Nature may help Death Ride live up to its name |

Nature may help Death Ride live up to its name

Darin Olde, Tribune Sportswriter

With record-hot temperatures and a chance of rain or thunderstorms Saturday, event organizers can only hope the Death Ride 2002 won’t live up to its name.

Co-produced by Sierra Country Chamber of Commerce and the Alta Alpina Cycling Club, the 129-mile ride named after a drop-dead challenge surmounts five Sierra passes as high as 8,732 feet in Eldorado National Forest.

Surprisingly, the ride has grown despite the grueling course, physical toll and ever-changing high Sierra weather.

The ride, which traverses Monitor, Ebbett’s and Carson Pass — along with some of the most picturesque scenery in Alpine and Sierra Counties — drew nearly 6,000 applicants in the two-week registration period last March, the most since the ride first started 23 years ago.

Only 2,700 were selected by lottery to compete, spreading the range of abilities across the board.

That, combined with the weather, is why event organizers, emergency crews and medical personnel are on a heightened state of awareness.

“I have a feeling the finish rate is going to be down a little,” said Bob Anderson, former chamber CEO and Death Ride coordinator. “It could be a little different ride this year.”

Five ambulances will be on hand, as well as a half-dozen nurses and more than 700 volunteers.

“We have all the things in place so we’ll hope for the best,” Anderson said.

In the event’s 23-year history, only in 1995 did they have to shut down the race because of weather. A hailstorm that year atop Carson Pass forced riders back. Some had to be evacuated and treated for hypothermia.

This year, however, they expect dehydration, altitude sickness and exhaustion to be atop the list of medical calamities.

No one has died yet, however.

But never underestimate the power of ego, and the will to beat the Joneses, not on a 129-mile ride for personal pride.

The Death Ride is not a race, organizers say. It’s just a ride, one that can be as small as you want.

But the difference for competitive cyclists is negligible.

In road racing or criterions, staying with and exploiting the momentum of the pack is riding strategy.

Being competitive with other riders can sometimes save energy.

Still, if you get caught up in the race, and don’t normally ride 129 miles and climb 16,000 feet, you could end up blowing it, and not finish at all, says Anthony Kordonowy, who works at the Sports Ltd. at the “Y.”

Kordonowy says most riders don’t train with seven- to eight-hour rides, which is how long he thinks it will take for the fastest guys to finish.

For him it’s all about “pace and effort.”

“I wear a heart rate monitor, and it doesn’t lie,” he said.

Ride organizers say Greg LeMond and Gary Fisher have both participated before, and that they finished around 2 p.m., about 6-7 hours after the 5:30 a.m. start at Turtle Rock along Highway 89.

Most, however, finish in 12 hours, by about 6 p.m.

Race organizers say they had to limit the race to 2,700 because of permit restrictions with Alpine County and the California Department of Transportation.

Organizers also say they can’t provide service to 6,000 riders, either.

“The course is a tough one because there’s no running water or toilets,” Anderson says. “Everything that’s there has to be brought there … To feed that many people would be unrealistic for us in one day … (and) the county doesn’t have many facilities to begin with.”

The registration has grown because of the destination, the challenge and because the Death Ride has become well known via the Internet and word of mouth.

With a free dinner, numerous aid stations throughout, free massage and hot showers all courtesy of the $65 registration fee, the race has gained national acclaim.

So, too, has the sport of cycling grown.

Most of the riders in the Death Ride are 30-50 years old, are professionally employed and own expensive bikes.

“Cycling appeals to them and they take it real seriously,” Anderson said.

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