An in-depth preview of the race course for the Rampart stage of the 2020 Pikes Peak Apex Mountain Bike Race
This is my (Jeremy’s) personal “preview” of day 2 (Friday) of the Pikes Peak APEX. Please keep in mind that this preview is not an official course description and the course is subject to change. Watch for information provided by the APEX race, and for course markings which may vary slightly from this preview. Any mileage or elevation numbers are based on my Garmin/Strava files and have been rounded for simplicity. As such, they may vary slightly from the official race info.
So you’re warmed up from those 10 miles at Palmer Park yesterday, and now you’re ready for some climbing, right?
I hope so, because that’s you signed up for on day 2! You go up, up, and up some more. With the finish line being 3,000’ higher than the start line for this stage, the results today will hinge heavily on your climbing prowess. However, if you’re reading this, you already knew there was climbing.
So, here’s some other details, along with various information that I’d want to know before riding it for the first time on race day. If you watch the video on this page in conjunction with reading the information below you should have a very good idea of what to expect.
Stats: 0.2 Miles / 50’ Climb / No Descent
From the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, you’ll be on pavement for a bit less than two tenths of a mile and before you hit the dirt. However, unlike a lot of mountain bike races, there aren’t any significant bottlenecks until mile 20, so there’s no need to burn your matches on the start line.
Rampart Range Rd – Climb to Overlook
Stats: 11.4 Miles / 3000’ Climb / Nominal Descent
This is really the crux of the stage here. From the time you hit the dirt it’s just under 11.4 miles with an average grade of 5.2%. Find the gear you want and go. When riding this recently, I went back and forth between just two gears as the grade is very consistent. There are maybe 3 very short sections where it levels out briefly, but we’re talking very briefly.
As you go up this climb there are many opportunities to see people up ahead as the road twists and turns, and it should be fun for those of us not in the front on race day to watch the race unfold up ahead. While this is a public road, the traffic on a Friday morning during the race should be very minimal. I’d guess that you may not see more than a few cars the whole way up.
At one point you’ll come up on a set of well-defined switchbacks. As you round the top curve, you’ve got just about a mile to go to the overlook. You’ll know you’re at the top when you see an overlook with a rickety pipe railing on your left as the road curves to the right. This completes the climb, and you’ll start down a gradual descent.
Rampart Range Rd – Rolling Descent to Rainbow Gulch
Stats: 7 Miles / 550’ Climb / 700’ Descent
After passing the overlook, it’s just 0.3 miles to aid station #1. As you leave the aid station, you get another half mile or so of downhill, but don’t get too comfortable. You’ll have rolling terrain from here to the Rainbow Gulch trailhead. It’s more down than up going this direction, but only by a slight margin.
Right at halfway through this section (just over 3.5 miles from the overlook), you’ll go through an open gate and see the official reservoir entrance veer off to the right. You’ll want to keep going straight (or left, depending on your perspective) here. At this point, there will be a bit more car traffic for the next couple of miles, and along with that, the road tends to be washboarded pretty badly. If I had to pick a least favorite part of the day, it would be these next couple of miles due to the dust from cars and the washboarding, but it doesn’t last for long.
Very soon, you’ll come to a slight downhill grade with a parking area and Rainbow Gulch trailhead to the right – this is your turn off.
Rainbow Gulch – In
Stats: 1.3 Miles / No Climb / 200’ Descent
This is your connection to the loop around the reservoir, and is also the site of aid station #2. Two things to remember here: First, eat and drink something before hitting the singletrack that’s coming up. Two, passing will also get more difficult when you hit the singletrack, so try to position yourself accordingly.
You’ll see a wooden bridge crossing the stream to your right as you approach the reservoir. Cross this bridge and head into the trees to begin the reservoir loop.
Rampart Reservoir – Counterclockwise Loop
Stats: 11.6 Miles / 1000’ Climb / 1000’ Descent
This is a fun stretch of trail – flowing in parts, and a bit of tech in others. It’s just a bit punchy as you’ll get lots of brief ups and downs, but nothing prolonged. The longest climb going around the lake only ascends ~100’ in an unbroken stretch.
