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On the Fly column: Fall is coming (but not on the Fryingpan)

The first day of fall is still a few weeks away, but we’re all seeing some leaves begin to turn and donning our jackets again after sunset. As the days begin to get shorter and cooler, we will begin to notice some not-so-subtle changes while out on the water. The first change of note is the resurgence of some aquatic insects and the dissipation of others. Blue winged olives (BWOs) are already on the scene again, as we typically see them in strong numbers in spring and fall. These small mayflies vary from size 18 down to 22 here in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Flies that are starting to become more scarce on the freestone rivers are yellow sallies (small yellow stoneflies), large golden stoneflies, pale morning duns (PMDs) and green drakes. You’ll still see a few here and there, but the fish will become more focused on BWOs, midges, caddisflies and streamer patterns that imitate smaller fish. If you are fortunate enough to float fish from now through November, the streamer fishing will steadily improve every week. Caddis action will last a while longer; you’ll see plenty on the bright and sunny days.

The exception to these changes (for a while longer) will be found on the renowned Fryingpan River, where we all get to enjoy “summer” hatches until late October and usually early November. The steadiness of the flows and water temperatures, higher dissolved oxygen content and perfect pH result in long-lasting hatches here. Continued reliable hatches of PMDs, BWOs and green drakes will keep us busy on the Fryingpan tailwater until the flakes begin to fly.

As the crowds begin to taper off, get out there and enjoy a bit of solitude where you can find it, restock those fly boxes with some lilliputian patterns, and start thinking outside the box as the fish begin to look for smaller food sources. Before you know it, the only thing we’ll see hatching is tiny midges, so enjoy those “large fly” hatches while you can.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

A quieter summer for Hanging Lake

Cindy Winters hadn’t hiked Hanging Lake since 2003, but for her 60th birthday, it was the one thing she wanted to do.

“Out of all the hikes that I have ever hiked, this one-mile hike is absolutely my favorite. I get emotional thinking about it,” Winters said after reaching the falls at the top of the Hanging Lake trail Thursday.

She and her husband, Bill, have hiked nearly every trail through the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, but Hanging Lake holds a special place in their hearts. They noticed some differences.

“The trail is a lot more used than it was 15 years ago,” Bill said.

When they hiked in 2003, they didn’t see as many people as their Thursday midday trip, even though the Forest Service implemented daily visitors to 615 people earlier this summer.

“There were a lot fewer people then,” Cindy said.

Still, the popular trail is getting a break this summer. In years past, 1,100 to 1,200 visitors might have hiked the trail on a busy day.

Since May 1, the Forest Service has limited daily visitors to Hanging Lake through a reservation and shuttle system, operated by H2O Ventures, which has given the trail a break from use and restored some quiet to the natural landscape.

There’s far less trash being left on the trail now, and anything that does get left behind is cleaned up at the end of each day.

Off-season reservations open Sept. 16

When the shuttle service ends Oct. 31 and people can once again park near the trail head, visitors will no longer be staggered throughout the day, though there will still be a 615-visitor limit each day.

“We’re encouraging people to spread the use out during the day,” Gilles said.

Visitors will be able to make reservations the Hanging Lake rest area, assuming the visitor cap hasn’t been reached.

Hanging Lake reservations for the off-season, from Nov. 1 through April 30, will be available online Sept. 16, Gilles said.

The current reservation and shuttle cost is $12, but the off-season reservations will be $10. 

Visitors to the lake Thursday found the fees to be appropriate.

“I think $12 seems reasonable for the shuttle and the upkeep,” hiker Tyler Mardaus said. “I’d even pay $15 or $20,” he added.

The first season of the Hanging Lake Shuttle has more than a month left, but Gilles said the financial aspects appear to be working.

“From an initial look at the budget, and the revenue, that we’re on pace to be in the green, and to bring back revenue to Hanging Lake management,” Gilles said.

After the summer is over, the Forest Service and Glenwood Springs, who are partners in managing Hanging Lake, will determine best uses for the money.

It could go to infrastructure, replacing bridges and handrails or shelters at the shuttle, education, programming, or greater ranger presence at the trail.

