To say that I wasn't very excited about cycling around Las Vegas was an understatement. No offense to the residents of Vegas, but I really just don't like it there (apparently this is rather common among people who only spend time on the Strip). I had finally decided that I was NOT attending Interbike this year and was rather excited about that. Then Scott steps in...
Scott picked up his decked out Carbent HPV Raven a couple weeks ago and invited me to join him on the Las Vegas Gran Fondo. He assured me that it would be very scenic and fast. I looked at my calendar and realized that it was exactly two weeks before the Furnace Creek 508 and would be a great final training ride for that. So, I decided to sign up and also managed a quick trip to Interbike to see a few vendors.
Scott's wife, Emarie, had some connections and got me a room at the Boulder Station Hotel and Casino. It was quite refreshing staying off the strip. Scott and I spent a few hours on Friday making some changes to his bike and getting some dinner. It seemed like we were up only a few hours later, lining up at 5am for the start. We didn't realize there would be 2500 cyclists, and found ourselves at the back of the pack. Although the start was at 5am, we didn't cross the start line until 5:52. However, it meant that the sun would be coming up very soon and lights would be unnecessary.
We started by cruising up the Strip, which was closed off to vehicular traffic for our ride. It was actually pretty cool having the whole road to ourselves with the bright lights and approaching dawn. We made our way up the strip, across the Valley and started down Boulder Highway towards Boulder City. This section was fast...I mean REALLY fast. We easily passed 1000 cyclists in the first 25 miles of the ride as I went hoarse calling out "on your left", "on your left".
After we turned on the road to Lake Mead, the crowds started to thin out. The sun had just come up and we were cruising through the foothills, working it (perhaps a little too hard) on the short climbs and then bombing past everyone on the way down the other side. I slowed down for the first aid station (and who puts an aid station halfway down a hill, anyway?) but decided to keep going. As I hit the bottom, I got my first view of Lake Mead, and it was quite spectacular. I rode across the roller coaster around the lake, until we got to the first serious climb at the far end of the lake heading up to the highway.
Cresting the climb brought me to the descent down to Hoover Dam (I lost Scott back at the lake when I needed a pit stop). The descent down into the Dam was twisty and technical, just the way I like it! I had to keep the speed down, though, as there were many cyclists on the road.
Hoover Dam was awesome! I had no idea how big it was, and took a few minutes to snap some pictures. At the far end was the second stop where I grabbed a banana, refilled the water bottles and met up with Scott.
Having two decked out Carbents together caused quite a stir. We received many compliments on the bikes and one local mechanic assured Scott that he could bring the bike by his shop any time for service. (FWIW, this lasted the whole ride - people were repeatedly impressed by how good the bikes looked and how well we climbed on them).
We began the climb out of the Dam. This was billed as the hardest climb on the route, but it really wasn't that bad. With only 40 miles under our belts we were pretty fresh and I probably pushed it a little too hard. Oh well... After reaching the top, we began the longer, gentler ascent up the pass to Boulder City, followed by a nice ride on a bike path that takes you from Boulder City back into the Las Vegas Valley. All the while, I was expecting the heat to pick up, but it never really did. The temps throughout the day were in the mid 80's, up into the 90's in the Red Rock area.
We skipped the next stop and started across the south end of the Valley. The rollers were never quite short enough to get momentum over, but the urban scenery was still pleasant, the drivers were conscientious and there were many cyclists to talk to. We also picked up another recumbent rider, Rich, on his Ti Virginia that I built for him awhile ago. The miles across the Valley rolled by quickly, and we soon found ourselves heading out the West end of the Valley towards Red Rocks.
We were about 90 miles into the ride and I was starting to get a bit tired. I realized quickly though that I was starting to get dehydrated as the temps rose, and downed the rest of my water knowing that an aid station was just up the road. A flat tire took just a couple minutes to fix, and I was back on the road with Scott and Rich heading up the gentle climb into the canyon. Rich was slowing down and Scott was speeding up...I kept an even pace right in the middle!
The station at Blue Diamond was the only time I took a significant break off the bike for about 15 minutes. I downed another bottle of water and ate another orange and banana and was ready to go up the final climb. The gentle climb continued on another four miles as the scenery because more and more spectacular. They even marked the summit with a giant pink blow-up pole that you could see from a mile away. Definitely Las Vegas style!
The last 25 miles were basically downhill. The crosswinds in the canyon kept Scott awake as he learned how to handle his new Zipp 404 Firecrest wheels, and we passed group after group as we made our way to the finish. Our final time was 7 hours 50 minutes, and I had a rolling average speed of 17mph on the nose. The climbing was more than advertised at 5380 feet and the mileage was a little low at 119.8.
I would highly recommend this ride. The scenery was fantastic, the course was (mostly) well-marked and the stations well-stocked. The after-ride party was a bit disappointing. Knowing that it was catered by Outback Steakhouse, I wasn't expecting any vegetarian options, and I was right. Papa John's was there with pizza, but they were charging for it, as were most of the other vendors that participated. The sound system was so loud that it was hard to carry on a conversation, but perhaps I'm just getting old :). Time for a nap...