Stagecoach Rider Levels

Stagecoach Rider Levels These Rider Level descriptions offer detailed course info and no-nonsense advice for riding the Stagecoach Century. Stagecoach "Sturdy Riders" have widely varying cycling goals, skills, and conditioning levels. This will help fill in some of the unknowns. Future updates will include comments from Stagecoach riders, within each rider level. The best insider tips come from riders with multiple Stagecoach experience. Variable factors, like temperature, wind, sun, and humidity radically alter the tactics for riding Stagecoach.We strongly recommend reading as much as you can to help develop a smart Training/Ride Plan for a safe, positive, and thoroughly memorable experience.
                             Click here to return to the Stagecoach Century page
Recommended Reading for All Rider Levels:
     Stagecoach Detailed Course Description
     Special Weather Considerations  

Rider Level Details, Tips, and Advice:

     Beginner White 2   Beginner/First Century/First Time at Stagecoach 
     Fitness   Fitness/Health
     Veteran Rider   Veteran Century Rider
     Tandems   Tandem riders
     Club Team   Club/Team
     Triathlon IM   Triathlete/Ironman
     Speedsters   Speedsters/Categorized Riders
     Ultra Distance   Ultra Distance Riders

Stagecoach Detailed Course Description:

First off, thanks for considering the Stagecoach Century.  Whether you're a beginner, or veteran century rider it’s vital that you fully understand the course—how it’s laid out, where the hard and easy stretches are, potential danger zones, and where the Rest Stops are located.  Equally important, is to know yourself.  Make sure you’re well prepared physically and mentally for a challenging ride.  We always highly recommend getting checked by your doctor before attempting a strenuous cycling event such as Stagecoach.  It’s also vital that you are prepared for the weather elements.  Weather can be more difficult than any static uphill climb.  Fact is, most experienced riders would rather ride uphill with a tailwind than downhill with a headwind!

Let’s start with the course.  The basic course is a simple out-and-back design.  The first half of the ride is northbound on S2 to the 50 mile turnaround.  There is a small dogleg at mile 45, called Scissors Crossing; riders make a right turn onto Hwy 78 for about 1/3 mile, then another left turn back onto S2.  Use extra caution on this section.   Once at the turnaround point, the course is a mirror image, heading south, back to the Start/Finish in Ocotillo. The total climbing elevation for the century is 4,685 ft, with about 3,100 ft in the first 50 miles, and 1,600 ft on the return 50 miles to Ocotillo.

The roads are in good condition for almost the entire course.  There are a few rough patches in the first and last six miles, so watch for potholes and creases in the asphalt.  It’s good practice to always watch for what’s immediately ahead of you on the road.  A road turtle (rock), or in the desert, a real turtle, are always potential hazards.  Riding safely means staying alert at all times.  At rest stops, be careful not to lean your bicycle against plants.  Most desert plants are cactus and have sharp thorns, so be careful.

The ride starts at an elevation of about 500 feet above sea level and gradually rises to about 2,600 near the turn-around point.  There are 5 distinct desert passes, sections with steeper elevation, on the course.  All the steeper sections are in the range of 5 to 9 percent grades, which means they are all very manageable climbs for the average rider.  However, for a true beginner, conditioning, experience, and the weather can make these passes more difficult, so here’s a comprehensive description of each section.

Carrizo Badlands:   The first pass is the very gradual climb to Carrizo Badlands Rest Stop 1/8 (first and last Rest Stop) at about mile 11.  You will climb 800 feet spread out over the 11 miles.  You can easily see the top of the climb from about halfway as you pass through the Border Patrol Station near mile 6.   When you leave the Carrizo Badlands Rest Stop, you will navigate a steep downhill section called Sweeney Pass.  This section is marked as a “Red Zone”, meaning extra caution is necessary due to tight turns and steep descents.   The maximum speed is limited to 20 MPH in this section and there is no passing allowed.

Campbell Grade:   Next up, is the Campbell Grade near mile 28.  It's about a 1 mile climb.  As you approach, it looks like a wall off to the right, so many riders call it “The Wall”.  However its bark is worse than its bite.   You’ll clearly see the top as you begin climbing.  There are 2 tight turns on the climb.  On the return ride, those same tight turns are on the descent and are the only other “Red Zone” on the course.  Be very careful because the lower turn is an outside blind curve, meaning vehicles coming up the hill can’t see you (nor you them!).  STAY ON YOUR SIDE OF THE ROAD!  Back to the climb, as you grind up the final steep section, about the last 1/4 mile, you can clearly see off to your right (South) a section of the Butterfield Stagecoach trail etched into the desert floor.  As you summit this climb, you are now at 2,000 feet above sea level.  A swift descent takes you past the Butterfield RV Resort, which has a little store, restrooms, and some very nice staff members.  Although not an official course rest stop, you are very welcome to take a short break there.  If weather is cold, the Butterfield welcomes riders to stop and warm up in their main lobby.  They have provided some welcome hot coffee for riders in the past.

Box Canyon:   The third climb starts at about mile 35.  It’s a sweeping right turn heading up to Box Canyon.  This climb is mostly gentle for the first 2 miles, with the last ½ mile at about 6 -7 percent grade.  Box Canyon Rest Stop 3 is near the summit.  Box Canyon is a National Historic Site, where you can see a section of the Butterfield Stagecoach Route up close.  About 1.5 miles after the Box Canyon Rest Stop is the highest point on the course at an elevation of 2,675 feet above sea level.  There will be a sign marking the point, assuming winds cooperate!  You will also notice a remarkable transformation in the desert scenery at this elevation.  Flowering plants and green foliage are much more plentiful.

An even more pronounced change is evident as you come to the next vantage point, near mile 40, just before dropping down into Shelter Valley.  Trees start to make an appearance!  Even some fall colors.  There are numerous micro-climates up-and-down the S2, which create interesting and unique patches of nature.  If you have time, you can stop and snap photos along the way to remind you just how alive the desert is when you look closely.

The Shelter Valley section is about 4 miles long and takes you to the Lunch/Rest Stop at the Shelter Valley Community Center.  We recommend first going to the turnaround point, then coming back for your Lunch/rest stop in Shelter Valley.  It’s about 3 miles to Scissors Crossing (intersection of S2 and Hwy 78), then 4.4 miles to the turnaround point at mile 50.

San Filipe Grade:   At Scissors Crossing, you make a right turn onto Hwy 78 and then a quick left turn back onto S2, for the final 4.4 mile climb on the San Filipe Grade, up to the Turnaround Rest Stop 5.  The climb is very gradual with 3 to 4 percent grades up to the Turnaround Rest Stop at mile 50.  Be sure to have your wristband marked at the turnaround point to verify you rode the full century.  Note, the time cutoff to continue northbound, past Scissors Crossing, is 12:15 P.M.

Returning to Shelter Valley for lunch is a swift descent back down to Scissors Crossing, then about 3 miles to the Shelter Valley Community Center.  There, riders will be well cared for by the citizens and volunteers in Shelter Valley.  Enjoy your sandwich lunch meal along with cold sodas, hot soup, and coffee, as weather dictates.  There is also a full Rest Stop with Banana’s, PB& J, Water, Vitalyte, E-Caps (salt tabs), Pretzels, Oranges, Cookies, and more.

The return ride to Ocotillo is mostly downhill following the same route you rode earlier in the day.  There are “usually” nice tailwinds too.  For most riders, tailwinds are something of a mystery.  Because of the wind caused by riding, you often don’t feel the helpful tailwinds.  But rest assured, tailwinds make the effort much easier over the course of a long ride.  We hear stories every year from Stagecoach riders saying they averaged 30 MPH without pedaling for long stretches of the return ride.  But be very careful on the Campbell Grade descent Red Zone.  There is a tight blind outside turn near the bottom (outside meaning turning to the right around a blocking hill mass).  Your maximum speed is limited to 20 MPH for safety reasons.  Since cars driving up the hill can’t see you, it’s vital to stay well to the right of the centerline! 

