Sunday, August 28, 2011

USA Pro Cycling-Challenged

What a great day we had on Wednesday.

After waking at 4:20 AM before my alarm went off (anticipation...?) my brother and I set out for Aspen at maybe 5:15, for the dual purpose of riding up Independence Pass and watching Stage 2 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

My leg still felt sore from my fall(s) off the mountain bike on Saturday, but I could apply enough pressure to feel confident that I could do some riding, and I banked on whatever conditioning I had built up during my running, because frankly I don't really have much bike experience.

Paonia State Park

We took highways 92 and then 131 from Delta, CO to Aspen. The Hotchkiss area is very pretty, and then the highway passes by some spectacular terrain in the Elks near Marble. I was driving and in a mad rush to get to Independence Pass before it closed for the race, or else I'd have more pictures of that stretch.

When we finally got parked around 11 AM a little ways outside of Aspen, rain clouds were hanging over the valley and higher up the pass. It did not look good. However, rain was intermittent, and was interspersed with sunny breaks.

Although it doesn't look like it, there were tons of people riding up the pass for the race. It was also great to have the opportunity to ride a mountain pass with the road closed off to auto traffic (except for team/staff vehicles).

For a while we were changing in and out of our shells, and finally stopped wearing them and just got wet.

FYI, my brother is the one who is the huge cycling fan (from out of state, no less) who was lugging a heavy DSLR and zoom lens in his pack just to take some shots of the pros, whereas I was just along for the ride on a fun outing. So, he hauled uphill to make sure he was at the top when the racers hit the summit of Independence Pass.

He was worried about altitude, but he rides on roads a lot and did great; he reached the top with only a few stops.

My heavier mountain bike, knobby tires and less training made for a tough ride (maybe that's why I only saw about 4 mountain bikes among the hundreds of bikes on the ascent - heh). I did fine considering, but averaged about 1 mph slower during the uphill. My climbing muscles finally ran out of steam about 16 miles into it and I started walking a bit.

This was around 5 miles from the top:

Nearing the hairpin turn about 2 miles from the top, troopers started driving by and telling me to find a place to watch and please stay off the road surface (prematurely, I might add). But I figured I could make steady progress on foot, so I locked my bike to a guardrail and started walking as fast as I could up the road to the pass.

When it leveled off, more cars and motorcycles were passing with lights flashing, it seemed like a couple dozen. I jogged around cars and finally when I got to within about 50 yards of the inflatable arch at the top, the riders started coming past. I made it!

Cadel Evans leading a small group of riders

I moved towards the arch, where the spectators were thicker and louder, banging on the barriers as riders approached, cheering, and ringing cowbells.

George Hincapie, the eventual winner of the stage, wondered if anyone would bother coming up to the top of a pass in the middle of the mountains to watch. Welcome to Colorado, buddy! An estimated 3,000 fans showed up along the pass. And a lot of them were on bikes.

Within what seemed like 20 minutes, all the riders had flown by and downhill out of sight. It was cold, rainy, windy and people were shivering, so mobs of bikers and people started packing up and leaving, and I walked back down to my bike a mile below.

It was a bit of a harrowing trip down on the slick pavement with passing cars and scores of bikes, and it was my first real road ride since college (i.e. a long time ago). I think I used my brakes about 90% of the time along the narrow, winding road with little in the way of shoulders. My arms and hands were tired and cold by the end, and a couple of toes were numb (shoe too tight + cold).

Ride distance was 36.33 miles, time 5:15 (moving 4:10), and elevation gain/loss 4,827 feet.

Average moving speed 8.7 mph, max 31.5 mph. My pace was about 6 mph while riding up.

My brother beat me down, and since I wasn't at the car he rode into town to warm up and found it was sunny in Aspen. I met him at the hotel and we both took long showers to ease the muscles and restore warmth.

View from the Aspen Hotel in the morning

The Aspen Hotel was a cool place right on Main Street. It was pricey by most standards (last-minute price of $200) but it was right downtown and was very nice.

We walked over to Aspen Brewing, had a couple of brews (Independence Pass Ale -- ha!), ate at Hickory House, then went back to Aspen Brewing later. Great night.

In the morning we drove back to Durango via Salida and stopped at Amica's. Excellent IPA and pizza: #11 Montenotte.

A fantastic day and a half.

The leg held up great and I only felt some fatigue at the end of the ascent. On the descent, my arms were incredibly tired, probably since I was pretty tense riding for 16 miles on wet pavement where I could have been run over by cars if I'd fallen. Plus I'm just not used to the activity of riding yet. I'm pretty happy that I was able to ride as much as I did.

FYI, my brother is a great photographer and I'll post some of his shots of the race later.


  1. That sounds like a great day - Independence on a mountain bike sounds tiring though ;-)

  2. HappyTrails - Yeah, just a bit. lol. Thankfully fun and tired often go hand-in-hand.

  3. Nice post title.

    Awesome you got up there.

  4. Ted - Thanks. Well worth the long loop around the San Juans/Weminuche :)

    And the town of Aspen is a post unto itself. Beautiful place, with all the strange juxtapositions of mountain ski towns - amped up to eleven.

  5. 16 miles on slippery roads on a steep incline with a mountain bike. WOW! You could make that into a movie title I think :).

    So cool you got to see the riders. I thought about going downtown on Sunday but just didn't want to deal with the mobs of people. I hope the race makes it way back again next year!

  6. Jill - If I had been in town, I might have headed up the back way to Lookout Mountain (i.e. US-40/I-70) and ridden/ran over to watch them summit. Bet it was crazy, Golden is a definitely a cyclist's town. It's Boulder South.