The perils of a popular site

In recent years, the deck overlooking the lake could be crowded with people, but the new system limits the number of people.

On a weekday visit to the waterfalls, there were only about a dozen people around the middle of the day.

Fewer people on the trail also means the path up to the lake is recovering somewhat.

“When we had a lot of people on the trail, people were trying to pass and it widened the trail,” said Marcia Gilles, deputy district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District.

The Forest Service will study the trail over the next several years to see how the vegetation recovers near the trail, but rangers have already seen improvements after one summer.

“We definitely have seen locations that we are able to absolutely say have seen improvements in vegetation growth,” Gilles said.

Video

tphippen@postindependent.com

Fifth season of Dirt Demons starts Sunday in Nathrop

The Glenwood Springs High School mountain bike team lines up for its fifth season Sunday at the Chalk Creek Stampede in Nathrop. Glenwood’s wildly popular program continues to grow, with 26 Dirt Demons slated to take the start line. Glenwood is in the South Conference of the Colorado League, in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA).

The popular race venue on McMurry Ranch is nestled in the foothills of the Collegiate Range. The demanding course is 6.1 miles long with 520 vertical feet of elevation gained per lap. The initial double-track climb narrows to technical single-track atop a picturesque plateau, before dropping down to Chalk Creek and returning on a fast, twisty double-track to the finish area. Race distances will vary from two laps for freshman to four laps for varsity riders.

Registration for Sunday’s race is closed, but Glenwood Springs High School students can still sign up for the three remaining races and have a chance to qualify for the state championships.

Since its inception in the 2015-16 school year, Glenwood’s team has grown from five racers to last year’s record-setting 30-member squad. Thirteen of Sunday’s 26 starters are freshman. Just as Glenwood’s program has grown, participation on the state and national level has too. NICA boasts a 40 percent annual growth rate, with 18 states now serving nearly 12,000 student-athletes, supported by 4,500 licensed coaches. NICA’s mission is to provide all teens across America with the opportunity to grow strong body, mind and character through participation in school-based cycling clubs.

The program is especially inviting to girls, which make up 25 percent of the competitors. Glenwood junior Nadia Shea signed up in her freshman year, despite never having mountain bike raced before.

“Joining the Dirt Demons was one of the best decisions of my life,” she said. “It’s a super cool and unique sport where I’ve made some awesome friends. To all incoming freshman girls, I would say to sign up and you’ll have fun. Everyone on the team is really nice and supportive, and the coaches do everything for us so all we have to do is race our hardest.”

As a testament to the strength of the Glenwood program, three Dirt Demons are racing up in more competitive divisions. Glenwood juniors Erik Novy and Kawak Miranda will race in the Varsity Boys division, due to consistent top 10 results in 2018. Sophomore Emma Barsness will join her peers in Junior Varsity Girls.

The team is especially excited about having a new venue on the circuit when the inaugural Snowmassive Chase comes to the valley on Sept. 22. The Dirt Demons should have a home-mountain advantage, racing on familiar terrain like the Discovery, Sleigh Ride and Ditch trails on Snowmass Ski Area.

In addition to athletic performance, the high school cycling scene will bring an influx to our local economy, as the valley can expect nearly 600 racers and their families, traveling from 43 Colorado high school teams to enjoy area lodging and restaurants on their way to the races.

On the Fly column: Fishing opportunities abound in Aspen

While most anglers flock to the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers near Basalt to hunt their quarry, the Aspen area offers equally good fishing opportunities this time of year. Our famous green drake mayfly hatch begins on the lower Roaring Fork River near Glenwood Springs and gradually advances up the river, and has now reached the Aspen area.

While green drakes hatch predominately in the evening hours on the Roaring Fork River, sporadic numbers of these insects also hatch midday, particularly during periods of overcast weather. Large size 12 green drake imitations fished in the pockets with smaller bead head droppers will yield many fish. Caddis hatch during sunny afternoons as well as pale morning duns, but PMDs, like green drakes, love cloud cover. These smaller size 16 mayflies are typically pink or yellow in color as adult winged insects. Generally speaking, fish the larger green drakes in the fast water and the smaller pale morning duns in the softer pieces of water.