Sweeney Pass:   The final desert pass of the day is significant.  At Shadow Tour we like to save the best for last.  In this case, it’s Sweeney Pass.  It starts very gradually at about mile 85 with a gentle uphill grade for about 2 miles, which steepens to about 9 percent for a short 1/2 mile stretch, then continues up with a couple pesky “false tops” for another 1.5 miles until you arrive at Carrizo Badlands Rest Stop 1/8.  Some riders choose to walk their bicycles up the steepest part of Sweeney Pass, which is fine, just stay far to the right.  This is the same steep section you rode down earlier in the day as you rode north.

From the final rest stop, it’s an enjoyable 11 mile spin back down to Ocotillo and the finish line.  There is a 1 mile patch of rough asphalt after the Border Check Point.  Riding on the whilte line makes it a little easier.  Use care when re-entering the Ocotillo Community Park, because you will be making a left turn across the northbound lane of S2.  We do not control traffic, so you must allow vehicles the right-of-way.  If you rode the entire century, once you cross the finish line, dismount from your bicycle and  check in with DJ Mark to show your wristband.   He will record you as a Full Century Finisher.  Names and Cities of all Full Century Finishers will be posted on the website.

Please note, that in addition to the course descriptions above, there are lots of smaller rollers and sections of slightly more effort all along the course, in both directions.  The intention was to shed light on the primary desert passes and areas of caution.  A century remains a true test of cycling endurance.  Becoming familiar with a course always is a huge advantage.  We invite you to ride Stagecoach each year, as part of your New Year's fitness resolution.  Each year, you'll gain experience and confidence with the course.  Weather plays a huge role in the desert.  Windy or cold temperatures can make the course a fierce foe, so you must respect the conditions on the day of the ride.

Go to top of page

Special Weather Considerations:  As you review the previous Stagecoach weather details below, you will see the temperature range is nearly ideal.  Especially when considering this is the middle of January!  Somewhat less obvious are the desert winds.  At Stagecoach, you will face wind, in some form or fashion, the entire day.  The prevailing winds are from the north toward the south; meaning you'll likely face headwinds all the way to the turnaround point past Shelter Valley, then have mostly tailwinds for the return trip south to Ocotillo.  Sometimes the winds are mild and intermitten, sometimes more sustained, with gusts.  The best preparation one can do in advance, is to be physically well-conditioned.  It's understood that few riders are at their peak levels in mid-January.  To help offset possible wind impacts, study the "Ride Smart" section below.

1.  Previous Stagecoach Weather:

     2005:  Mild temps 50-70 F, mild winds 5-10 MPH, Sunny and Warm 
     2006:  Mild temps 48-65 F, sustained winds 10-12, gusting to 20-25 MPH, Sunny
     2007:  Cold temps 28-42 F, mild winds 5-10 MPH, gusting to 15 MPH, Overcast/Some Sun
     2008:  Warm temps 48-74 F, mild winds 3-9 MPH, gusting to 15 MPH, Sunny and Warm
     2009:  Warm temps 45-82 F, mild winds 3-5 MPH, gusting to 10 MPH, Sunny and Warm

2. Accuweather Mid-January Temperature Profile:

    Ocotillo (Start/Finish) Normal Temps:  High 69 F, Low 41 F, Average 55 F.  No wind data available.
    Shelter Valley (turnarournd) Normal Temps: High 62 F, Low 34 F, Average 48 F. No wind data available.

3.  Clothing Items:  Minimally, all riders should arrive with arm warmers, a high tech (non-cotton) lightweight base layer under the jersey, and a breathable high tech (such as Goretex) wind vest.  If weather forecasts call for much colder conditions, below 40 F, the recommended clothing list is expanded to include all the same items above, plus:  high tech leg warmers or tights, long-finger gloves, neoprene toe covers or booties, headband, and a long sleeve outer jacket.  

4.  Ride Smart:

    A.  Before the ride:

         (1)  Get yourself in shape!  Don't wait until Jan 1st to start training.  Based on your goals for Stagecoach, get a headstart with your training.  Try to work in at least 3 rides of 1-2 hours during the week, with at least one longer ride of 3-4 hours on the weekend.  Include a variety of terrain, if possible.  Watch your diet, especially during the holidays.  Set a goal to shed the pounds put on during the holidays, or better yet, maintain a more healthy diet during the holidays.

         (2)  Mechanical Preparations:  Stagecoach is the last place to take a chance on questionable tires, worn brakes, or poorly maintained drive trains.  All riders should take their bikes to their favorite bike shop for a complete safety inspection.  If necessary, have a tuneup or overhaul.  Ask the mechanics to point out what components need to be replaced.  It's a fact-of-life, that bicycles need mechanical attention and will require replacement of components.  Long-time Stagecoach mechanic, Tom Cody, owner of Bike Mobile, has developed the following Stagecoach Preparation Checklist:

              (a)  Check tires for excessive wear and sidewall cracks. Make sure tires have adequate pressure.
              (b)  Check wheels for trueness and dish.
              (c)  Have your bike tuned annually. Brake and Deraileur Cables should be replaced if evidence of
                    kinks and fraying are discovered.
              (d)  Check chain, cogs, and chainwheels for wear; replace if excessively worn.
              (e)  Check condition of brake pads; replace if badly worn. Verify brakes are centered on wheels
                    and brake shoes are properly positioned in relation to rims.
              (f)   Clean rear gear cluster with rag or stiff brush.
              (g)  Clean chainwheels with rag.
              (h)  Take off chain and soak with solvent (mineral spirits work extremely well! Just remember to
                    be "Green" and dispose of properly); otherwise, clean it in place with spray and solvent.
              (i)  After cleaning chain, drip lubricant into pivots between links. Avoid over lubricating as this will
                   attract dirt  and dirty the hands of the mechanic!
              (j)  Ensure you have spare tubes and a tire pump or CO2 cartridges.
              (k)  Each cyclist should have their bike inspected by a qualified mechanic prior to riding the century.

    B.  During the ride:

         (1)  Clothing:  Wear the right amount of clothing to protect you from wind and possible cold temperatures.  Recognize, the weather conditions change thoroughout the day in what can be a hostile desert environment, react accordingly.

         (2)  Fluid Replacement:  Rehydrate all day long!  Even in ideal circumstances, the dry air in the desert combined with winds and your own cycling effort will conspire to dehydrate you.  Drink plenty of water.  Many riders choose to carry extra water in Camelbak systems.  This is recommended and encouraged.  If you use a Camelbak, we request that you arrive with it fully topped off.  At rest stops, there will be water and Vitalyte in separate containers.  Water is primarily in 1-gallon jugs.  Vitalyte will be mixed in 5-gallon containers and will have ice, based on weather conditions.

         (3)  Nutrition:  The rest stops are spaced about 12 miles apart.  All are fully-stocked.  Click here for a list of standard items.  Replacing carbohydrates is vital in events over 2 hours.  Be sure to eat something at every rest stop.  Clif Bars, PB&J's, Pretzels, Banana's, Red Vines, Oranges, Fig Newtons, there's gotta be something everyone likes, so dig in!  The included lunch will include a sandwich, potatoe chips, a soda or water, and a cookie dessert.  Riders select the location of their included lunch meal in advance, either at the Shelter Valley turnaround, or at the start/finish in Ocotillo.  Appropriate wristbands will be given to all riders.

         (4)  Creature Comforts:  Take care of yourself in the desert!  Apply plenty of sunscreen.  Use chapstick or lip balms from start to finish.  Mission Product lip balm is at every rest stop.  Samples of Chamois Butt'r is included in every rider's goodie bag--it's a wonder product and we highly recommend using it.  Additional Chamois Butt'r is at every rest stop.  Advil and First Aid Kits are also at every rest stop, along with hand sanitizer and paper towels.  Portajohns are at every rest stop and at the lunch stop.  Everytime you dismount your bicycle, take a minute to stretch out your quads and hamstrings, back too.  Ask your riding buddies, or volunteers how you look.  Any dried sweat?  Sunburn?  Something falling out of your jersey pockets?  It's amazing what you'll learn when you ask.  Take care of eachother out on the course.  If you see something wrong, let the person know, or inform a volunteer. 

