Road to Leadville: The Three Pass Ride

Here's a taste of a Dave Wiens training ride: Hancock Pass summits at just over 12,000 feet and then plunges down through a minefield of rocks. Now just add a few more high-elevation passes.

Editor’s Note: For six-time LT100 winner Dave Wiens, the road to Leadville is a well-trodden route, one he’s written on and off about over the last few years in a training diary on the Ergon blog. Leading up to the August race Dave is once again chronicling his training, which we’ll have here on So, without further ado, here’s Dave:


By Dave Wiens

Sunday August 1, 2010 – We’re in the monsoon flow big time right now, but I’m also in the sleep hurt locker a bit; just not clocking those quality hours. So I set my alarm for a casual 630am in preparation for today’s Three Pass Ride. I was awake at about 5am and texted Griggsy up in Crested Butte to see if he was in. He was so I added another two pieces of killer French toast to the cast iron as I sipped my steaming cupa. I got to eat mine from a plate; I made his into a sandwich with peanut butter and jelly so he could eat it on the 25 minute drive to our starting point. This pleased him.

The Three Pass Ride is a once-a- year training ride that I first did a variation of in ’88 or ’89. That was actually the Four Pass Ride and consisted of Old Monarch Pass, Chalk Pass could also be called “Walk Pass”), Hancock Pass, Tomichi Pass and then the Canyon Creek Trail to finish. The Three Pass Ride is a watered down version of that original. Beginning at the intersection of the Alpine Tunnel road and Cumberland Pass road, it starts out on an old railroad grade so the ascent  is a mellow 3-4% to start.

The Alpine Tunnel rail grade. Photo by Dave Wiens
The Alpine Tunnel rail grade. Photo by Dave Wiens

However, where the Alpine Tunnel rail grade switches back and climbs toward the site of the now caved in tunnel, our route stayed straight on the jeep road to Hancock and Tomichi Passes. Steep and rocky as hell, becomes even steeper and rockier where these two split. The lower several hundred yards of Hancock are the toughest of the entire ride but they quickly give way to just really steep but fairly smooth but rutted climbing. All the rain had made some sections pretty nasty as only rock was left and all soil was gone but it also had left the surface nice and tacky, smooth and cemented many of the rocks in place.

You don’t have to try to go hard up Hancock. If you’re pedaling your bike, you’re probably at your max, I know I was. My HR wouldn’t really go up but I knew my effort was good. It was here that I got the max HR for the day, 161. Hancock summits at just over 12,000 feet and then plunges down through a minefield of rocks until it hits the rail grade again on the east side of the Continental Divide. A fast, gentle descent leads to the old mining town of St. Elmo. Now the main thing mined around there is injuries from tourists crashing on ATV’s.

Tincup Pass is next and, while not as extreme as Hancock, it is a few hundred feet higher at the top and still a rocky, tough climb. I worked to stay in my cheater big ring for this climb. I say cheater because with SRAM XX, the 39-34 gearing is friendly.  Also a nasty, rocky descent, the main rewards are the views of Mirror Lake about half way down the pass.  Still more descending into the old town of Tincup, isolated and high in Taylor Park; a left at the four-way stop in Tincup and a quick decision to ride Cumberland rather than Napoleon Pass. I’ve only done Napolean twice but it’s pretty cool; straighter and steeper and you don’t have the four-wheeler circus you often see on Cumberland. I felt like I’d done enough of the steep stuff and wanted to spin some and Cumberland is perfect for that. You could drive an old Buick over Cumberland. Spinorama.

Topped out, took of my sweat soaked jersey and pulled on a sweet, dry, winter weight, long-sleeve Topeak Ergon team issue jersey and was nice and warm for the final schuss down toward our car. Just over four hours; 6,500 vertical; average HR was 126. I drank about a bottle and a half of a 2/3 Gatorade 1/3 water mix spiked with about a half a cup of Maltodextrin per bottle. The Gatorade was leftover from the Firecracker 50 and it’s blue. I still have some, in fact. I carried a bar and three gels but never needed them. I wasn’t blow at the end and was happy with everything about this ride. I was especially happy that I didn’t hit that rabbit I was dancing with momentarily out there while I was descending fast. For training, I would categorize this as an endurance ride.

This past week ends up looking like this:

Weekly Total:  16 hours.

Monday July 26 – 1.5 hours easy on MTB on the Contour trail.

Tuesday July 27 – 8 reps PHOS on road bike; max HR 145. 1.25 hours. Weights #3.

Wednesday July 28 – AM 2 sets of 4, 20-40’s, Mt. CB; max HR 164, 166; 1.5 hours; 2,500 vertical. PM Misc. off-road intervals (kind of) at Hartmans, 3 hours; 3,500 vertical. 4.5 hours total for the day.

Thursday July 29 – JR MTB Signal Peak area. 1.75 hours; 2,000 vertical. Weights #4.

Friday July 30 –  AMU 2.5 hours knobs on the road. Doyleville straightaway to top of Monarch Pass. 50-50 spinning and power. Got ‘er done. Average HR 149. 3 hours and 3,500 vertical.

Saturday July 31 – Weights #5

Sunday August 1 – Endurance – the Three Pass Ride. Steady, some power some spinning. Felt good, great ride. Beat the rain! 4 hours and 6,500 vertical.

Thoughts: At 16 hours on the bike, I’m kind of getting back up there again. This coming week is going to be sort of funky, especially toward the end as I’m heading to Steamboat Springs for a Livestrong event. I’m think August 2-8 will come in around 13-14 hours but won’t be worried if that number is higher or lower. Hopefully, I’ll be sticking with some of the basics: PHOS, 20-40’s and AMU.

KEY: The PHOS/Cross workout is phosphate sprints on the road and, in this instance, pushing (literally!) my bike up nasty steep hills as preparation for Leadville.  Phosphate sprints are 10 seconds as hard as you can go with three minutes of rest in between. I generally do them on the flats.

AMU (all mixed up) It’s essentially a tempo workout, similar to what we used to call AC or aerobic capacity back in the Dave Smith days; it’s steady heart rates on the flats. For me, AC would be around 150 bpm plus or minus. I think some people call this a zone 3 workout.