530 miles and 60,000 feet in elevation gain in five days
That’s right. Crested Butte resident Ethan Passant rode 530 miles (300 on single track) from the Waterton Canyon Trailhead in Denver to the Junction Creek Trailhead in Durango completely unsupported in five days, two hours and 26 minutes to win the 2008 Colorado Trail Race.
The race started at noon on Monday, July 28 outside of Denver, following most of the Colorado Trail, making only the necessary detours around wilderness areas. It was Passant’s second time in the race, and he was one of 23 riders who showed up for this year’s event. Last year Passant came in third place when it took just over six days for him to complete the course.
This year, not only did Passant win, but he also set a new course record in the process.
Heading into the race, Passant had two goals in mind.
“Certainly I wanted to finish the race because anything can go wrong,” says Passant. “And I wanted to break a record.”
Town resident Alison Gannett entered the race as well. With miles and miles, and miles, of training behind her, Gannett was ready for the race and set a plan. She knew Trish Stevenson, a well-known mountain bike racer, was the only other woman racing and would be a formidable opponent. But Gannett believed when the going got tough, she would have an ace up her sleeve—pain.
“I had some pretty specific plans where I wanted to be at certain times,” says Gannett. “Generally, the longer I go and the worse it gets, the better I get. I was hoping to out-suffer her.”
Passant believes the first couple of days this year made a big difference in his success and new record time.
Last year, racers were met with rain and Passant suffered a broken chain early. This year was far different, as riders were met with favorable weather from day one. One rider took off from the start to establish a gap but Passant bided his time and remained in second place for most of the first day.
“Once we started I wanted to get out to the front but you can’t go too hard in the first few hours,” says Passant. “The pace is a 500-mile pace so you’re trying not to break a sweat.”
Passant reeled in the leader by midnight and continued on until 2 a.m. holding onto first place, well ahead of his pace from last year and making it just shy of Kenosha Pass in the first day before settling down for some sleep.
“I gained half a day in the first day,” explains Passant.
Gannett was on fire early as well. Despite bringing a cold with her into the event, Gannett was riding strong passing Stevenson, and several men, by the first night and reaching Frisco, 160 miles into the race, in 30 hours, three hours ahead of schedule.
“I had a really good first day and everything was going really well,” says Gannett. “I was amazed to be that far along. I expected to get to Frisco at 9 p.m. if things went really well and I was there at 6 p.m.”
Out of nowhere though, Gannett’s ride came to an abrupt halt in Frisco.
“I felt like I was hit in the stomach with an axe,” says Gannett.
Forty-five minutes later, Gannett was curled up in wrenching pain, looking for a ride to the emergency room in Frisco, and out of the race.
“It was really scary and I was really lucky I was in a town and not somewhere way out,” says Gannett. “It was so surreal because I was so excited that I was doing really well.”
Passant continued on his pace through the second day to gain almost a full day on his effort from last year by reaching Half Moon Campground at Twin Lakes outside of Leadville by the second night.
After another three- to four-hour sleep, Passant woke up with the sun and continued on his bike, reaching Buena Vista by 11 a.m. eventually reaching South Fooses Creek and still gaining ground.
Passant hit a rut at South Fooses Creek, though. While everything was going right, this section hurt the most.
“That was a low point for me,” says Passant. “Hike-a-biking up South Fooses Creek. I just tried not to stop too much.”
Once Passant reached Lake City, he made a critical move. Until this point, Passant had a rack on his bike carrying a sleeping bag and a dash protector for camping. Passant decided to ditch his gear and go for one last push from Lake City through Silverton and onto the finish in Durango.
“I figured I’d just 24-hour race it,” says Passant. “Because I ditched all that weight, my bike felt great.”
Passant’s plan almost backfired the final night of the race as he found himself in dire need of sleep at 2 a.m. on the trail between Silverton and Durango near the top of Molas Pass. Up high, the temperature dropped and Passant went into survivalist mode.
“It got so cold I tore down pine boughs and built a nest,” says Passant.
Furthermore, Passant set his “nest” in the trail in case another rider caught him while he was sleeping so he would wake up.
It turned out the plan worked as the second-place rider, Jason Shelman, came across Passant in the dark.
“He thought I was a downed tree,” says Passant.
With Passant awake, the two riders stopped to enjoy a little food together. At that point, Passant discovered that Shelman was riding with a broken fork and knew that the rest of the way to Junction Creek in Durango would put the hurt on Shelman and his bike.
“I knew the last descent down to Junction Creek and that I had it,” says Passant.
Passant finished 22 hours faster than last year. Shelman, on a 29-inch rigid single speed bike and broken fork, came in just an hour and 23 minutes behind him. As of press time, eight riders had finished the race, two were still on the trail and 13 had dropped out along the way.
While Passant credits some of his success to his strong start the first two days, he also had solid gear and no true mechanicals.
“The only problem I had was my chain flew off my little ring once. Thanks to RB at Real Balance my bike ran great,” says Passant. “And I had better lights. I had twice the wattage. Riding in the dark was better and I could ride faster.”
Passant admits he’s not looking to return to the event next year but it is well worth the effort.
“I’m not raring to go and do this again,” says Passant. “I do truly love the feeling of freedom out there with all those miles ahead of me. It’s got to be one of the best rides of all time.”
Gannett, on the other hand, wants another shot at the race and the women’s record of seven days, one hour and 46 minutes set by Stevenson.
“I have to go back again next year,” says Gannett. “I definitely want to break the women’s record. You just never know what’s going to happen out there.”
Provided Passant recovers from an illness this week, he plans on heading to Leadville this weekend to compete in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race on Saturday, August 9.