         (5)  Ride the Right Distance:  Every rider must select the right distance on the day of the ride.  The smart way to approach Stagecoach is to break it down into bite-sized chunks.  For some, that may be in 5-mile increments, or possibly hour-by-hour, or rest stop-to-rest stop.  Whatever interval you choose, check yourself out when you get there.  Stagecoach is a worthy foe.  Don't expect that everyone wanting to complete the Full Century will succeed.  That has NEVER happened.  Instead, ride with finesse.  Be flexible out there.  If your feeling good at your individual check points, by all means, continue.  But be honest with yourself.  At the early signs of dehydration or cramping, your body is signalling the need to take the big "u-turn" back to Ocotillo.  Be mindful of the time cutoffs too.  They are in place for important safety reasons, namely, the sun absolutely dives down at 5 P.M.  With the sunset, temps plummet and riders are completely exposed, so comply with all time cutoffs and include them in your ride plan.  The time cutoffs are listed in your final instructions.

    C.  Post Ride:  If you've completed the Full Century, after you cross the finish line in Ocotillo, dismount your bike and check in with the DJ.  He'll verify that your wristband was validated at the turnaround point, and add your bib number, name, and city to the Full Century Finishers list, which will be posted on the Shadow Tour website.  If you used a gear drop, be sure to pick it up right away.  The DJ will be making reminder announcements and signs are posted to help riders remember to claim their gear bags.  Unclaimed bags require riders to send $5 to cover mailing expenses.  The citizens of Ocotillo have a postride Pasta meal available to all riders for $15.  Besides being a great meal, it's an important fund-raiser for the community.  Various sponsors and vendors have booths set up in the finish area.  Please visit with them, as they are an important part of the Stagecoach Century.  Lastly, if you haven't already done so, maybe let a volunteer know you appreciate their efforts.  Volunteers are giving up most of their weekend, to help you enjoy yours!  

Go to top of page  

Beginner/First Century   

1.  Overview:  Although the Stagecoach Century is a challenging course, it's also a good choice for beginners, or first time century riders.  Here's why:  the course is setup for out-and-back riding.  That means navigation is simple--just ride north bound on S2 until you hit the turnaround point (rest stop 5) at mile 50, then get your wristband marked and ride back the same way.  Secondly, the course is set up to support the idea of taking on Stagecoach "one bite at a time.  That means, don't think of the course as a full 100 miles.  It's really a series of blocks of riding distance.  One smart way to ride the course is rest stop to rest stop.  The rest stops are optimally spaced approximately every 10-12 miles and serve riders in both directions.  This means you're never very far from on-course support.  It also means you are fully supported, in both directions, no matter where you choose to make your turnaround.  Regardless of where you make the u-turn, do it safely.  Come to a full stop and watch for vehicle and rider traffic before turning around.  There are also several support vehicles ("SAG wagons") with orange magnetic signs that say "Shadow Tour Support Vehicle".  You may flag one down if you need any assistance.  Most carry extra water and have limited evac capability.  Tom Cody's "Bike Mobile" is also patrolling the route with a full compliment of tools and parts to get you rolling again if you have a mechanical issue.  The best way to avoid mechanical problems is to have a complete bicycle tune-up done at your favorite bike store PRIOR to Stagecoach.  Stagecoach is no place to take a chance on worn tires or poor maintenance.  

2.  Weather:  For all cyclists, especially those new to Stagecoach, weather plays a huge role in the desert.  No matter what the forecast calls for, you need to be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions in the desert.  In January, that primarily means 1. Wind, and 2. Temperature Changes.  The prevailing winds at Stagecoach are from north to south.  That almost always means riding the first half of the course into a headwind.  But the winds in the morning are usually relatively light that build during the day.  So that means you'll be dealing with a headwind in the morning hours, when you are at your strongest, and have a tailwind in the afternoon, when you need it most!  We strongly encourage small groups of riders (5-10), form "pacelines".  A paceline is a single file of riders, spaced about 1/2 bike length apart, working together to draft off eachother.   A good paceline allows the lead rider to break the wind, and create a draft for the other riders.  The lead rider is doing much, but certainly not all, of the work.  All the other riders in the paceline take turns at the front ("pulling").  Depending on the wind direction and speed, it's good practice to take pulls in the lead position of about 1 - 2 miles, which is about 3 - 10 minutes, depending on the wind and degree of climbing elevation.  When your turn in front is complete, carefully pull out to left, checking traffic first, and allow the other riders to pass on the right, then assume the "tail-end Charlie" position at the end of the paceline.  The tail position offers the most beneficial drafting effect and gives the previous lead rider a chance to recover.  The correct rotation of the paceline is entirely up to the riders to manage among themselves.  If the wind is howling, short pulls make much more sense.  In modest winds, longer pulls work fine.  Good communications is crucial to a well organized paceline.  

3.  Start of Ride:  Bear in mind, you're starting at a low elevation of about 500 feet above sea level, and gradually climbing to over 2,600 feet near the turnaround point.  So keep things in perspective.  You should absolutely expect to ride into a modest headwind, uphill, at least to rest stop 1 at Carrizo Badlands, near mile 11.  Early morning is also the coldest time of the day, so expect to feel the chill until you get warmed up.  We recommend an extra layer of clothing for the ride to rest stop 1.  At rest stop 1, there is a "gear drop" that many riders appreciate.  A gear drop allows you to strip off the morning extra layers of clothing, such as a long sleeved jacket, or leg warmers.  Volunteers provide a plastic bag and it will be marked with your bib number (helmet number).  The gear bags will be brought back to the Start/Finish in Ocotillo around 11:00 A.M.   Don't forget to pick up your gear bag at the end of the ride .  There will be signs and DJ announcements to remind you.  Forgotten gear bags will be mailed back to riders upon reciept of $5 to cover shipping costs. 

4.  Temperature:  Temperature can be tricky at Stagecoach.  In the early morning, the overnight desert chill is most pronounced near the low elevations at the start in Ocotillo.  When the sun rises above the horizon, you'll definitely feel (and welcome) the sun's warming rays on the first 11 mile climb out to rest stop 1, called the Carizzo Badlands.  The combination of the sun's rays and getting in the first 40 - 60 minutes of cycling, usually make riders feel much better.  But use caution, because the route is gradually taking you way up in altitude, from 500 feet to over 2,600 feet.  The temperatures at the north end of the course (Shelter Valley) are almost always about 10 -15 degrees cooler that at the start/finish in Ocotillo.  That means you should definitely keep a pair of arm warmers and a lightweight wind vest with you if the temperatures are still cool (to you) at rest stop 1.  You may well find that at the turnaround point at rest stop 5, having the arm warmers was a good call.

5.  Lunch:  At the Shelter Valley lunch/rest stop 6, you'll be treated to enjoy a nice indoor warm Community Center.  During that extended break inside a warm room, you'll naturally feel cold when you start riding again.  That's comletely normal.  You'll warm up again once you get a few miles under your belt.  Again, it's just smart to plan ahead when it comes to your clothing:  arm warmers, leg warmers, wind vest, and, in rare extreme cold conditions, long finger gloves and toe covers.  All these items can fit in your rear pockets if packed tightly and placed in plastic bags to keep them dry.  From Shelter Valley, the miles pass quickly as the afternoon winds are usually strengthening tailwinds AND you are predominantly heading downhill.  If you are using a paceline, the miles will go even faster, because pacelines offer a drafting advantage even in a tailwind.  When you get to the vicinity of the Butterfield RV Resort, near mile 67 of the full century, you might want to stop and remove a layer of clothing.  The good folks at Butterfield welcome all riders.  They have a nice little store, so consider carrying some cash in case you want to purchase a drink or a quick snack.  They also have restrooms and little lobby area for a short break.  As with all rest stops, don't camp out.  Primarily you stop to replenish your fluids, top off water bottles, and grab some energy items.  All rest stops also have sun block, lip balm, advil, Chamois Butt'r, and hand sanitizer.  These "creature comfort" items may seem minor, but they truly help on a long day in the saddle, so be sure to use them as necessary.  Nutrition is also key.  Be sure to eat something at all rest stops.  An energy bar, PB&J, banana, pretzels all have plenty of carbohydrates and salt to keep your energy levels high.  Water is absolutely critical out in the desert.  Even in January, the dry air will dehydrate all riders after several hours, especially coastal riders who may be less familiar with desert cycling.  So be sure to drink lots of water and Vitalyte at all rest stops and drink from your water bottles between rest stops.

