Steamboat Springs It was an early 7 a.m. Saturday morning start at the Meadows Parking Lot for many of the cyclists participating in the non-competitive, 105-mile Tour de Steamboat.
Maybe it was too early for some.
Mike Inglis had driven up from Aurora's Buckley Air Force Base with three friends for the ride and was giving fellow rider Eric McComb grief that he was sure to get blisters having never ridden farther than 17 miles. Then Inglis realized he had forgotten his shorts.
Boulder's Vaughn McWilliams was waiting for a key to unlock his bike, which was attached to the top of his vehicle. McWilliams came up to race in a squad of family members to celebrate Stacy Childs' 60th birthday. Childs is from Steamboat.
"I did it last year and it was an exhilarating experience," Childs, who was unable to race this year due to a neck injury, said. "You get finished and it's such a feeling of accomplishment."
With most cyclists on the road by 7:30 a.m., few were thinking about the finish as they quickly began the steep climb up Rabbit Ears Pass.
"You sing songs, avoid the misery, dream of beer and just keep pedaling," said Denver's Doug Pensinger.
As the 216 registered cyclists headed up Rabbit Ears just after 8 a.m., the first runners in the Wild West Relay began barreling down the pass, also on the north shoulder of U.S. Highway 40.
One of the busiest sections of the pass was the tour's first aid station at Rabbit Ears' East Summit, the same spot as the Wild West Relay's station No. 31.
With tractor-trailers whizzing by and the 12- and 6-member running teams making their relay exchanges, Tour de Steamboat cyclists hydrated, ate a little food at the aid station and waited in line for the portable toilets.
Don Dalton used the break opportunity to regroup with his five-member team from the Denver area and to catch his breath after climbing the challenging pass.
"Rabbit Ears is a consistent 7-percent grade the whole way," he said. "You just have to find your pace and grind it out."
At 9 a.m., just as the majority of racers had recovered from the climb and continued on the next aid station, the rain began to fall.
Fortunately, the riders had a smooth ride ahead once they hit Colorado Highway 134.
"I rode the course last week and it was in great shape," said race co-director Katie Lindquist. "Gore Pass was freshly paved like a week ago. It was just the smoothest ride with no traffic."
The top of Gore Pass also marks the 54-mile halfway point for the riders who made their way back to Steamboat along Colorado Highway 131, all eventually trickling in throughout the afternoon to dry off, exchange stories from the road and enjoy the tour's barbecue at Kent Eriksen Cycles.