Almost 3,500 cyclists took on 129 miles of Alpine County’s mountain roads Saturday in Tour of the California Alps — Death Ride.
A cycling tradition since 1982, the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce pairs with local groups of volunteers as well as Tahoe Amateur Radio Association to put on a scenic and challenging ride for cyclists that covers five mountain passes, including both sides of Monitor (8,314 feet) and Ebbetts (8,730), as well as Carson (8,580). All riders started on the course at Turtle Rock Park near Markleeville.
Each year the race attracts riders from all over the U.S. as well as the world. This year there were riders from Germany, Russia, Switzerland and a large group from Japan. Participants have options to ride from one to five passes in what amounts to a tour rather than a race.
“I’m amazed every year,” Bill Maher of Tahoe Amateur Radio Association said. “ This many people go to this much effort to ride such a tough ride.”
Tahoe Amateur Radio Association works the event every year providing radio support that is a necessity in the secluded areas the event runs through.
“We are in direct contact with Douglas County 911,” Maher said. “They hear all of our conversations so if something happens they know right away.”
The 2014 event saw no major injuries like previous years.
Clint Ponder of Sonoma, Calif. couldn’t say the same about his bike. Ponder, 35, broke a spoke at the bottom of the Monitor Pass leg.
“Its not repairable here,” Ponder said.
The scenery, the challenge and the closed road have brought Ponder back three other times.
“The fact that they close the roads for us is awesome,” Ponder said. “As a road rider you’re constantly being buzzed by cars, but not having them as a factor here is like paradise.”
This was Ponder’s fourth year participating in the Death Ride and taking on the more than 15,000 feet of elevation climbs with friends.
“It’s fun to be on your bike all day with your friends in great weather.”
Site captain for the Monitor Pass stop, Dennis Lampson also noticed the perfect riding conditions.
“When you have weather like this, its been ideal for our riders,” Lampson said.
Lampson has been a part of the Death Ride as a volunteer for 15 years and was impressed with the number of riders this year.
“I think we’ve got the biggest group we ever have,” Lampson said.
Lampson is part of the Sierra Sagebrush Flyers, one of the many volunteer groups that support the event each year.
The Alpine Chamber of Commerce donates funds to the groups that volunteer their time at the camps scattered throughout the course.
The Monitor Pass camp was one of the larger food booths provided for the riders.
Water, fruit and energy bars were available for the riders at the bottom of the first big climb of the course.
Chris Sargent, 45, was taking advantage of the refreshments while his ride buddy had a flat repaired.
Sargent travelled from Cameron Park, Calif. with a long time friend to celebrate the five-year anniversary of their first Death Ride in 2009.
“We’ve been friends for years,” Sargent said. “We ride together whenever we can.”
The steep descents are what gave Sargent the most “excitement.”
“The descents can be a little exciting because there are so many people with various degrees of bike handling skills,” Sargent said.
Sargent trained with his kid’s mountain biking team to ready himself for the event.
He wasn’t worried as much about the hills, as the distance.
“Most people condition to ride up hills, but that’s only part of it,” Sargent said. “It’s just long.”
Riders stopping at the Monitor Pass camp receive a colored sticker and have a chance to refuel and make any minor repairs they need before starting the first major climb.
Gary Bells of Sierra Cycle Works has been providing technical support to riders for 14 years.
He provides help with brake and chain adjustments and fixing and repairing flats.
“I like helping the riders,” Bell said. “I like helping people have fun.”
Bell is a mountain biker and has never done the Death Ride himself, but has a lot of friends that do it.
“It’s cool to see the number of people that will come out and take on a challenge like these five passes,” Bell said.