6.  Finishing:  The next rest stop, rest stop 7, is at mile 75 of the full century, near Aqua Caliente.  We call this the "Wild West" rest stop, because it's located along a remote stretch of the course.  What's important at this section of the ride is to be aware of how your body is feeling.  You've been in the saddle for several hours by this point.  You're also back down at a lower elevation, around 1,200 feet, so most of the downhill advantage is gone.  Further, down in the low areas of the course, the tailwinds are diminished.  All this means you're going to need to make sure you take on extra water and energy items to be ready for the last, and most challenging, section of the ride--from mile 75 to 89.  After leaving rest stop 7,  there's at least two more sections of downhill that past relatively fast.  You'll know you are about to make the Sweeney Pass climb after you encounter a short steep hill that immediately drops right back down to the desert floor at about 800 feet above sea level.  You'll cross a wash section after the steep downhill.  From there, settle in, because you are on the last major climb of the day, back up Sweeney Pass.  It starts with a 2 mile section of gradual climbing.  You'll then come to a sharp bend in the road, and the steepest section of the entire course is right in front of you, near mile 87.  The gradient is close to 9%, but expect the climb to be humbling for most new riders.  Here is where experience helps.  If you've stayed hydrated and replenished your carbohydates and managed your cycling efforts carefully (rode within your level of conditioning) the climb will be nothing more than a "grinder" that passes in a managable way.  Conversely, it's where the Stagecoach Century let's you know who's boss!  Many riders dismount and walk their bicycles up the steepest section, about 1/4 mile.  This is a smart way to handle Sweeney Pass: keep moving, stay to the right of the white line, and just get up and over that tough section and around the bend.  When you make the initial summit, around 1,100 feet, look back and you'll see the road you just came up, disappearing beneath you into the deep desert.  You may even see your fellow cyclists, appearing tiny in the distance, slowly pedalling up the climb you just made.  Rest assured, whether you walk or ride, that steep section is a butt-kicker for ALL RIDERS, even the most experienced and well-conditioned athletes will suffer to some degree on that particular climb.  Once around the sharp bend in the road, there's about 2 miles before you make it to the final rest stop 8 at the Carizzo Badlands.  You'll be at about 1,300 feet elevation.  So that means you've earned another downhill respite from there (mile 89) to the border check point (mile 94).  Be prepared for a one mile rough patch of road after the border check point.  Watch carefully for potholes, which we will mark with paint and a traffic cone.  Then, with some luck, you'll still have a nice tailwind to push you back to the finish in Ocotillo.  Be careful crossing the northbound lane into the community center.  Once across the line, dismount your bicycle.  If you completed the full century, check in with the DJ to record your bib number as a Full Century Finishers.

7.  Ride the Right Distance:  Depending on how you feel the day of the ride and the weather conditions, riding the full 100 mile course may not be the wise decision.  Avoid the trap of focusing on the halfway point, thinking "if I make it half way, I can coast home".   That's simply not the way it is!  While it's true, you will mostly be riding downhill from the turnaround point, and tailwinds usually help, it's a big mistake to think the return 50 miles are a freebie.  Hosting a popular desert century is a monumental challenge for the organizers and volunteers.  To keep it safe and well-supported for all riders, everyone needs to ride within their limits .  To help, we have marked several turnaround points along the route.  We do this to ENCOURAGE riders to ride the right distance, for themselves, given their individual conditioning and taking into account the weather factors on the day of the ride.  We provide superior levels of support for all riders in the form of stationary rest stops and on-course SAG wagons.  But, we are not able to evacuate large numbers of riders who mismanage themselves out on the course.  By mismanagement, we mean cyclists who ride too far, too fast, ignoring nutritional considerations and subsequently cramp up, become ill, or otherwise cannot continue for a wide variety of reasons, such as missed medications, avoidable crashes, etc.  It also means these riders have possibly ignored time cutoffs and other details contained in the Final Rider Instructions, along with numerous warnings about riding smart.  They end up requiring evacuation resources, which are in short supply that far out in the desert.  This situation obviously is to be avoided.

8.  Ride Smart:  The smart way, and best way, to ride Stagecoach, especially for first-timers, is to simply take it one small bite at a time; such as riding rest stop to rest stop, or riding in one hour intervals.  Don't focus on the totality of the full century.  Each time you stop, do a complete physical check of yourself.  Make sure you have replenished your water and Vitalyte supplies.  Ask the volunteers to check you out.  Take note of where you are on the course in relation to the various time cutoffs detailed in your Final Rider Instructions.  Consume lots of energy items.  Take E-Caps tablets, which contain sodium, magnesium, and potassium--all great for avoiding cramps.  Get off your bike and stretch out your hamstrings, quadriceps, and back.  Take care of yourself with sunblock, lip balm, and Chamois Butt'r to reduce chaffing, maybe even take an Advil.  If you do all these things and you still begin to feel cramps, or other physical limit signs, like dizzyness, nausia, vomiting, or you stop sweating, then it's definitely time to turn around and head back.  The real trick is to turn back BEFORE you hit the wall with these obvious physical limit signs.  Remember, the Stagecoach course is completely unforgiving, it's a worthy foe.  It gets gradually more difficult all the way to the 50-mile turnaround point, this is because you are riding uphill, and usually, into a headwind.  If it's particularly windy, or cold, or both, everything will be that much more difficult.  It's also early in the riding season, when most riders are not at their peak levels of fitness.  So don't try to be Superman out there!  If it turns out not to be your day, you'll get another chance to go for the Full Century next year.  Instead, make a safe "u-turn" and ride conservatively and smart.  We've had riders make 2 or 3 attempts before completing the Full Century at Stagecoach.  That's just fine.  Take it from them, Stagecoach is definitely in the "Century Earned" category, there are no easy shortcuts.  Although it may go without saying,  all riders attempting the Full Century must prepare for Stagecoach by training well in advance.

Below are the marked optional courses:

   22 miles:  To rest stop 1, Carizzo Badlands, and back to the Start/Finish in Ocotillo
   26 miles:  To the 26 mile turnaround sign, located near the bottom of Sweeney Pass, and back to Ocotillo
   50 miles:  To rest stop 2, Wild West, and back to Ocotillo
   73 miles:  To rest stop 3, Box Canyon, and back to Ocotillo
   84 miles:  To lunch/rest stop 4 in Shelter Valley, and back to Ocotillo
   90 miles:  To Scissors Crossing and back to Ocotillo
   100 miles:  To rest stop 5, the 50-mile turnaround, on San Filipe Grade, and back to Ocotillo (Full Century)

It's also possible to stay mostly in the lower section of the desert and still ride significant miles:

   78 miles:  To rest stop 2, return to rest stop 1, ride back to rest stop 2, return to Ocotillo
   100 miles:  To rest stop 3, return to rest stop 2, ride back to rest stop 3, return to Ocotillo
                  This is at least as difficult as the Full Century
   100 miles:  To rest stop 2, return to Ocotillo, ride back to rest stop 2, return to Ocotillo
                  This is an easier century, overall, but has 2 difficult climbs up Sweeney Pass

9.  Desert Plants:  As beautiful as the desert plants are, they are almost all of the cactus variety.  At the lower elevations, especially Rest Stops 1 and 2, watch out for the devilish plant called the "Jumping" Cholla Cactus.  These spiny little monsters dominate the desert floor.  DO NOT GO NEAR OR LEAN YOUR BIKES against these, as they will almost certainly leave you with painful thorns in your hands, arms, legs.  Not sure how they do it, but take our word, these plants are plain ole mean and to be avoided.  At Rest Stops 1 and 2, we have bike racks set up, so please use them.  Or place your bicycle on the ground, but off the S2.  Cannot overemphasized that you must avoid any contact with the Cholla Cactus!