If you’re not seeing much in the way of rising fish, a tandem nymph setup fished in the deeper pools and seams are highly effective. If you simply want to go out and pull on a bunch of fish, this is the technique most guides use day in and day out. The key to fishing this way is to put on enough weight above your flies to drive them to the bottom. Adding on a strike indicator about 4-6 feet above your flies will aid in detecting strikes and will keep your flies in that all-important strike zone. Pheasant Tails, 20 Inchers, Prince nymphs, RS2s and tungsten baetis nymphs are catching more than their fair share of fish.

Lower Woody Creek, Jaffe Park, the ABC and the Animal Shelter are all within a short drive from Aspen and offer good access to the Upper Roaring Fork River. The coveted evening “lightning rounds” are offering superb dry fly fishing opportunities. During the last hour of light, trout will often rise with reckless abandon to a variety of green drake and egg-layer caddis imitations. This time period yields the easiest fishing of the entire day, so be sure that you take an hour out of your day to refuel your soul with running water, serenity and trout.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

Family, friends remember man who died on Spartan Snowmass course

It was a hot, sunny day on Fanny Hill as thousands of racers across the state, country and even world came out to compete for the Spartan Snowmass mountain race series Aug. 3, and Kenneth “Kenny” Crochet was excited to be one of them.

Crochet, of Colorado Springs, was set to take on his last leg of a Spartan Race trifecta, or third Spartan race completed in one calendar year, which would earn him a special medal and Spartan recognition.

Photos of Crochet competing in this final trifecta race show his excitement and the big, bright smile his friends and family members knew him for best.

Soon after these photos were taken, they became the last time Crochet’s smile would be captured.

“You know he was being worked harder than anything, but you didn’t see that on him, he was just filled with joy in what he was doing,” Crochet’s older brother, Steve, said in a phone interview late last week. “That smile he carried was the first thing that everybody saw and he carried that smile in everything that he did.”

Around 1 p.m. Aug. 3, Crochet reportedly “went down” during his Spartan competition, according to the coroner’s report. A couple from Arizona racing with him stopped to administer CPR until Spartan medical staff arrived.

Crochet was transported to the Aspen Valley Hospital. The Arizona couple took his Spartan headband and Colorado hat he was wearing through the finish line in his honor, Steve said.

At 1:56 p.m., Crochet was pronounced dead due to suspected cardiac complications. He was 50 and just over a month away from turning 51.

“Over the past three or four years, Kenny spent a lot of time reshaping his body and reshaping himself. He was always at the gym,” Steve said. “He was literally at the peak of his health, which makes this kind of completely un-understandable on how this happens to someone who did everything right.”

According to Steve and the dozens of people who made posts about Crochet on Facebook, Kenny didn’t just do everything right when it came to health and fitness. He did most everything right.

“My life was better with you in it. My life is less with you gone. But I am a better person for knowing you,” an old friend wrote.

“He taught me about trust at an incredibly important time in my life … he exemplified friendship in a way few people ever can,” another friend wrote.

“I’ll miss how you’d stop by every day to say good morning & goodbye without fail, and if my door was closed because I was in a meeting, you’d wave & smile through the window until you were sure I saw you,” a coworker wrote. “Everything you did, you did wholeheartedly.”

Since Crochet was 9, he lived in Colorado Springs with his two older siblings, Steve and Toni, and his parents, Don and Earline.

The Crochet family was tight knit, but the two brothers had an especially close bond growing up and into adulthood, sharing a deep love for Scrabble and heavy metal music, Steve said.

After graduating from Colorado College with a mathematics degree, Crochet worked his way up the ladder in the internet technology field, landing his most recent job as the director of database management for PGi, which creates and develops collaborative video conferencing and virtual communication services.

Outside of work and spending time with his sons, Joey and Alex, and his wife, Molly, Crochet was known for his great generosity and enthusiasm to learn new things.

