Wind challenges Death Ride endurance cycling race |

Wind challenges Death Ride endurance cycling race

Dave Price
Death Ride participants ride past the Alpine County Courthouse in Markleeville, California, on Saturday, July 9.
Brad Coman / The Record-Courier |

As challenging as Death Ride, Tour of the California Alps, is with its altitude and 15,000 feet of vertical climbing, cyclists have learned to expect to also face adversity from the weather.

Extreme heat, rain, hail, even a snow flurry or two have been seen during the event’s 36 years, and on Saturday, July 9, 2,000-plus riders outlasted strong winds on Alpine County roadways to complete the endurance test hosted by Alpine County Chamber of Commerce. The Death Ride featured climbing over 8,314-foot Monitor, 8,730-foot Ebbetts and 8,580-foot Carson passes.

Despite battling gusts throughout the day, Richard Pittman of Lodi, California, didn’t hesitate to get back on his bike at the Woodfords aid station to head up Carson Pass toward the end of his five-pass test.

“It’s awful … this is ridiculous,” said Pittman, who was riding in his first Death Ride. “It has made this a lot harder than it should have been.”

Anna Thatcher, a physical therapist from Phoenix, Arizona, returned for her second attempt at the Death Ride on an elliptical bicycle. The windy conditions weren’t exactly conducive for the elliptical bicycle design, in which a rider stands and powers the cycle with a running-like motion.

“The wind was worse than last year,” said Thatcher, who rides for ElliptiGO. “I was struggling to go straight … there were times when it almost felt like it was going to blow you over.”

No wind was going to interfere with Thatcher’s focus on finishing the complete 129-mile, five pass distance. She had some unfinished business from 2015, when she had to stop one pass short of going the full distance.

Thatcher started at 3:30 a.m. and finished in 15 hours, yet there was at least one close call. She arrived at the Woodfords aid station at 3:47 p.m., just 13 minutes ahead of the cutoff to officially allow riders to stay on the course. She cut through the head-wind in Woodfords Canyon and arrived at Pickett’s Junction well ahead of the 5:15 p.m. cutoff. She reached the finish at Turtle Rock Park by 7 p.m.

“It was pretty exhausting, but I knew I was going to make it,” said Thatcher, a former gymnast and runner that turned to an elliptical bicycle after three hip surgeries.

Why the Death Ride?

“Just the challenge; it’s something just to be able to say you did it,” she said. “But it’s fun and the people are so supportive and encouraging.”

A number of cow bell-clanging spectators could be seen along the route to encourage riders, who came in all ages and sizes while riding an assortment of bicycles, from regular road bikes to tandems, mountain bikes and single-speed bikes.

There were emergency calls for riders who went down during the ride. Information on the status of those injuries was not available, according to Alpine County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Teresa Burkhauser.

“The event went well,” Burkhauser said. “We’re very appreciative of all the volunteers and agencies like Caltrans and CHP, and from the surrounding area, Douglas County and Lake Tahoe. A lot of people work very hard to make this event a success.”

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