Cholla Cactus 348 x 230

  Jumpting Cholla Cactus:  AVOID ALL CONTACT!
             Photo Courtesy

Go to top of page 


1.  Goals:  Many riders choose Stagecoach to give themselves a tangible and worthy fitness or health goal.  These cyclists are usually less concerned with riding fast, or with completing the full century distance.  For them, having a safe stretch of road mostly devoid of vehicles, showcasing nature's beauty, and top-notch support are desireable components in pursuit of highly individualized goals.  Some riders are coming back from successful bouts with cancer, or various other illnesses.  Others have suffered losses in their lives and are seeking a way to help restore happiness.  Still others have turned to cycling because of injuries sustained in other sports, injuries which now limit their ability to enjoy extended pain-free aerobic activities.  Many riders also choose Stagecoach in January as part of a determined re-committment to lose weight, lower their blood pressure, or just get back into shape, and to feel better, and to build self confidence. 

2.  Training:  All of these alternative reasons for participating in Stagecoach are completely acceptable and encouraged.  Like so many of life's challenges, the path to achieving success begins with a personal committment.  One great way to solidify that committment, is to establish a series of smaller goals.  Stagecoach is a worthy intermediate fitness/health goal.  It requires substantial invested effort, in the form of training, well in advance of the actual ride date.  Each time a rider goes out for a training ride, the odds for success are advanced.  That, in turn, builds self confidence and improves fitness at the same time.  Stagecoach offers numerous distances and degrees of difficulty, which allows each rider to select what works best for them, as individuals (see Beginner/First Century). 

3.  You're Not Alone:  Even though many riders have intensely personal reasons for selecting Stagecoach, the event involves an elaborate supporting cast of wonderful people.  Starting with Ocotillo, an otherwise quiet desert town of less than 400 residents, who welcome riders and permit the use of their Community Park the entire day of the ride.  It's citizens have given the keys to the town to Stagecoach and its riders since the ride's inception in 2005.  They do everything they can to make the start and finiish enjoyable and memorable parts of the day for each rider.  The volunteers staffing the rest stops all along the course are experienced at helping riders stay hydrated and "carbed up" the whole day.  They'll do anything they can to help support you out on the course.  In Shelter Valley, near the turnaround point, once again, the town's citizens embrace Stagecoach and its riders by hosting a magnificent indoor lunch at their Community Center, as well as staffing three nearby rest stops.  There are also support vehicles up and down the course to help riders with mechanical issues, or any other issue requiring attention.  Everyone involved with supporting Stagecoach is very aware of the extreme challenges riders face, physical and otherwise, and are there to help each rider in the best way possible.  They will be there for you.  If you get a chance, please let them know they're doing a good job! 

Go to top of page

Veteran Century Rider:

1.  Overview:  The Stagecoach Full Century course is 50 miles out and 50 back in the low to mid elevations of the desert regions 80 miles east of San Diego.  The start in Ocotillo is at about 500 feet above sea level.  The turnaround point, near Shelter Valley, at the north end of the course, is at an elevation of about 2,300 feet.  The highest point on the course is near mile 37 with an elevation of 2,675 feet.  The Full Century has a total of 4,685 feet of vertical elevation gain, as recorded on a Garmin 305 GPS system.  The first half of the ride is northbound on County Route S2 and is generally uphill facing a headwind.  There is a short, 1/3 mile dogleg onto Hwy 78 at Scissors Crossing at mile 45, which continues north to the turnaround point on S2.  The return 50 miles follows the exact same route back to the finish in Ocotillo and is mostly downhill, and generally is aided by a tailwind of 15-25 MPH.  The road surface is good to very good almost the entire distance.  The first and last 6 miles has some rough sections and uneven surfaces that require extra caution.   There are 5 significant desert passes along the route.   You may read more about them in the Detailed Course Description section.  There are 2 “Red Zones”, areas of potential hazard.  The first is the descent down Sweeney Pass near mile 12 and the second is the descent down Campbell Grade near mile 63.  Each Red Zone is marked and requires riders to reduce speeds to a maximum of 20 MPH, there is no passing, and all riders must ride single file as far to the right as is safely possible.

2.  Difficulty:  The Stagecoach Century is moderately difficult under typical seasonal weather conditions.   If wind or temperatures become more extreme, the century becomes very difficult.  Generally, mild winds and sunny/warm conditions prevail, see past "Previous Stagecoach Weather" below.  Under these conditions, the Stagecoach Century is still moderately difficult, due to the elevation gains, dry desert air which tends to dehydrates most riders unaccustomed to desert cycling, and it's the time of year when most cyclists are not at their peak fitness levels.

3.  Weather:  Without a doubt, weather is the major environmental foe at Stagecoach.  Because of the remote desert location, during the winter season, weather conditions vary widely, even within a single day.  

    A.  Clothing:  Riders need to be fully prepared for wind, cold, sun, rain, and any combination of the above.  By prepared, we mostly mean be prepared for abnormally cold temperatures with winter clothing such as leg and arm warmers, a wind vest or long-sleeved parka, long finger gloves, toe covers, headband, and a light high tech (non cotton) base layer.  These items may not be needed, but it’s highly recommended to bring them to the ride, just in case.  There is a gear drop at start and at rest stop 1.  Riders may place unneeded clothing items in a bag, marked their bib number.  Gear bags will be returned to the start/finish area at about 11:00 A.M.  Signs are posted to remind finishing riders to claim gear bags and the DJ will make many announcements.  Unclaimed gear bags will be sent back to riders upon receipt of $5 to cover shipping expenses.

    B.  Conditions:  Typical mid-January desert weather consists of cool morning temperature, 45-50 F, at the start, with 5-10 MPH headwinds from the north, which build during the day.  In the afternoon, temperatures usually rise into the 60s and 70s F.  The north end of the course, near Shelter Valley, is generally 10 F cooler than the start/finish in Ocotillo, due to the higher elevation, 2,300-2,600 feet above sea level.  Expect typical temperatures in the mid 60s F during the lunch timeframe of 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.

    C.  Previous Stagecoach Weather:

        2005:  Mild temps 50-70 F, mild winds 5-10 MPH, Sunny and Warm
        2006:  Mild temps 48-65 F, sustained winds 10-12, gusting to 20-25 MPH, Sunny
        2007:  Cold temps 28-42 F, mild winds 5-10 MPH, gusting to 15 MPH, Overcast/Some Sun
        2008:  Warm temps 48-74 F, mild winds 3-9 MPH, gusting to 15 MPH, Sunny and Warm
        2009:  Warm temps 45-82 F, mild winds 3-5 MPH, gusting to 10 MPH, Sunny and Warm

    D.  Accuweather mid-January Temperature Norms:

        Ocotillo (start/finish):  High 69 F, Low 41 F, Average 55 F.  Wind data not available.
        Shelter Valley (turnaround):  High 62 F, Low 34 F, Average 48 F.  Wind data not available.     

    E.  Stagecoach Comparisons:   Total                Vehicular        Natural            Overall
                                               Elevation (ft)      Traffic         Scenery          Difficulty           
         Stagecoach Century          4,635               Minimal        Outstanding      Moderately Difficult
         Solvang Century               3,501               Average       Very Good         Average  
         Tour of Palm Springs          3,100               Minimal        Good                Easy
         Death Ride                       12,000+           Average       Outstanding       Very Difficult
         Breathless Agony              12,000+           Average       Outstanding       Very Difficult
         Tour De Poway                 5,217               High             Good               Average
         San Diego Century            4,331               High             Good                Average
         San Diego Gran Fondo       5,280               Average        Excellent           Difficult 

4.  Start:  Veterans and experienced riders should expect chilled desert air, remaining from overnight lows to linger when arriving in Ocotillo prior to the start.  First light is usually around 6:15 A.M. with the sun coming above the horizon around 7:15 A.M.  Winds are almost always from the north and can vary widely from mild to sustained 10-15 MPH, gusting higher, even at the start of the ride.  The first 11 miles is a gradual climb to rest stop 1.  It’s usually the least comfortable section of the ride.  It rises from 500 to 1,300 feet.  Riders generally hunker down, form small pacelines of 5-10 riders to draft and work together on that long first climb of the day.  The sun usually pops above the horizon in the first few miles, and riders warm up and feel much better even before arriving at rest stop 1 at the Carrizo Badlands.   Many veteran riders stop only long enough to drop off any excess riding gear.  Most don’t stop at all, opting to make rest stop 2, at mile 25, their first break.