From teaching himself how to sew and embroider, to cooking on an award-winning barbecue team, Crochet showed Steve and many of close friends and family he could do anything he set his mind to.

“His skills were limitless; if there was something he wanted to do, he bought the equipment and he taught himself how to do it,” Steve said, reflecting on the time Crochet sewed renaissance fair costumes for Alex, Joey and himself from scratch.

Crochet and his wife were heavily involved in giving back to their community. Steve said the couple volunteered and donated to local animal charities and were willing to help out whoever was in need.

“Kenny’s generosity was boundless. … He always saw what people needed without them asking for it,” Steve said. “He would always find a way to fulfill your need and always make the time.”

The day before Crochet’s death, which was Steve’s 53rd birthday, the brothers talked on the phone about Steve’s business plan to move to Ireland and open a bed and breakfast.

Steve said Crochet was working to edit and perfect the business plan, saying he’d help Steve finish it after his Spartan race.

“We talked about what he was helping me with but not about anything else,” Steve said. “He’d take the time, he’d stop, he’d never ask for anything and he’d never say he was too busy.”

As Steve reflected on Kenny’s life, he also reflected on the surprise of his death. Steve said Kenny recently had an in-depth series of cardiac tests done to ensure his heart was healthy following two heart attacks Steve endured and their mom’s recent open heart surgery.

“Literally within the past two years he had a full work up, the doctors did every test and they told him everything was good. Literally he was at the healthiest point of his life,” Steve said.

The Crochet family is waiting on the results of Kenny’s autopsy and toxicology tests to better understand what happened during the race. Steve said a celebration of life for Kenny will be held Sept. 1 in Colorado Springs, hopefully on the Colorado College campus, and that Kenny’s full obituary will be published in the Colorado Springs Gazette on Aug. 18.

Moving forward, Steve said he is confident that Crochet’s parents, sons and wife will carry out his genuine and honest legacy, but that he’s not sure what life will be like without him.

“He cannot be replaced. There are very few people who were as endearing and true as Kenny was and I doubt anybody in the world will ever have a negative thing to say about him,” Steve said. “The world is emptier, completely emptier because he’s not here. Everyone — everyone — loses because he’s not here.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

On the Fly column: Solitude among the multitude

Prime fishing season is upon us, and with it, come the multitudes. Locals tend to grumble a bit as their favorite pools and riffles fill with visitors, but I’d argue there is always somewhere to fish here in the Roaring Fork Valley. In August, when everything from the brawling runs of the lower Colorado River up to the intimate high country streams and lakes are now on the fly fisher’s menu, so you have a lot to choose from.

First of all, you don’t need a mile of river to yourself to have a great time, especially on the venerated Fryingpan River. Considering the fact that we rarely fish this river with fly line on the water, you can pick a spot apart with just a fly and tippet on the surface. The hatches have been terrific on the Fryingpan, and just about every insect you can imagine is on the scene now.

If you hop in a drift boat or raft, as most locals do when they get the chance, it can feel pretty solitary after you get past the boat ramp scene. Most of us leave the wading spots on the floatable rivers to anglers on foot, and simply fish on the go. Putting on early or late can alleviate the people factor in float world, too.

My personal go-to during peak season is the high country, and I still haven’t fished every alpine lake or stream. It would probably take two or three lifetimes to fish them all, in my estimation. Whether you head up the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork or Crystal river drainages, rivers get smaller and the fish get dumber (generally) as you ascend. If hiking and cutthroat fishing inspires you, head up to one of our multitude of alpine lakes.

I hope you find solitude where you can, and accept the fact that crowds are here for a reason; to take advantage of world-class fishing. That’s probably one of the many reasons you live here, right?

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

Aspen Olympian Noah Hoffman wins Backcountry Marathon

His professional skiing career behind him, Noah Hoffman has dialed back the training, only doing enough to take part in “adventures” in between going to classes at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Yet, the natural athleticism that led him to a pair of Olympic Games doesn’t disappear overnight, nor does the knowledge that comes with years of racing at the highest level.