This will also be your first introduction to the Pikes Peak decomposed granite which makes the corners more exciting and the climbs a bit more challenging. (Get used to this as you’ll have lots more tomorrow!)
I know it’s a race, but you’ll want to keep your speed in check just a bit during this part of the stage. There are plenty of places to blow through a corner and end up in a not-so-good spot, especially if you don’t know the trail. There are also some blind corners (more so on the north side) where you might encounter other trail users. (I almost had a head-on collision with another rider on a recent ride even though we were both riding at a very responsible speed – we simply couldn’t see each other ’til the last second.)
By riding within your limits, you might give up a minute or two, but you’ll still be riding tomorrow and you have two more days to make it up.
Rampart Reservoir – South Side
This stretch is mostly non-technical, but you will come across two cobblestone drainages and one rock feature that will give some riders pause – especially when seeing them for the first time. That said, this stretch will be 100% rideable for most racers.
After a few miles the trail will come out on pavement for the trip across the dam. When you get to the dam, you’ll be tempted to think you’re half way around the lake, but you’re not. Somewhere on the dam marks the ⅓ point of the loop based on distance. Based on time, it’s actually less than one third as the pace on the south side is bit faster than the north – especially for less technically proficient riders who will be slowed down more by what’s to come.
Rampart Reservoir – North Side
After crossing the dam, you’ll find more varied challenges. One of the first will be an uphill rock garden that will test the very best riders. For most of us, we’ll make it past a rock or two and then have to hike-a-bike ~50’ to the top.
Soon after this, there’s one very loose steep pitch that will force almost everyone off their bike just briefly. In my opinion, the north side of the loop will get everyone off their bike at least a couple times in one place or another. For elite riders it may only be one or twice, for less experienced riders it will be a few more. However, it’s always a quick obstacle, and then it’s back on the bike – everyone will still be riding 99.9% of the trail.
You’ll also encounter a handful of narrow gaps between rocks during this stretch – sometimes it’s a squeeze at handlebar height, and sometimes at pedal height. Just something to keep an eye out for.
Rainbow Gulch – Out
Stats: 1.3 Miles / 200’ Climb / No Descent
The section running parallel to the creek here is smooth and just slightly uphill. That makes it a good time to grab one more snack before the final push since you probably haven’t eaten much during the singletrack section.
Rampart Range Rd – Rolling Climb to Finish
Stats: 6.7 Miles / 700’ Climb / 550’ Descent
Once you hit the road again, it’s back to the overlook and you’re done. This stretch will feel a lot like it did in the other direction, but you get a touch more climb on the way back since there’s a net elevation gain of 150’ from Rainbow Gulch to the Overlook. At almost 40 miles and with 5,000’ of climbing in your legs a couple of these hills feel a lot steeper than they actually are, but you’re almost there.
Remember aid station #1 a couple hours back? That is now the finish line!
When it’s all said and done, here are the numbers for the timed portion of the stage:
Rampart Range Rd – Descent to Town
Stats (NOT Part of Totals): 11.7 Miles / Nominal Climb / 3000’ Descent
The race organizers decided to cut the timing off before the gravel descent back to Garden of the Gods. Since the road will be open to normal traffic, the prospect of having people descending at 30mph on chunky gravel while navigating tight corners didn’t seem like a good mix with the cars coming up. This way, everyone can get back to town in one piece.
Slow down and enjoy the scenic descent back into Colorado Springs! Now go get some rest because you’ve got another big day tomorrow.
What about Pre-riding?
The entirety of this stage is open to the public so you can definitely go check it out ahead of time if you want. However, make sure you take enough water for what could easily be a 5-hour ride – there’s nowhere along the course to refill water. (You could take some water purification tablets and fill up at the creek flowing into the reservoir.)
If you do pre-ride, keep an eye out for the bald eagles. I just saw one today perched on top of a dead tree near the west end of the lake. (Thank you to the other trail user that pointed it out to me!)
Questions about riding this stage?
Feel free to email me, and I’ll get back to you!
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