5.  Low Desert Cycling:  Following the Red Zone descent down Sweeney Pass, there is a generally calm section of riding for the next 10 miles.  That’s because the elevation drops back down to around 600 feet, so much of the wind dies down.  It's still there, but moving over the riders heads in this low valley.  By rest stop 2, past Agua Caliente, the elevation is back above 1,000 feet and winds come back into play.  Veteran riders are encouraged to stay in small single file pacelines to work this section together.  Once arriving at rest stop 2, at mile 25, all riders, even veterans, are encouraged to stop.  Top off water bottles, take on some Vitalyte and replenish carbs with a wide variety of items from Clif Bars to PB&J sandwiches.  Take care of the creature comforts too:  re-apply sunblock, lip balm, and Chamois Butt’r.   E-caps are also available, these glorified salt tablets, contain sodium, postasium, and magnesium, all great anti-cramp ingredients.  If you need it, there’s also Advil and a complete First Aid Kit at each rest stop.  There’s also a floor pump and a limited supply of tubes.   Be careful not to touch any desert plants, as they are almost all cactus-family and have all kinds of sharp thorns.  Be sure to put all trash into garbage bags at the rest stops.  Use only the portajohns as restrooms.  Make your rest stop productive, but don’t camp out…forward progress is very important at Stagecoach.  With limited light in January, there are several time cutoffs; refer to your Final Rider Instructions for specifics.  The next section of riding contains climbs up Campbell Grade and Box Canyon, so it’s important not to be lulled into a false sense of security by the ease of the course to rest stop 2.

6.  Turnaround:  In Shelter Valley, at mile 42, you will see the lunch/rest stop 4 at the Shelter Valley Community Center.  Unless you desperately need to stop for water or portajohns, we recommend continuing on to the 50-mile point, which is the Full Century turnaround point.  There is a full rest stop there with at least one portajohn.  At the turnaround rest stop, be sure to get your wristband stamped to get credit for riding the Full Century.  It’s important to be through the Scissors Crossing, at mile 45, before the cutoff time of 12:15 P.M.  The cutoff is in place to allow riders just enough time to get to the turnaround point and back to Shelter Valley for lunch, before the 1:00 P.M. closure of the Shelter Valley lunch/rest stop.  Most veteran century riders will have no problem meeting the course closures.  But if Mother Nature decides to toss in some difficult weather, or if riders camp out too long at rest stops, its easy to miss time cutoffs, so be mindful of your time management.

7.  Return Ride:  After having a nice lunch inside the warm Community Center in Shelter Valley, expect it to take a little time to get the blood circulating again once back in the saddle.  Usually, you can look at American Flag outside the Shelter Valley Community Center and confirm whether the winds will be favorable.  If the winds are strongly due south, there will be some long and fast downhill stretches.  But once again, don’t expect a free ride.  There are also sections, even at the north end of the course, that have swirling wind profiles and unusual micro-weather patterns.  So don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself grinding into a headwind out of nowhere.  It happens all the time at Stagecoach.  Just stay focused, working it one rest stop at a time, or maybe 5 mile blocks at a time.  The tough sections will pass.  Once past the descents at Box Canyon and Red Zone descent at Campbell Grade, the course levels out and offers some wonderful and particularly scenic sections for riders to enjoy at a faster than normal pace, assuming winds cooperate.   This is also the section where most riders are reminded that Stagecoach is a “true desert” century.  As you move past rest stop 7, you’ll be dropping back below 1,000 feet of elevation.  It’s normal to feel warm, or even hot down in the “valley” around mile 80.  If it turns out to be a warm day, peeling off any excess layers of clothing is a wise choice at rest stop 7.  The next major obstacle is the climb up Sweeney Pass.  The climb actually starts around mile 85 and is gradual for a couple miles.  At the sharp bend, the road tilts up to about a 7-9% grade for ½ mile.  Beginner riders usually walk the steep section.  But even experienced riders may need to walk their bikes if other weather, or personal conditioning levels have taken their toll.  At the top of the step section, the road levels out, but is still climbing for about 2 more miles before arriving at the rest stop 8, the final rest stop, at the Carizzo Badlands.  From there, it’s a swift descent to the Border Checkpoint, then 6 more miles to the finish in Ocotillo.  Be careful when making the left turn in to the Ocotillo Community park.  If you are a Full Century Finisher, it is the rider’s responsibility to check in with the DJ after crossing the finish line.  You will need to show your wristband with the stamp from the turnaround to get credit for completing the Full Century.

Go to top of page 


Stagecoach is a tandem-friendly event.  Tandems are welcome to ride Stagecoach recreationally, or participate in the Tandem Time Trial.   For details on the Tandem Time Trial click here.  The Stagecoach course is well-suited for most tandem cyclists.  The first half is mostly a gentle uphill with two steeper sections at approximately mile 32 and mile 35.  The return is mostly downhill with one steep climb at about mile 88.  As with any large century ride event, tandems must use added caution when riding with individual cyclists on the route.  Be sure to announce when overtaking slower cyclists in a clear and audible manner.  Same thing when making any turning or stopping maneuvers when riding in groups.

Go to top of page  


1.  Overview:  Members of organized clubs and teams are always welcome at Stagecoach.  Leaders are encouraged to contact Jim at Shadow Tour to explore ways Stagecoach can support the Club’s goals and to generate interest and incentives for Club/Team members to participate in the ride.   Numerous clubs and teams currently list Stagecoach on their websites as an excellent New Year’s kick-off event.  Others promote Stagecoach as an early season building-block event, leading up to other rides later in the season.

2.  Team Time Trial:  Stagecoach features a special optional event called the “ Ultimate 4-person Team Time Trial ” (TTT).  There are categories for 4-person (men and women), Club and Open teams, and 2-person Tandems teams.  The TTT is a structured sub-event, where teams test themselves, against the clock, on the Full Century course.  Teams start ahead of the individual riders to have virtually exclusive access to the entire course.  The Team Formation process is informal, to allow flexibility for the final composition of team members.  The rules for the TTT are designed to maximize safety, while insuring a level playing field for all teams.   Teams are encouraged to strategize how best to navigate the course, planning paceline timing, anticipating when and where to stop for fluid replacements, where to put the hammer down, where to recover, etc.  The clock doesn’t stop until the 3rd member of the TTT crosses the finish line.   Times will be posted for all teams completing the Full Century.  Course records will be posted on the Stagecoach Century sign at the entrance to the Ocotillo Community Park and on the Shadow Tour website, along with the other team results. 

Go to top of page 


1.  Overview:  Multi-sport cyclists are welcome at Stagecoach.  Unlike many “citizen” styled recreational century rides, Stagecoach has several built-in degrees of difficulty.   The outer serene and pristine desert scenery sometimes conceals the inner beast personality.  Under normal conditions, the full century route offers riders an ideal low traffic course, with plenty of sun and magnificent natural scenery.  But the subtle cumulative effects of dry desert air, 4,685 feet of elevation gain, and pesky desert winds make the Stagecoach a worthy adversary.  Mother Nature sometimes decides to up the ante with extra winds, low (or high) temperatures, or combinations of the above.  For multi-sport athletes, this is an ideal platform to learn how to deal with a wide variety of cycling conditions, without worrying about vehicle traffic or a multitude of stoplights.  In fact, there are only 2 lonely stop signs on the entire course!

