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The Grind: Riding the ‘Rad in Trinidad

A course preview of Life Time's newest gravel race in southern Colorado.

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The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

A big part of the fun of gravel racing is the anticipation and the exploration of places you’ve never been before. Often, even races that have been held for years withhold course details until just days before the event. To wet your whistle for the just-announced ’Rad Dirt Fest in Trinidad, Colorado, though, I wanted to share some of the highlights from the meat of the course that climbs up into the Sangre de Cristos in southern Colorado.

This past weekend, Life Time launched a new event slated for October 2-3, featuring three gravel courses and two running races. A few of us got the chance to ride a big chunk of what the 90- and 165-mile courses will tackle. While full details of the three routes will be kept secret until later in the year, I got a good feel for the heart of the two longer courses. And the heart of the ’Rad is mountainous.

Trini-where?

The races start and finish on the red-brick roads of downtown Trinidad, the town of 9,000 people at 6,000 feet in south-central Colorado. To me, Trinidad has long been a highway pitstop, as it sits halfway between Boulder and my hometown of Albuquerque, perched at the foot of Raton Pass that marks the New Mexico/Colorado border. I know the gas station, the Taco Bell, and a coffee shop pretty well, but aside from that… not much.

With Raton Pass looming to the south, and the Spanish Peaks of the Sangre de Cristos floating high to the west, Trinidad certainly isn’t Emporia, Kansas. You are in the foothills of the mountains, here. That said, the plains open up to the northeast of town, and all the courses start and finish on flat to rolling gravel roads there.

The ‘Rad encompasses a wide range of terrain, from the wide open plains to the arid foothills of the Sangre de Cristos to aspen and pine forests up near 9,000 feet. Photo: Courtesy Life Time

The Frijole: 38 miles / 2,700ft

The short course does not include the mountainous loop from Ludlow that we rode, so I can only speculate on what this course will include. Last weekend I rode with Life Time marketing manager Ryan Cross, who said the 38-miler will stay on the plains east of Trinidad, almost entirely on gravel once out of town.

Since Trinidad is such a small town, it’s quick and easy to get out into the quiet country roads. And getting east of town offers some great mountain views.

The loop portion of my ride here is the heart of the 90- and 165-mile courses, with a healthy amount of elevation gain up to nearly 9,000 feet.

Lost Mesa: 90 miles / 5,000ft

I rode from Trinidad out to the start of the test loop in Ludlow. My out-and-back commute isn’t entirely part of the medium or long courses, but the windswept gravel rollers I rode on are representative of the early and late portions of the courses.

Wind of course can’t be predicted months out, but crosswinds on the return portion of a long day could be brutal and race defining. I’ll just say that whatever the day may bring, you’ll want to be with a group whenever possible.

In any event, after leaving Trinidad to the east and north on the rolling plains, the Lost Mesa course heads to Ludlow, just west of I-25, and starts a long, long climb up to the courses’s high point of nearly 9,000 feet.

After looking at the net elevation on paper, I was pleasantly surprised at how gentle the gradient is for most of the long-slog climb up to the top. While there are certainly kickers here and there, the bulk of the climbing seemed to be in the 3-4% range. The type of climb where your fitter buddies can make you hurt, but probably not drop you.

Xavier Melendez of BLDR GRVL, sticking it to me on the road into Ludlow.

Stubborn Delores: 165 miles / 11,000ft

Ludlow is the point on the Strava map above where the loop starts. On the 165-mile course, you will hit Ludlow after about 75 miles of flats and rollers on the plains, then this loop is about 66 miles. As you can see from the profile above, you basically climb for a good 20 miles or so, mostly at a gentle grade, with the Spanish Peaks visibly in front of you nearly the whole time.

In early April, we got up into some roadside snow pretty quickly at about 7,500 feet, but as is often the case in Colorado, the sun kept the roads mostly clean and dry.

We saw maybe a dozen vehicles total on the long loop, as houses as few and far between out there.

Full course information will be released just ahead of race day. Photo: Courtesy Life Time

The course surface, for the most part, is pretty darn smooth and fast. On the plains and much of the climb, you could get away with a road bike with 28 or 30mm tires for sure. However! Once at the top, we encountered mud and some deep, do-not-attemp-to-change-your-line ruts that last for a mile or so on a descent.

On one dry descent my flat-fixing keg got ejected from the cage under the down tube. And even on the long and sometimes super-fast descents, a gravel bike is definitely the faster, more comfortable, and safer option.

All that to say… despite the fast and smooth sections, I’d recommend a 35mm or 40mm tire.

Key dates, numbers, and places

The ’Rad Dirt Fest is October 2 and 3, with the gravel races on Saturday and the running events on Sunday. Prices range from $65 to $160, depending on the course, and general registration opens on April 13.

Life Time is opening registration on April 8 to female, non-binary, and BIPOC riders.

For more information, visit https://theraddirt.com.

Hope you’re not hoping for busy, high-traffic roads… Photo: Courtesy Life Time