Completing a century—pedaling 100 miles in a single day—is cycling’s equivalent to running a marathon. But not all century rides are cut from the same cloth. For serious cyclists there’s really only one Utah 100-miler worth riding: the Ultimate Challenge.
On Saturday, August 6, around 750 recreational riders will take on this magnum opus of endurance rides, traveling the same 110 miles (while climbing 10,500 vertical feet) that the pros will complete later that day as part of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. This year’s Ultimate Challenge begins at Snowbasin Resort and then rolls through the Morgan Valley and past the East Canyon Reservoir. Cyclists will arrive in Park City between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. using Kearns Blvd/Highway 248. The route then turns onto Marsac Avenue for the 11-percent-gradient climb up and over Guardsman Pass. Riders fly down Big Cottonwood Canyon before turning south for the final push: the 6.5-mile ride through Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird.
Often compared to the Tour de France’s notorious Alpe d’Huez, after more than 100 miles in the saddle, the Little Cottonwood Canyon section is truly what separates the women and men from the girls and boys. There is one bright spot, however. Tanners Flat, a section of the road that eases up a bit before the last 1.5 miles to the finish at Snowbird, is a popular spectator area and what many Ultimate Challenge riders say makes the difference between getting to the finish line and not. “I don’t really train for it. I’d rather slug through one tough day than have it hanging over my head all summer,” says Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah president and five-time Ultimate Challenge finisher. “And so I really rely on the mental boost I get at Tanners Flat, where people give you pushes and hand you drinks and cheer you on.”
This year’s Ultimate Challenge includes an element sure to make that final push even more challenging: riders will be timed from the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird, allowing them to compare their times with each other as well as the pros later in the day. Welcome to the hurt box.