2.  Ironman:  One of the event founders, Jim Knight, has participated in many triathlons, including two participations in the Hawaii Ironman.  In his opinion, the Stagecoach course layout is uniquely well-suited for Ironman training.  As with the Big Island Hawaii Ironman, the course is an out-and-back design.  Riders face headwinds and tailwinds all day, just as one faces at Kona.  The first half of the course is gradually uphill, with steeper sections, similar to Hawaii.  Temperatures, while generally mild, can also go to extremes of heat and cold.  Hot conditions at Stagecoach are magnified by the dry desert air, so fluid replacement is vital and provides an early season chance to train under some of the same conditions Ironman athletes will face in the heat of the summer race calendar at events like Wildflower and Vineman.  Some professional Ironman athletes, such as former Hawaii Ironman Champion, Normann Stadler, have been spotted training on the Stagecoach course.   

3.  Distance:  The full century is exactly 100 miles.  However, participants riding comfortably and well ahead of cutoff times, may optionally continue past the 50-mile turnaround point, adding an additional 6 miles out, and 6 miles back, to create a custom 112 mile Ironman distance course.  The additional 6 miles is gradually uphill the entire way on the San Filipe Grade, thus adding not just distance, but difficulty too.  This optional section is not officially supported, so it’s only for the most experienced riders, who are well-conditioned and understand the optional section is outside the support boundaries for the Stagecoach Century.  Alternatively, it’s also possible to ride past rest stop 2,  at the 25 mile marker, and continue 3 miles out, and 3 miles back, to create a shorter 56-mile Half Ironman course.  This option would be fully supported in both directions.  Doing this back-to-back would add up to 112 miles and be fully supported the entire way.  Distances at Stagecoach are adjustable, so make riders can decide on the day of the ride what’s the best choice given the weather conditions and how they feel out on the course. 

Go to top of page 


1.  Overview:  Stagecoach is not a race, it’s a recreational desert century ride. But, that doesn’t mean a fast rider should avoid participating.  In fact, Stagecoach offers the fastest cyclists something very special:  it’s a “thinking man’s” course (goes for women too!).  The course appears relatively tame, with only 4,685 feet of total elevation gain.  Even the steepest climbs are only about one mile, or less, in duration.  There are fantastic sight lines, so riders can clearly see what’s coming for miles and miles.  All that seems to add up to another easy century spin, right?  Not!

2.  Why it’s hard to ride fast solo:  The first half of the ride, from Ocotillo to the turnaround point, located 8 miles past Shelter Valley at the north end of the course, is uphill almost the whole way, from 550 feet above sea level to over 2,500.  Further, tucked into the first 50 miles is nearly 3,000 feet of the total elevation.  Moreover, the north bound ride almost always has a head wind the entire way.  To recap, that’s 50 miles, with a cold morning start, uphill, into a biting headwind, at the time of year when riders are not at their peak levels of conditioning.  The only redeeming fact is that most cyclists are stronger in the first half of the ride.

3.  Jim’s Lessons Learned:  Stagecoach Co-Founder, Jim Knight, circa 1960, has ridden Stagecoach many times.  He almost always rides solo, unsupported, yet timed vs. the clock.  Jim typically does century rides solo at 20+ MPH average speed.  Even at more difficult 100-mile courses, like Furnace Creek in Death Valley, he finishes under 5 hours.  At the tough 112-mile Hawaii Ironman, his average speed was comfortably over 20 MPH, finishing in about 5:15 at both Hawaii Ironman participations.  Yet, at Stagecoach, the 5-hour barrier proved elusive until 2008.

4.  Pesky Winds:  When desert winds really blow, we’re talking sustained winds of 15-20 MPH, perhaps gusting to 25+ MPH, it’s nearly impossible to hold speeds anywhere near 20 MPH.  Since most headwinds are buried in the first half of the course, it was taking Jim 2:45-2:55, even on less windy days, to make the turnaround.  If winds are high on the northbound ride, expect to suffer massively to the turn, but you’ll be rewarded with strong tailwinds on the return trip south.  Therein lies the paradox.  Even with tailwinds on a very fast return ride, when attempting to break a specific time , namely, the 5-hour barrier , the enormous front-loaded effort necessary to fight the headwinds, far outweighs the wind-aided advantage on the return ride.  Rarely, the inverse occurs: neutral/tailwinds on the northbound ride, followed by mild to severe headwinds on the return ride.  This scenario makes a sub 5-hour Stagecoach even more difficult, because, while it’s possible to ride faster to the turnaround, possibly under 2:30 (although Jim never did), the return ride is ugly.  No tailwinds at all.  Even worse, on obvious downhills, headwinds make it necessary to dig deep just to maintain 20+ MPH!

5.  How to Break 5 Hours:  Number one, you’ve got be in great shape!  Number 2, you need a little luck with the winds—not too much, not too little.   And Number 3, you need to be patient in the saddle, especially when staring at your computer/Garmin showing a current speed of 9-10 MPH on the steep section of Sweeney Pass at mile 88 (ugh!).  But with experience, it can all come together.  Here’s what it took for Jim to reel-in the elusive solo sub-5 hour Stagecoach (not all rides listed):

      Date         Time    Avg                                                   Notes                                                                     
Dec 21, '09 4:48:50  20.8   Start 5:59 A.M. 49F; high 63, 0-3 mph winds SSE, solo TT, t/a: 2:39, light
Dec 12, '09 5:17:38  18.9 Start 7:14 A.M. 48F; high 63, 3-5 mph winds S, indiv TT, t/a: 2:46, heavy
Dec 3, '09 5:27:44  18.3 Start 6:18 A.M. 49F; high 69, med winds up, flat back, solo, t/a: 2:57, heavy
Nov 26, '09 5:26:35  18.4 Start 5:56 A.M. 53F; high 76, med winds up, flat back, solo, t/a: 2:59, heavy
Mar 4, '08 4:57:10  20.2 Start 6:11 A.M. 43F; high 70F, winds WNW 3-6 mph, solo, t/a: 2:47:14, light 
Feb 28, '08 5:10:23  19.3 Temps in low 80's, solo, t/a: 2:48:06, light 
Feb 2, '08 5:17:27  18.9 Solo, t/a:  2:57:24, racing set-up, zipp 440 wheelset (light)  
Jan 23, '08    5:30:02  18.2 Solo, heavy 
Dec 21, '07 6:47:08  14.7 Birthday Spin Ride with Larry G.
Dec 16, '07 5:29:19  18.3 Solo, t/a: 3:04:39, heavy 
Nov 24, '07 5:28:44  18.3 Solo, t/a: 3:00:00, heavy 
Nov 3, '07 5:45:00  17.3 Solo, t/a: 3:07:45, heavy
Mar 22, '07 5:57:08  16.8 Solo, training bike set-up, 80 oz Camelbak, 23 mm Armadillo tires (heavy) 

7.  Stagecoach Record Time:

The January Stagecoach record time was emphatically lowered on Jan 16, '10 by Team RideClean racer,
Dan McGehee, from Mesa, AZ, in a time of 4:38:30 (Dan lowered the record to 4:37:20 on Jan 15 '11). Dan was 47 the day of the ride (born 9-8-62).  Following his record-shattering effort, Shadow Tour requested some background information from Dan.  Below is a synopsis of his sterling Stagecoach ride and his overall remarkable cycling career, in his own words.  It's a cool opportunity to get inside the head of a truly gifted athlete, as he raced the event, and sense what it took to excel at the highest levels of athletic endurance.  Attentive readers will surely notice the very last item Dan (modestly) listed on his cycling resume:
    UMCA-sanctioned 100-mile Time-Trial Indoor Track.  June 20, 2009 - 3:47:35 
     Fastest Certified 100-mile time-trial on North American Continent
     Missed World Record time of 3:47:26 by 8 seconds.

"I  ride for Team RideClean.  An incredible group of guys with a common purpose -primarily a highly competitive Cat. 1 racing team trying to promote clean sport.  I sort-of represent the ultra-endurance division of the team.  You will see a lot more of our team in the future.  Team RideClean presented by Patent It, is not even 3 years old and already has national exposure, including 2 years in the Tour of Utah.

Below is a little info on some of the bigger events I have done.  Between the family and the office, I do not do long races as often as I would like, but I get a few short ones in periodically to satisfy my competitive nature.

