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Pedal to the clouds in the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb

By David Pico

The Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb, a tough but rewarding ride, is set for July 21.

Now in its fourth year, the ride starts at Crystal Reservoir, at about Mile 7 on the famous Pikes Peak Highway. From there cyclists will climb 4,700 feet over 12.4 miles, pedaling far above tree line to the peak's summit at 14,115 feet. It’s good for the arteries.

Register for the 2013 Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb

The fun ride ($50 pre-registration) will begin at 6 a.m., and the racing portion of the event – for the true beasts – costs $70 and begins at 7 a.m.

Riders from 31 states and five countries have put their wheels and lungs on the line for the glory of beating the merciless Peak. The harsh environment on the highest slopes supports very little life. Trees can’t grow there, and rodents that venture too far shrivel up and die. Grown men have been known to be ambushed with natural electroshock therapy at Devil’s Playground, a rock garden perched at 12,000 feet.

Pikes Peak is its own animal.

In its first year the ride started in Manitou Springs, and climbed a barbaric 8,000 feet over 26 miles. Even Zebulon Pike would have shrugged and walked away. (Actually, he did.)

Last year the ride start was moved to just above Crystal Reservoir, near the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb starting line. At the summit, finishers reveled in their achievement. Relatively few people have ridden their bike to the top of Pikes Peak, but it is doable by anyone in reasonable condition.

“It opened it up to a lot more people,” ride director Pat McDonough says. “We want to involve as many people as we can.”

The Broadmoor has signed on as the presenting sponsor, and McDonough has enlisted the support of 12 bike shop sponsors. There will be five rest stops on the way up, one every two miles or so. But the challenge maintains an ‘epic’ flavor.

The famous Mt. Evans Hill Climb race happens the day before, and event sponsor Pactimo has produced a commemorative Mt. Evans/Pikes Peak cap for those who can best the two hills and call themselves the ‘ultimate climbers.’

For the truly gung-ho competitor, “it will be plenty epic,” McDonough says.

Finishers will get a medal, what McDonough calls the “proof” that they’re crazy, and winners of the race up the mountain will become instantly rich as they compete for a split of the hefty cash purse.

The Pikes Peak Highway is open to cyclists year-round. Over a thousand people made the gritty climb during a one-month test period last year. Many riders wheeze their way to the top every weekend.

“The best months to ride the Peak are June and July. But tourism traffic is at its highest at that time. That’s scary for a cyclist,” McDonough said. “We will have the highway closed for three hours and rest stops along the way.”

Last year, Katie Compton won the women’s race and Leroy Popowski bulled his way to the men’s championship with a climb of one hour and eight minutes. He’s coming back to defend his title and has his lunatic eyes set on puncturing an hour.

To date, participation numbers are ahead of schedule with over 100 pre-registrations in the books, mostly from out of town. Some 500 riders braved the climb into thin air in 2012. As for the future, McDonough is optimistic.

“We’d like to grow each year and get as many people to enjoy the mountain as we can,” he said.