One-hundred-and-two miles by any calculation is a fair distance by bike.
Add in wool knickers, cycling caps, dated equipment and a few turn-of-the-century athletic dresses, and only one race comes to mind — the grueling fourth annual L’Eroica Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs Vintage Bike Race.
Set for Saturday, May 17, this points-based beast of a competition leaves from downtown Grand Junction at 7 a.m., heading on a twisty-turny route to Glenwood Springs. Organizers expect the first string of racers to arrive in Glenwood between 1:30-2 p.m., with the remainder of riders to trickle in by dinner.
L’Eroica, which means heroic, is “based on a historical training ride that happened from 1897-1915,” a race release said. “The 102-mile ride followed the Midland Trail [Railroad] from Grand Junction to Palisade, up Plateau Canyon and on to Glenwood.”
Same-day registration is allowed, and the rider with the most points — taking into consideration finishing times, age, technology, outfit and even hairstyle — wins a pair of golden knickers and bragging rights. Awards will be given at a banquet planned for The Glenwood Vaudeville Revue later that evening, with seven-time Tour De France racer and Olympian Ron Kiefel scheduled to speak.
“The event draws on itself,” L’Eroica organizer and Brown Cycles owner Chris Brown said, noting a huge showing of fake moustaches at last year’s event. “In 2013, we had about 50 riders, and we expect about the same this year.”
Many L’Eroica participants come from out of town, and repeat riders are prevalent. This year, folks from Florida, Georgia, New Mexico and Oregon will compete, with a large incidence of riders coming from Colorado’s Front Range.
According to Brown, in keeping with the historic theme, gun-toting “saloon girls” (i.e. kind volunteers) will offer lemonade, muffins and (jokingly) themselves to the riders as they clatter in for a much needed rest stop midway through the route east of Collbran.
“There’s no Gatorade or power bars,” Brown added. “We offer period snacks.”
Kristin Winn, an avid Grand Junction cyclist who plans to ride L’Eroica for the first time with her son, found the pattern for her “athletic outfit” online.
“I bought an 1890s pattern for a women’s bicycle suit,” she said. “It includes a fitted jacket with huge mutton sleeves, a tam hat with a pompom, a big bow and leggings. You wouldn’t dare show any actual leg, you see, in 1890. I’ll probably wear long knee socks instead of the leggings.”
In keeping with L’Eroica’s vintage theme, Winn sewed her suit on an antique sewing machine out of home-spun cloth, softened with vinegar over many wash cycles. Practice rides in bloomers tied with ribbons will be included in her training regime.
“Bloomers were pretty radical at the time,” she said. “If that’s what women had to wear, we’ve come a long way.”
Not to be outshined, Brown plans to race wearing a hand-made onesie — “technically, it’s a unitard,” he said — while riding a bike dating back to 1889.
“It was found in a barn in Fruita, with no tires and no seat,” he noted. “Everything else was on it. Grand Junction was founded in 1881, so the bike is the same age as the town.”
And while period costumes certainly lend to the race’s visual appeal, it’s the challenge that captures Brown’s imagination.
“You really can relate to your great-grandfather’s plight,” he explained. “It’s mentally challenging, and challenges are scary. It’s a big reason I started it.”
Stay tuned for years to come — Brown aims to flip the race, starting it from Glenwood every other year.
“If you have an event, it needs to change.” he said. “It’s a totally different ride when you come the other way.”