Now in its seventh year, I’m not sure how the Chelan Century Challenge can get any better. In my opinion, they have the perfect route with the perfect scenery, a perfect weather window over on the dry eastside of the state, and the perfect support. What else can the organizers do? The ride even has “perfect” uniqueness in that there are three loops that total up to 103 miles, and each loop returns to the start/finish area. Need to grab some sunscreen or a fresh jersey? No problem. I can’t think of another event that is set up this way. To top it off, I think the Chelan Century is probably the hardest event in addition to being the best. Yes, it’s shorter than Ramrod and the High Pass Challenge, but with over 8000’ of climbing and the epic McNeil Canyon, this ride is a handful. McNeil Canyon is certainly harder than anything you will encounter at Rainier or either side of St. Helens.
The Chelan Century Challenge is put on by the all volunteer Chelan Rotary, of which Lester Cooper is the president. Despite the Chelan Rotarians not really being “bike people” (at least in the beginning), I believe they are running the best overall cycling event in Washington State. With ridership up 38% year over year, I would have to call Lester a “Promoter Extraordinaire.” But when you have a quality product like the Chelan Century it’s pretty easy to get excited about what you are doing.
There is just no way to discuss this event without focusing on McNeil Canyon. As great as the whole route is, without any semblance of doubt McNeil is the Crux of the whole show. McNeil is a beast of a climb, to use an expression that will be overworked massively during the upcoming Tour de France broadcast. At our Cycle U Chelan Skills and Hills Cycling Camps, people always ask about goals for time to climb McNeil. I break it down pretty simply: less than 60 minutes is good, less than 50 is very good, anything around 45 is great, and anybody that drops down towards 40 minutes is a fantastic climber.
Sometimes at camp the talk turns to what a really good climber would do on McNeil. I've been guesstimating that Alberto Contador could do McNeil Canyon in about 25 minutes. It’s common knowledge that the best climbers in the world can climb about 6000’ per hour, or 100’ per minute. McNeil gains around 2400’ in altitude so 25 minutes seems like a safe guess. Just for kicks, I went to the online power calculators Bikecalculator and Kruezotter and ran the #'s:
Using a 5'8" height, 135# rider weight, 20# bike weight (including clothing, etc.), 0 mph wind, and an average wattage of 400, the projected time would be 24:47. Actually, the best climbers in the world can climb a little more than a rate of 6000’ per hour when the climb is less than thirty minutes long. My guess is if they held a Tour de France time trial up McNeil someone would do it 22-23 minutes, or about half of what I think of as a “great” time. Yes, professional athletes are professionals for a reason, and this is true in any sport. The best in the world at any sporting endeavor perform at an extremely high level.
Keep all this in mind when you are watching the Tour. Or the next time you attack McNeil Canyon. For some, that will be on June 23rd of next year when the 2012 Chelan Century Challenge takes place. For me, I'll tackle McNeil at next years cycling camp if not sooner.
I had lunch with Lester this week, and he tells me that in the less than a week since the event ended, he has had feedback for 50 (albeit small) improvements for the 2012 version of the Chelan Century. How can you make an already great event any better? Well, there is the answer. Listen to the riders, focus on quality, and focus on the tiniest of details. That will get the job done.