Tag Archives: vail pass

Preparing for the Triple Bypass

Triple BypassI’m three days away from one of the longest, toughest rides of my life. On Sunday, I’ll be one of thousands of cyclists taking part in the Triple Bypass, a 123-mile tour over three mountain passes in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. Starting in Avon, west of Vail, the route climbs up and over Vail Pass (10,560′), Loveland Pass (11,990′), and Juniper Pass (11,140′), on its way to Bergen Park, in the foothills west of Denver. All told, it’s 11,070 feet of climbing, virtually all of it above 7,500 feet elevation.

Here’s a Google Earth 3-D video of the route (use the arrows in the upper right corner to tilt horizon):

Below is a map of the route. I’ll be riding west to east Sunday, but even more people will be doing the reverse on Saturday, biking from Bergen Park to Avon. There are even some cyclo-masochists who’ll be doing both rides this weekend.

The Triple Bypass is legendary among endurance bicyclists, but there are even tougher rides out there. The Tour of the California Alps (aka the “Death Ride”) covers 129 miles and has 15,000 feet of climbing over five mountain passes.

I’ve done a half-dozen century rides (100+ miles) in my life and all of ’em were exhausting. Three were during the 112-mile El Tour de Tucson, down in the oxygen-rich desert, and the rest were on my 1994 cross-country bike tour, from Seattle to Washington, DC. One of those rides stretched about 115 miles across North Dakota on I-90. Granted, North Dakota is a pretty flat state, but we had to plow through a stiff headwind that evolved into monster thunderstorms. That’s the hardest day I’ve ever experienced on a bike, but Sunday could eclipse it (the forecast calls for thunderstorms in the afternoon, when I’ll surely still be pedaling).

The intimidating thing about this ride are the three big climbs, shown in the elevation profile below.

Triple Bypass Google Earth

I’ve biked the first and third passes, but never the middle one, although I’ve driven over Loveland Pass tons of times on my way to ski at A-Basin or Keystone. You can see from the elevation profile above and in the table below that Loveland is shorter than the other two passes, but it goes higher and has a steeper grade.

Triple Bypass Climbs

Distance Elevation Grade
Name Start End Length Min Max Avg.
Vail Pass 15.78 mi 25.38 mi 9.60 mi 8,534 ft 10,585 ft 4.0%
Loveland Pass 54.66 mi 63.58 mi 8.93 mi 9,346 ft 11,954 ft 5.5%
Juniper Pass 93.35 mi 106.58 mi 13.23 mi 7,734 ft 10,984 ft 4.7%


Why would someone deliberately subject themselves to this kind of physical punishment? It’s a question I sometimes ask myself while huffing and puffing on a big hill. For me, mountain passes are like a moving meditation: I eventually find the right gear, pedal cadence, and heart rate zone that allows me to settle into a rhythm. As a general rule, the higher and harder the climb, the more beautiful the surrounding scenery, so there’s no shortage of visual stimulation. While training, I like to listen to music on my iPhone, but sometimes I prefer to just focus on the sound of my gears spinning, my lungs breathing, my heart pounding.

I find hill climbs are a great antidote to stress, but let’s be honest: one of the main reasons I crank up these things in my granny gear for hours is for the adrenalin rush of flying down them in 20 minutes while spinning my big chain ring at 120 revolutions a minute. The Triple Bypass course will be crowded, so I’m guessing the descents will be slower than I’d prefer, but even so, the payoff to a hill climb is big carrot that help makes the suffering worthwhile. If only life were so simple and just, offering guaranteed rewards for hard work!