You asked of how fast someone could go on that course.  As you know all too well from your experience, the winds will ultimately decide that.  But, on an ideal day, I know I could go below 4:30 and there are probable a high number of pro-tour riders that could go under 4:15.  But, in January? - that's a big limiting factor.

I crested the Box canyon climb at exactly the 2-hour mark and felt like I could get to the turn-around under 2:30.  I ended up at 2:33, counting the stop at the turn, so the actual time was approximately 2:32.  I was using this as a training ride to finish my third week of a 3-week Build cycle, so I was focusing primarily on my wattage output and cadence - trying to stay constant on the flats and downhills while doing low cadence steady power work on the climbs (I use a Powertap - thanks to the great guys at Bicycle Ranch in Scottsdale - a bit heavy for racing, but an awesome training tool).  This was anticipating that there would be a relative tailwind (or at least no wind) on the return trip.  That certainly didn't work out as planned.

I thought I could do the return in 1:56, or better with a strong tailwind, and I ended up with 2:05.  I felt like I was losing time (on my ideal pace) on the flats and downhills, so I started pushing harder.  Holy cow did I pay for that on the last climb - it seemed like it was lasting forever and I wished I had put on a granny gear as the steady-state low-cadence climbing power thing was not feeling so good at that point!  The stair-steps at the top seemed like some kind of sick joke that the course designer put in just to piss riders off.

The headwind in the last 8 miles made the downhill sections feel like flatland and the flat sections feel like uphill.  It was probably an advantage that I was not familiar with the course, so I could just pay attention to my power and cadence.  I decoupled 7.5 % on the second half of the 100, which could easily have been 12 - 15% if I would have been treated to a tailwind.  But, in the end, it made for a more consistent test of my current ability to hold power, which provides me with a better gauge for ramping up to my next event.  I noticed the photographers out on the course and I tried to smile every chance I could, but I think the photos on the return trip will have a lot of sweat and scowling in them!

Thanks for the good time and the ability to eat whatever I please for a few days!  Please thank your staff and volunteers for me - there would not be events like this without awesome people like them.

-Dan McGehee

Athletic Highlights:

Ironman World Triathlon Championship 1993, 1995

UMCA 12-hour Champion and Course Record, 2002
LOTOJA 2005 - USA longest USCF sanctioned race - 6th Overall, 3rd place 40-45 masters group

Race Across America 2006- 1st Place 4-Person Mixed Team, 3rd Place 4-Person Teams Overall,   50-59 Mixed Team RAAM Record 
 3043 miles, 6 days, 19 hours, 59 min.
 My data:  933 miles, 45 hrs 23 min, 33,100 ft climbing

Cochise County Classic 252-mile Champion 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006,
 2007, 2008, and 2009  
 Course Record holder 10:26:04
 2005 Cochise County Dedication Recipient

UMCA sanctioned 100-mile Time-Trial Open Road Record:  May 22, 2005 – 4:11:09,   September 25, 2005 – 4:10:09,   October 6, 2007 - 3:56:03 (current record)

Furnace Creek 508 (508 miles: Valencia, CA - Death Valley, Twenty-Nine Palms, CA), (
 Solo Champion - Oct, 1998
 2-Man Team Champion and Open-Team Record Holder, 25:38:08, Oct, 2003 (
 2-Man Team Champion and 30+ Record, 26:06:22, October 4, 2008 (
      Dan McGehee data
       83.6 mi   3:49 6176 ft 21.90 mph
       99.1 mi   4:51 7538 ft 20.44 mph 
       56.2 mi   2:37 2186 ft 21.49 mph
       33.7 mi   1:46 2280 ft 19.10 mph
       272.6 mi  13:03   18,180 ft

UMCA-sanctioned 100-mile Time-Trial Indoor Track.  June 20, 2009 - 3:47:35 
     Fastest Certified 100-mile time-trial on North American Continent
     Missed World Record time of 3:47:26 by 8 seconds.

 Dan Start
         Dan blasts out of the starting gate
 Dan on S2
            Dan getting some fluids out on S2





6.  Spring Stagecoach Record Time:

Local ultra distance racing star, Kevin McNulty from Ramona, CA, holds the Spring Stagecoach Century record of 4:45, set Apr 5, '08.

Kevin is an exceptionally talented ultra distance racer.  He won his age group in the California state time trials in 2005, 2006, and 2007; participated in the four-man Race Across America in 2005; won the two-man Race Across America in 2006, setting a course record.  He has many wins and records posted on climbs throughout California and Nevada.

On April 5, 2008 Kevin hammered the Spring Stagecoach in a solo record time of 4:45.  He was slowed by a flat tire, which did not stop the clock.  The weather conditions were very warm, 57-85 F, and the desert winds howled at sustained speeds of 10-20 MPH, gusting to 30+ MPH, making his record even more incredible.

In 2009, the Spring Stagecoach Century was retired, so Kevin’s record will remain on the books, permanently, as the fastest Spring Stagecoach time.
Kevin on windy S2
Kevin battles high winds on Great Southern Overland

7.   Theoretical Stagecoach Record:   With a large peloton, the course can easily be ridden well under 4 hours, probably under 3:40.  But for a true solo effort, in January, on the windy Stagecoach course, the potential record is probably in the 4:15 - 4:20 range.  Stagecoach welcomes speedy Cat 1/2 riders, or other gutsy and fast cyclists, to come out and test themselves.  Riders going for a solo record at Stagecoach must not benefit from any drafting, or outside support.  Timing is informal, but once the clock starts, it does not stop for any reason, until the rider crosses the finish line.  If you’d like to give it a try, please email Jim for the details.  

Go to top of page  

Ultra Distance Riders:

1.  Overview:  For experienced ultra distance riders, Stagecoach offers a challenging "Super Century" option of up to 150 miles.   The Super Centulry is comprised of the Full Century course, plus an additional out-and-back to Rest Stop #2, which adds exactly 50 miles more (25 + 25 mi), making a total of 150 miles.  At a different time of year, it may be possible to have enough light to complete 200 miles, but with longer days come oppressive heat in the desert.  So 200 miles is not an option in January.  For Stagecoach, the course is officially open from 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.   All support is designed to support riders during only that timeframe.  The reason for the 5:00 P.M. cutoff is that’s when the sun dives down into the desert in mid-January.  A sunny 70 F day quickly transforms to darkness, followed by a drop of 20 degrees almost instantly.  The two time cut-offs are:  1:00 P.M. (all riders MUST be riding southbound back to Ocotillo), and 5:00 P.M. (course closes, all riders must be finished in Ocotillo).

2.  How to do 150 miles:   It’s all about riding efficiently and committing to disciplined time management.   Having just 10 hours to complete 150 miles, is not easy.  And at Stagecoach, those pesky winds will make it even harder.  But for determined, experienced riders, it’s possible.  We recommend focusing on first finishing the Full Century, without regard to the 150 miles.  If all physical systems are still green after the first 100 miles, and there's adequate time before time cutoffs, riders may do the extra 50 miles, which is riding back out to Rest Stop #2 and back to Ocotillo.   All riders, including ultra distance riders, are specifically prohibited from riding past 5:00 P.M. for safety reasons.  The course will be officially closed and will have no support available after 5:00 P.M.  All riders, including ultra distance riders, must adhere to the time cutoffs detailed in the Final Rider Instructions.

3.  Early Start Option:  For experienced ultra distance riders, who have adequate front and rear lighting systems on their bicycles, an early start is possible.  This option is NOT available to century riders who wish to start early.   Ultra distance riders who have picked up their packets in advance (on Friday) may begin riding at 6:00 A.M., with the full understanding they are riding ahead of the Stagecoach support plan by one full hour.  That means Rest Stop #1 will likely not be operational when they arrive, nor will on-course support vehicles be available if they have a mechanical issue.  Note:  Early start times will almost certainly involve the coldest temps, so dress with extra warm layers.   Ultra riders choosing to start prior to 7:05 A.M. understand that they are riding outside the official Stagecoach Century support boundaries and waive all Liabilities and accept full individual responsibility

Go to top of page