Team Georgia

A couple of months ago, Michael contacted me through my website and told me that he and his wife were interested in coming out to Colorado.  They were wanting to follow the USA pro challenge, get in some cycling, and see more of the state.  This was to be the first trip for my new venture.

I have been riding for more than 30 years and have ridden with many types of people all at different levels.  I’m no pro, but I can usually hang with most people.  I had a bit of home field advantage with the altitude, so I made sure to ride at a moderate and steady pace.  The last thing I wanted to do was blow them out of the water on day one.

A few days and more than 100 miles of riding into the trip, we were slated for a ride up Independence Pass.  On this particular ride, you top out at 12,059′ above sea level.  Michael and Brittany were holding up pretty well and seemed to be adjusting to the change in elevation from Atlanta.  We spent the previous night camped out at Turquoise Lake just outside of Leadville, CO.  The elevation here was just under 10,000′.

The race route that day started out of Copper mountain ski area, climbed over Freemont Pass, sped through the town of Leadville, and then did a lap around the lake before turning towards Indy pass to eventually finish in Aspen.  At the base of east side of the pass lies Twin Lakes.  It’s an incredible vista with Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert(14,433′) standing proud just north of highway 82.

twin lakes

I made sure to start a few miles out from the base of the climb to ensure time for a proper warm up.  This side of the pass is right around 22 miles long with 3,000′ of vertical.  It’s not the hardest climb, but the time spent climbing and the elevation gain can certainly wear one down. The first 10 miles are pretty gentle.  The road climbs, but then gives you a break as it flattens out.  Slow and steady was the way to conquer the mountain on this day.  With my experience on the bike and riding with many others, I feel I can judge what someone has in them on a particular day.  Michael was riding strong, but Brittany was having a harder time getting her legs underneath her.  We mostly rode at her pace and I used that to my advantage in order to snap some photos.indy
cliff

It took a little bit of encouragement, and maybe a push or two, but we made it to the top.  I was really happy for them.  I love to see people push themselves and make new gains whether physical or mental.

Brittany had had enough, but since we had some time to spare, Michael and I descended the west side for a bit before turning back to climb to the top.

west side

Shortly after hitting the summit for the second time, the party atmosphere started to pick up as the race leaders quickly approached.

unbearable

Bear costumes, women in bikinis, and men wearing dresses seemed totally normal.  It was quite cold(upper 40’s?) and windy.  Those conditions made it a bit tough to hang out, but knowing what the riders were dealing made it that much easier.  The first few riders came through in 1’s and 2’s, then slightly larger groups.  None bigger than maybe 20.  This climb really blew the race apart!greg

A few minutes passed by and all the racers had come over the top.  It was nice that the Clifbar tent had a TV up top.  We were able to watch the race unfold and eventually catch the sprint finish as the peloton rolled into Aspen.

After it was all said and done, I asked Michael if he wanted to descend the pass.  He was inclined for the decline, so we headed out for the 25 miles and 4,000′ elevation drop.  This is no easy task though.  You actually have to pedal and do some work to get down to town.  The headwind the entire way down didn’t help much, but we pushed through it. The descent really gave us an appreciation for what the racers had deal with; it was great.

2014 US Pro cycling challenge

Ann and I kebler pass

It’s rare that my wife and I get to have a week off to ride bikes and follow the pro peloton around the beautiful state of Colorado.  In 2013 I, with a couple of friends, thought it would be a great idea to follow this race around for its third year running. The year before, I went to a few stages. I was up on Independence Pass the first year that they raced over it, and it was a bit of a mad house. I loved it! I was hooked. I needed to figure out a way I could manage to follow the entire 7 days.  In 2012 we purchased a Sprinter van and I have been converting it into an adventure mobile ever since.

Ann at KOM

Back to the 2014 race.  One of the most beautiful places in Colorado is Crested Butte.  I was lucky enough to be able to ride from CB to Aspen about a month before the race came to town.  The USPCC would be racing in the opposite direction that I traveled. Kebler Pass is amazing. It’s a dirt road that winds through huge aspen tree groves with a valley floor filled with gigantic ferns. I’ve never seen another place like it in Colorado. I rode it when it was dry. The race came through amidst a thunderstorm that included heavy rain, hail, and much lightning.  It was incredible to be in the forest, just the two of us, when the race rolled through.  I got so excited! It’s like I was a kid again.  The racers looked miserable as it was in the high 40’s and they were soaked and racing on muddy roads.  What incredible conditions! I was so pumped that I temporarily forgot that we still had to ride 20+ miles back to the van in these same conditions.

Racers coming through

My heart sank a bit, not for me, but for my wife.  Riding when wet and cold is bad enough, but then you throw in muddy roads and unsure weather conditions and things get real, quick.  Before the entire race even passed through I said, “we need to get out of here!” These were in my top 5 worst conditions I’ve ridden in book.  It was cold and getting colder, and the rain was just about to soak through our clothing.  Ann and I jumped on our bikes and headed towards the van, against the race.  Any other circumstance and I would have never done this.  These guys deserve the respect of the entire road.  As we soldiered on, Colorado State Troopers and race officials yelled at us to get off the road. I didn’t listen.

I could see in the eyes of the riders that they were in survival mode. They had raced almost 100 miles and then got hit with this.  They looked miserable!  I just concentrated on moving forward and staying out of their way.  After about 15 minutes of riding, the clouds started break and the sun emerged.  By the time we got back to the Sprinter van, our bikes and bodies were covered in the dirty aftermath of Stage 2.  I gained some real respect for those guys that day.

I’m so glad that Ann and I got to experience something like that together, but hope that we never have to again.

I'm dirty