So, wanted to update folk on the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. This was a pretty hard event, and the training I put in (1800 miles outdoors since March, in addition to innumerable hours sitting on the stationary bike and doing strength training) paid off. I was able to ride almost all of the ride, with one little glitch I'll explain in a moment.
First, though, it might be interesting to recount how I found myself delusional enough to pick this event. Some of you might have met me at an ESA over the past three years, and might remember me as a rather large guy. At the time I contemplated doing a bike tour, I weighed about 245 lbs, although I rationalize my weight by thinking that I was pretty active, skiing around 40 days a year, biking around 1700 miles a year, and generally able to hang with most folk. However, I wanted to do something that would motivate me to lose weight, and my buddy and I thought a bike tour might do it. We decided to sign up for the Ride the Rockies.
Now, Ride the Rockies uses a lottery system to allocate the 2000 spots on its tour. At the beginning of February, my buddy and I signed up, and we started training. This year, the RTR itinerary was for a 380 mile tour over 6 days of riding, with some tough mountain climbs involved. As a result, I hired a cycling coach who designed a training program for me. All was well, I thought: given that I rode around 1700 miles last year, I was sure I'd be able to step the training up marginally and be able to complete the ride.
At the end of February, we were informed that we had not made the cut. Some of you may know that I am an economist, and my buddy and I promptly forgot the concept of "sunk cost." We had invested heavily in our training, and we weren't going to let it go to waste (if we only knew how little we had really invested at this point in training, we would have been embarassed, but spending 4 days a week on a stationary bike tends to warp your mind). My coach, when I first met with him, had mentioned the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. I sent a web link to my buddy, and he said that he was going to sign up. Now I went all-in, and joined this endeavor.
Whereas the Ride the Rockies is 380 miles, the BTC is 515. And while the BTC followed some of the same terrain as the RTR, it had much harder days, including a climb over Grand Mesa that is amongst the biggest climbs in Colorado. So, my coach indicated it was "game on," that I would have to cut back my skiing in March to 1 day a weekend, and stop it all together in April.
The training was 6 days a week, with a rest day. Early in the training, I did 2 days of strength training and 2-3 days of stationary bike work (he would have preferred me to ride outdoors, but it took a while for me to understand the power of wool jerseys and the insanity of sitting on a stationary bike going nowhere). For the past two months, I've been down to a single day a week of strength training, and 5 days a week of outdoor riding, building to 220-280 miles a week. My coach doesn't focus on miles, but time on the bike. I also rode 2 organized centuries; one in May, and one in June. Both of these were surrounded by 3-4 hour rides and 5-7 hour rides. It seemed crazy to ride so hard before and after the century, but the name of the game in a tour with tons of climbing and distance is being able to recover, and that means you've got to ride hard multiple days in a row.
My training also meant that I had to start working on climbing. Before this year, I rode a lot of the flat stuff on the plains here in Colorado. My coach emphasized that I should be heading into the mountains for my rides. This was tough, but I finally started to get the hang of climbing in the two weeks before the BTC. It also helped that I lost a fair bit of weight, and the strength training led to an increase in my power as well. The training led to me losing enough weight that I was down to 210 at the start of the ride.
Now, to describe the results. Last Sunday started with a drizzle and an 80 mile ride from Glenwood Springs to Hotchkiss over McClure Pass. This was a pretty easy ride for me, even though it did include 3900 feet of climbing. McClure Pass was the steepest climbing we did, with it topping out at about 10%, although the hardest part is the final three miles of the climb which averages something around 8%.
Day 2 was tough -- 95 miles from Hotchkiss to Grand Junction over Grand Mesa, with a total climb of around 7300 feet. The tough part of it was the relentless climb over 20 miles from Cederedge to the top of the Mesa, with about 5k of climbing. It just went on and on. This was the biggest climb I've ever done. But the descent was unbelievable -- fast, long, and open. I topped out at somewhere around 60 mph, and could have gone faster, but I was cautious as I didn't know the road or the condition of the surface.
Day 3 was a quasi-rest day, with 65 miles from Grand Junction to Montrose. With only 2800 feet of climbing, it should have been pretty easy, but it was quite a bit of a challenge due to the presence of a killer head wind that was somewhere around 30 mph. Still, it went pretty fast, and I felt pretty good at the end of it.
Day 4 was a long day, almost all uphill, of 93 miles from Montrose to Crested Butte. All of the significant climbing is in the first 30 miles. In toto, there was about 5k of climbing, but it was complicated by a killer wind that typically (and did) arise on the climb to the top of the Cero Summit. I got a bad case of hotfoot, and played with differing pedalling styles to try and relieve it, but by the end of the ride, I was only able to motivate myself by reminding myself that the next day was a rest day -- and I needed it.
After the rest day, the next day of riding was from Crested Butte to Buena Vista over Cottonwood Pass. The slight downhill from Crested Butte to Altamont was fast and furious -- I think I averaged in the high 20's for this section of the ride. We then embarked on a gradual climb to Taylor Park Reservoir, where the road turned to dirt for the next 14 miles. The dirt was pretty well packed, but it had potholes and wasboard; as a result, I dropped my speed considerably. I made the summit at noon, only to find the clouds closing in from behind me. As I started the descent, it started to mist; I thought I would be able to outrun the storm, as this is a famous high speed descent in Colorado. However, by the third switchback, the mist suddenly turned to sheets of rain. I stopped, put on full rain gear to protect my soaked body, and resumed the descent. This was the most frightened I have been on a bike -- with all of my strength applied to the brakes, I could barely control my speed. However, when I hit the 10% grade, even with full brakes applied, I was accelerating. I couldn't see more than 50 feet ahead because of the intensity of the rain. Finally, I made it down, but I had become hypothermic. It took more than 45 minutes to stop shivering. And I was giddy because I felt I had survived an experience where I wasn't sure I was going to make it without serious injury or possibly death. I later learned that they pulled everyone behind me off of the road and literally threw them in UHaul trucks without their bikes.
So, today I was to ride the final leg, from Buena Vista to Glenwood Springs over Independence Pass -- a 104 mile leg with around 5k of climbing. I started riding at 5:45 AM to minimize the chance of being caught on the pass in a thunderstorm. From the start, I felt tired, even though I had a great night's sleep last night. I just couldn't maintain power levels that are normal for me. It didn't help that we had a fierce wind. By Aid Station 1, I knew I just didn't have the strength to climb the rest of the pass. So, I managed to catch a SAG wagon, intending to ride from the top of the pass down to Glenwood, about 60 miles.
However, my bike, a carbon fiber recumbent, only fit on the SAG wagon trailer if the front wheel was dismounted. Somewhere in the 15 miles from the aid station to the top of the pass, my wheel flew off of the trailer. So I had no choice but to SAG all the way into Glenwood, missing the vast majority of the ride (even though it was all downhill).
I'm disappointed that I had to SAG this morning, but I have to look at what I was able to accomplish. This was a tough tour; many of the participants are truly avid cyclists, and thought it was amongst the hardest tours they have ever done. I was able to hang with the vast majority of the participants with respectable completion times. Perhaps if I had not become hypothermic yesterday I might have been able to complete the climb today; the hypothermia sapped a lot of energy from me.
And, most importantly, I've lost a lot of weight, and my body shape is a lot different than it was. I'm hoping that I will be able to continue to keep the weight I've lost off, maintain my acquired fitness, and lose perhaps another 20 pounds.
I hope my story will resonate with some. If I can do it, then I'm sure others can as well. And I wish you all well, and hope to see you soon at another ESA event.