Ideal road and weather conditions greeted the 127 cyclists in the inaugural Ride of the Ancients gravel grinder north of Dolores June 26.
In the 95-mile men’s race, the top three riders were separated by just a few minutes.
The route features 7,343 vertical feet of climbing through the San Juan National Forest. It followed mostly gravel roads, going from Dolores to Dunton, up Black Mesa to Groundhog Reservoir, then along the Dolores-Norwood Road back to town.
Travis Brown of Durango, a mountain biker who represented the U.S. in the 2000 Olympics, took first place with a time of 5 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds.
Tim Mathews came in second with a time of 5:14:8, and Sam Vickery crossed the line at 5:15:29.
Four or five riders worked together to hold the lead for most of the course. Brown pulled away for good on the Dolores-Norwood Road, leading to the finish.
In the women’s 95-mile, race director and professional cyclist Ashley Carelock of Dolores came in first with a time of 6:23:18.
Jill Cederholm Mairs, took second with a time of 6:37:6, and Lauren Hall came in third at 6:45:24.
Carelock pulled away early and held the lead to the finish.
“The route is absolutely gorgeous. I kept hearing from riders how beautiful this part of the San Juans are,” she said.
Katie Newbury, a cycling journalist, rode the 95-mile course on a tandem with her husband, and finished at 6:5:59.
In the men’s 30-mile course, Jason Dunlap, of Dolores, took first place with a time of 1 hour, 36 minutes, 33 seconds. Robert Mairs took second at 1:40:58, and Byron Crites came in third at 1:42:9.
The 30-mile race features 2,100 feet of climbing, and loops from Dolores via Road 31, the Boggy Draw Road and the Dolores-Norwood Road.
Crites pulled away early up the hill out of Dolores. Dunlap and Mairs alternately drafted each other to catch him, then the three rode as a group.
“I decided to ride away, and got a lead,” Dunlap said. “It was a fun event, well run with perfect conditions.”
In the female 30-mile category, Mary Monroe, of Durango, took first with at time of 1:57:17. Cathy Pfiefer was second at 2:2:42. Amy Colyar took third with a time of 2:7:41.
Ride the Ancients transitioned to a gravel grinder event this year from a road ride around local national monuments. It is a fundraiser for the Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance and the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway. The event raised $6,450 for the groups.
A hard rain the day before the race reduced dust on the roads and created a hard-packed surface for riders, said Carelock.
The race switched to a gravel grinder because of the growing popularity of the sport, the abundance of public lands in the area and reduced vehicle traffic, she said.
“It went really smooth, and we had more riders sign up then expected,” Carelock said. “A bacon station set up at Groundhog was a big hit.”
The 10-mile climb up Black Mesa at 10,600 feet elevation was one of the tougher stretches, Carelock said, but it also was enjoyable for the mountainous scenery, which included a waterfall.
The finish was at the Dolores River Brewery, and riders relaxed to refreshments and the reggae music of Ed Kabotie and the ‘Yoties.
Gravel bikes are similar to road bikes, but are designed with rims that can take a wider tire with increased traction. The bottom bracket is set lower for more control. Riders also used mountain bikes and road bikes in the race.
Carelock specializes in endurance cycling events. She rides for Rodeo Adventure Labs team and competes in races around the world.
“I want to thank everyone who helped out on Ride the Ancients, and we’ll be back next year. The goal is to host a friendly, fun ride, and get people to come out and ride bikes together. That is the part I love the most,” she said.