to Pagosa Springs Hot Springs.
June 13 will see riders conquer a 73-mile loop that will start and end in Durango with a pass through Ignacio, Bayfield and Vallecito. The second day will travel from Durango to Cortez on some back roads, including a section of dirt roads. It totals 69 miles with the high point atop Mancos Hill before passing by the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park on the way to Cortez.
“When Ride The Rockies does Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen – those are all great places – but they are a lot more congested than we are here in Durango,” Durango’s Todd Wells, a three-time Olympic mountain biker, said when the route was first announced in 2020. “Once you get a couple of miles outside of Durango, they are going to see minimal traffic out there and really be able to enjoy it.”
The third day will be a 100-mile ride, the longest of this year’s tour, from Cortez to Norwood with a climb over Lizard Head Pass. On Day 4, it’s a day to regain strength with a 40-mile journey from Norwood to Ridgway before a Day 5 loop of 50 miles that will begin and end in Ridgway.
The final day will travel from Ridgway to Durango with a journey over Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank passes, giving riders a chance to experience what it’s like to ride the final two passes the opposite direction of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic route.
“That’s a big day,” Wells said. “They have a couple of smaller days leading into that one to get a little break. That ride is so awesome, so scenic, and for them to ride Red Mountain Pass is incredible. They are going to be tired, but once they get to the top of Coal Bank, if the winds are favorable, it will be an easy ride back to town. If the winds aren’t favorable, it’s a tough finish for a pretty amazing week of riding.”
Those who don’t want to complete the six-day tour are also given the option this year for a one-day ride June 13 in Durango. There is also a two-day option to ride June 13-14 around Durango and from Durango to Cortez.
“I’m truly excited about this year’s route,” said route coordinator Jason Sumner, author of the book “75 Classic Rides: Colorado,” in a news release. “It has a little bit of everything – high mountain climbs, quiet country roads, amazing scenery and some great host communities. It’s definitely going to be a ride to remember.”