“I had no idea what my fitness was going to be like,” Hoffman said. “Knowing how to race is a huge thing, and I have so much experience racing that absolutely that’s a huge advantage. I was a little nervous at the start, but once I got out there I was, ‘Oh, I’ve done this hundreds of times.’ I know what racing is like.”

Hoffman traded in the snow for the dirt on Saturday, returning to his home to take part in the ninth annual Aspen Backcountry Marathon for the first time. Looking every bit like a professional athlete, Hoffman won the race in 3 hours, 30 minutes, 2.18 seconds, beating Gunnison’s Joshua Eberly by about eight minutes and third-place finisher Chris Copenhaver of Fort Collins by 15 minutes.

Eberly won the Aspen Backcountry Marathon in 2018 and won the Audi Power of Four 50-kilometer trail race only a month ago in Snowmass, so Hoffman’s victory was certainly earned.

“I’ve always wanted to do this race, but it never quite fit into my training schedule when I was an athlete. So this was the summer to come back and do it, finally check it out,” Hoffman said. “I was a little nervous about the distance, for sure. I’ve never raced anywhere near this far. My longest races in skiing were two hours, plus or minus, and this is three and a half. So it’s a big jump.”

While it’s been a while, Hoffman isn’t exactly new to running. As a senior at Aspen High School, he won the Class 3A state cross country championship in 2006 before embarking on a successful cross-country skiing career that included competing in both the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. Hoffman retired from skiing following the 2017-18 season and the Pyeongchang Games.

“I almost walked away that year before Pyeongchang and I’m so glad I went to one more Olympics and skied that last year,” Hoffman said. “But I really feel I’m at peace with the decision (to retire). I didn’t really miss it that much. I was excited to cheer on my teammates from afar.”

Hoffman will soon head back to Brown for his sophomore year where he is tentatively studying economics and public policy, although he hasn’t officially declared a major. While having a two-time Olympian in class with you might be unique, Hoffman probably stands out more for being a 30-year-old sophomore more than anything.

“It’s a little interesting being in class with 18 year olds,” Hoffman said. “My social life, as you’d imagine, is not centered around my classmates so much. There are other people in the community that are closer to my age. It was not as hard as I anticipated to get back into the groove. Brown did a great job of supporting me and the professors are wonderful. So I’m looking forward to going back this year.”

PERSYN REPEATS AS WOMEN’S CHAMPION

Kelsey Persyn’s first significant win as a trail runner came when she torched the field by more than 40 minutes in the 2018 Aspen Backcountry Marathon. Her margin of victory was a mere nine minutes on Saturday, but it’s still a repeat title for the 23-year-old Texas native.

“I felt a little pressure going into it,” Persyn said of being the defending champ. “This is like my third trail race ever and I love them, so I’m hoping to go down that path eventually and see how far I can go.”

Persyn won the women’s marathon in 4:17:52.86, holding off Aspen’s Julia Rowland (4:26) and Boulder’s Anna Widdowson (4:30) for the title.

A former track and cross country runner at Texas A&M, Persyn has spent the past couple of summers working as a park ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. Her ties to the Aspen area go back a few years, as she also won the 2016 Aspen Valley Marathon road race.

Persyn said she was using the Aspen Backcountry Marathon as training for the upcoming Grand Traverse trail run, which goes from Crested Butte to Aspen.

“It felt really good. I didn’t have hope that I was going to be the winner until a mile ‘til,” she said. “I made sure my focus was just to focus on yourself and have fun with it. Results are going to come if you just have fun. But it was a different course this year. It was more in reverse, so it was kind of cool to see it from a different angle.”

Also repeating as a champion was James Gregory of Fort Collins, who won Saturday’s half marathon in 1:57:54.21. Only 17, he will be a high school senior this year and finished 16th in the Class 5A state cross country meet last fall.

Denver’s Rob Kosick was second among men in 2:05 and Jason Contino of Manitou Springs was third in 2:07.

