Over 2,200 casual, competitive bikers turn out for Santa Fe Century

May 22, 2017 GMT

Dave Hansen donned his lucky Bert and Ernie shirt, mounted his custom-made road bike and headed out on a winding trek with more than 2,200 other people Sunday morning.

When he crossed the finish line some four hours after starting a 50-mile ride, he did so with a smile bigger than those on the life-sized muppet faces splashed across his shirt. He was one of hundreds to take part in the second-longest ride in the annual Santa Fe Century, a multi-divisional event that draws riders both competitive and casual.

“I’m 65 years old and just to be able to do it at my age means a lot,” Hansen said, taking a few minutes to catch his breath near the shade of a tree in the parking lot of Christus St. Vincent Medical Center.

The hospital was the starting and stopping point for Sunday’s ride, one that typically draws nearly half of its participants from Colorado and a good deal more from New Mexicans outside the Santa Fe area. All of them were on hand this time for an event that was severely threatened by nasty weather until conditions dramatically improved earlier in the weekend.

“The conditions are always a concern for us but when we were preparing the food provisions on Friday we were parked behind an Albertsons picking up the bananas and I’m looking out at a snowstorm in May,” said Tony Alarid, board president of the Santa Fe Century. “It’s a bicycle event so weather is always something to think about, but when it snows two days before we ride I think it’s safe to assume we were worried.”

Those concerns were as far removed Sunday morning as the snow just 48 hours before. Conditions were perfect not long after dawn. The wind was minimal, the skies were clear and the temperature was like that in someone’s living room.

“Oh my, it was ideal,” said Marion Boyce, a 62-year-old who drove down from Pagosa Springs, Colo., for what she believes is the perfect course for bikers both avid and amateur. “It’s easy. That’s why I do it. Back home I’m walking outside in 29 degree weather and trying to ride in snow and ice. The course is mostly level and everyone here is so nice. I can walk right up to people and start a conversation.”

The annual event turned 32 this weekend, the Santa Fe Century was actually dealing with decreased participation this year. Alarid said entrants were down about 10 percent, a figure that was far better than what the board anticipated before the weekend.

“We probably had 300 to 400 people sign on the last day or two,” he said. “That’s a bit unexpected, but I think it shows that maybe people were thinking about the weather and when they knew it could be like this they were willing to come on out.”

Come out, they did. Dozens participated in the Vintage Bike Pageant and Celebration, which featured riders using bikes at least 30 years old. Some donned the timing chips and raced in the Gran Fondo (100 miles) or Medio Fondo (50) competitions that drew some of the best amateur sprinters in the region.

Most, however, took the more casual route by riding in the 20-, 50- or 100-mile divisions that dipped as low as 6,100 feet and rose to the apex of 7,200 feet at Heartbreak Hill between Madrid and Stanley.

“The part I liked the best was going downhill,” said 9-year-old Liam Masek, a participant in the 20-mile ride.

A grade school student who lives in Miami, Masek did notice how much harder it is to breathe at Santa Fe’s higher elevations.

“Going up the hills was hard but when it’s not like that you can go really fast,” he said. “It’s not so hard like that.”

Alarid said the future of the Century is secure, but did admit that it’s not as easy as it used to be in getting people to take part year in and year out. There are a number of regional rides like this.

“One of the centuries we look at is in Tucson and that’s an event that used to attract 9,000 to 10,000 people but is down to, I think, 7,000,” he said. “Comparatively speaking we’re doing well but there are more of these type events these days. What we’re trying to do is make it the best we can for the people who do come.”

To that end, he said the 130 volunteers who came out this weekend are what make the Santa Fe Century even possible. Same, too, for the cooperation of the weather and the willingness of people to push themselves and take on the challenge of doing something rigorous. One of Sunday’s entrants in the 50-mile ride did so wearing an oxygen mask while others headed out on tandem bikes with kids or partners.

All of it leads back to Hansen, a 6-foot-7 mountain of a man who had his bike custom designed by Lennard Zinn Cycles out of Boulder, Colo. The longer frame and elevated center of gravity makes anything the Century throws at him seem downright cartoonish.

“I couldn’t do this without a bike that fits,” he said. “But this is a wonderful ride. I did it last year and it’s something I’ll continue doing.”