Golden’s Brittany Charboneau took the women’s half marathon title in 2:02:50.42, which was good for second overall behind only Gregory. Norway’s Yngvild Kaspersen was second (2:11) among women and Lauren Warkentin of Edwards was third (2:27).

acolbert@aspentimes.com

On the Fly column: Rainy days are great for Fryingpan dry fly fishing

I first heard about rainy day dry fly fishing on the Fryingpan back in the late 1990s, before I even knew where the river was. I was in Taylor Edrington’s Royal Gorge Anglers in Cañon City, headed to fish the Arkansas, when I overheard the shop guys talking (more like whispering) about the PMD hatch they had just experienced up here in the Roaring Fork Valley. The next chance I got, I figured out where the Fryingpan was and headed up to Basalt.

I wasn’t lucky enough to get a rainy day on my first few jaunts here, but I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share since moving here. If you can’t beat em, join em, right? This past week of rainy weather was some of the best dry fly fishing I’ve ever come across. I’m not sure why mayflies like to hatch in cloudy weather, but I am sure why the trout become so frenetic. Simply put, when it rains during a hatch, mayflies can’t dry their wings after emergence and are sitting ducks on the surface. They simply can’t fly off the water until their newly unfurled adult wings firm up and dry out.

Most locals tend to avoid the Fryingpan tailwater during the summertime, but you better believe they get up there when there are showers in the forecast. Luckily there are plenty of anglers who find rain an inconvenience, which usually opens up plenty of fishable water. Pale morning duns varying from pink to yellow were the main event this past week, with a few green drakes, small caddis, big and small craneflies, red quills and some blue winged olives as well.

The fish weren’t eating the large green drakes, but the swallows didn’t have any problem picking them off as they hatched. I think it takes a little time for the fish to remember if those large bugs are food or not. It won’t be long until we see trout swim 10 feet out of their feeding lane to snatch these big bugs.

I hope we have more “bad” weather on the horizon this summer; you’ll find me on the Fryingpan, fishing a single dry fly and thanking my lucky stars I heard Bill Edrington and Larry Kingrey speaking in hushed tones in their fly shop that day.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

Spartan brings its popular obstacle-course races to Snowmass for first time

Scenes from the movie “300” might come to mind when envisioning a Spartan race, but instead of battling an army of Persians the athletes get to battle themselves as they navigate over and through as many as 30 obstacles.

Created by Joe De Sena nearly a decade ago, the popular series of obstacle-course races will make its Snowmass debut this weekend as part of its Mountain Series.

“This year we had the opportunity to come out here, so we figured why not?” said Snowmass race director Ryan Durnan. “This is a different venue. We always like seeing new areas, especially mountain towns. They are pretty awesome.”

Snowmass has previously hosted similar events, such as Tough Mudder, but never Spartan until this year. Spartan has been hosting an event in the Colorado Rockies for a few years now, most recently having been in Breckenridge. This summer, Snowmass finally gets its turn.

Three different races will be offered this weekend. Saturday will be for the ultra and beast races, with the ultras being the longest at roughly 30 miles. Those races include about 3,700 feet of climbing around the Snowmass Ski Area. Durnan said it takes nine days, give or take, to set up the full course.

Sunday will be for the sprint races, which are about 3 miles. There will be kids races available both days, as well.

Obstacles include all sorts of things, from spear throwing to crawling under barbed wire to climbing up and over walls.

“Spartan has developed a really great community,” Durnan said. “You have your exercise enthusiasts, and then you also have your groups of friends who just want to challenge themselves and run around.”

There will be a Spartan “festival” located in Snowmass Base Village Saturday and Sunday. This includes an open house beginning at 2 p.m. Friday that allows people to practice on some of the obstacles and pick the brains of certified coaches.

There will be plenty of free spectating available over the weekend, and there is still plenty of opportunities to volunteer.

“Spectating is highly encouraged,” Durnan said. “This is a unique venue where it’s actually open to the public because we can’t really contain it. So spectators are welcome to come out and root on, walk around and follow the course, hang out at some of the obstacles and cheer on the racers.”

Racing gets underway at 6 a.m. Saturday for the ultra athletes, with an awards presentation tentatively scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The ultra races can take anywhere from seven to 12 hours to complete. The beast races get underway at 7:30 a.m. Saturday with an awards presentation scheduled for 12:15 p.m. for the elite athletes.

Sunday’s sprint races begin at 7:30 a.m. with the elite awards presentation scheduled for 10:30 a.m. The festival area closes at 5 p.m. both days.

For more information, visit www.spartan.com.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Mercier: Wrapping up the Tour de France

The 2019 Tour de France was the most unpredictable and exciting since Greg LeMond’s victory over Laurent Fignon 30 years ago. The final podium, with Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Steven Kruijswijk was not a surprise, but how they got there certainly was. Six riders were within two minutes of each other with just three days to race. Interestingly, no rider on the final podium won an individual stage during the race.

Three themes emerged during this year’s Tour that could have a significant impact on racing for years to come: The success of road racers with cyclocross backgrounds, a new generation of riders and the re-emergence of French riders.

Surprise Stage 1 victor, 26-year-old Dutchman Mike Teunissen, was a perfect example of the success of former cyclocross racers having road success. He surprised the sprinters to take the win and the yellow jersey. Teunissen was expected to be the lead-out man for teammate Dylan Groenewegen, but when Groenewegen crashed within the last mile, chaos ensued. Teunissen kept his position near the front of the race and pulled off the biggest win of his young career. In fact, five stages were won by former cyclocross worlds medalists with Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe and Peter Sagan all winning stages.

It’s premature to say there was a definitive passing of the baton to the younger generation as both grizzled veterans and fresh neophytes represented themselves well. Egan Bernal, the 22-year-old Colombian, won the race for Team Ineos, while his 33-year-old teammate, Geraint Thomas, was second. Bernal is the youngest Tour winner in 100 years, and the first Colombian to win. Thomas was surprisingly resilient in this year’s Tour. He crashed three times during the race, yet he still managed to finish second. This result showed just how tough he is. The younger generation has announced its presence loudly, but hasn’t put the old bulls to pasture just yet. If Froome can recover from his injury, Team Ineos will have an interesting leadership quandary as it will line up with three former Tour champions.

Frenchmen Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot became the darlings of France during the Tour. Both riders won stages and were placed in first and fifth, respectively, with just three stages to race. Only the final two mountain stages and an unfortunate crash denied France its first potential winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.

Alaphilippe, in particular, captured the hearts and minds of not just the French, but of cycling fans everywhere who wax poetic for the opportunistic style of racing that has been smothered by the relentless monotony of the Sky/Ineos formula. Alaphilippe races with instinct and heart and put a scare into the contenders for the overall win. He showed why he is the No. 1-ranked rider in the world with a daring attack to win Stage 3 and take the yellow jersey on Bastille Day. He was expected to lose the jersey either on the summit finish of Stage 6 or definitely the individual time trial on Stage 13. Instead, he gained time on both stages and won the time trial for his second stage victory of the race.

Alaphilippe only began to show cracks when the race went above 2,000 meters in altitude but fought with grit and panache to keep the jersey. It wasn’t until Bernal’s solo attack on the truncated Stage 19 that Team Ineos was able to wrestle the jersey off his shoulders. Alaphilippe held the yellow jersey for 14 days and ultimately finished fifth.

Meanwhile, Pinot was steadily gaining time in the high mountains and won Stage 14 to move back into contention. However, he crashed on Stage 17 into Gap and tore a muscle in his left thigh. He bravely continued and finished the stage, but he was forced to abandon the next day.

It’ll be interesting to see how the results of the two Frenchmen play into the design of next year’s race. Alaphilippe has indicated that he will not target the overall victory, while Pinot insists that he will return and intends to try to win it. I fully expect the Tour organizers to include fewer high mountain stages and more technical and punchy climbs to give Alaphilippe a chance to compete. I’ve often felt the design of the race should be more suited to the best bike riders, rather than just the best stage racers. Regardless, the 2019 Tour was a pleasure to watch and the 2020 race promises even more excitement.

Good riding!

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a private wealth adviser in Aspen and can be reached at scottmercier24@gmail.com.