This morning there was a press release that Cadel Evans is confirmed for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, slated for August 22-28.
By next week we should know if the entire Tour de France podium from 2011 will be in Colorado for the week-long race. The team rosters should be complete by August 4th. The rumor mills are hot and heavy that the Schleck brothers will be racing in Colorado as well – skipping the Vuelta a Espana.
Where I live along Colorado’s northern Front Range, it is not uncommon to see highly talented athletes. In December of 2008, we had a special treat when my Sunday group ride went to Estes Park.
Estes is around a 32-mile climb from Loveland, Colorado. Sitting at the mouth of Rocky Mountain National Park, at about 7,500 feet, Estes can definitely be cold in the winter. Sometimes we get lucky and can cherry-pick a day to ride to Estes in any given month of the year. In fact some silly people make that an annual goal.
On one of the group rides, we happened to run into several of the pro riders doing a training ride. They rode to Estes from Boulder. I’m now hoping that simply standing next to Danielson and near van Garderen will make me faster. Perhaps it already has? Maybe there’s more to come?
It is fun to see these riders currently doing well in the Tour de France. Beyond the next two weeks and the Tour, I’m looking forward to seeing both TeJay, Tom and several of the top Tour de France teams at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado in August.
Here’s hoping these guys can stay out of crashes and healthy ~
Ventoux, seems to challenge, “No trees can grow on my summit – what makes you think you can survive?”
Mont Ventoux is a legendary mountain in Tour de France circles. Part of its notoriety comes from the difficulty of the climb, boasting an average grade of 7.43% from the Bedoin side (the final 16k having an average of 8.9%) and a maximum of 11%. If the incline isn’t enough challenge, add the nice advertisement of “expect the last kilometers to have strong, violent winds.” (Venteux means windy in French.) So as not to disappoint, the mountain delivered the day we rode.
Ventoux became known worldwide when it played a role in claiming the life of British cyclist Tom Simpson. Tom died on the mountain in 1967, during the Tour, at the hands of heat exhaustion, dehydration, amphetamines and alcohol. From Wikipedia:
He began to wildly weave across the road before he fell down. He was delirious and asked spectators to put him back on the bike, which he rode to within a half mile of the summit before collapsing dead, still clipped into his pedals. Amphetamines were found in his jersey and bloodstream.
This year, Ventoux was touted as the decisive stage of the Tour and we weren’t about to miss it.
We left Baronnies and headed toward Bedoin, the most famous and difficult ascent. The first part of our ride was pretty relaxed. As we got closer to Bedoin, we encountered more and more cyclists.
Bedoin was bustling, with people on foot and on bikes. After filling our bottles in central city fountain with cold, delicious water, we headed toward the summit. Our plan was to summit and then descend to a good viewing location.
I thought that climbing Romme and Colombiere was humanity madness. Really, that day was light training for Ventoux. The road on the lower part of Ventoux was crowded with people riding and walking. It was at least twice as crowded as Romme and Colombiere.
At one point low on the mountain, a few Gendarme (select the word and then select “speak” for pronunciation ) set up a couple of barriers and began asking cyclists to turn around as no more cyclists would be allowed on the mountain. This particular effort, at this time, was fruitless as cyclists and walkers flooded past the inadequate barriers.
It was at this barrier that our group got split up and I’m not sure what happened to everyone else. I made a decision to attach myself to guide David Cooper’s wheel for two reasons:
1) He speaks excellent French.
2) He is an excellent cyclist and can navigate a crowd on a road bike as if it were a technical mountain bike trail.
As if it isn’t enough of a challenge to ride through a sea of cyclists, pedestrians, kids and dogs the Tour adds vehicles to the mix. Constant vigilance was critical, in order to navigate the people and keep an ear out for honking horns (cars, tour busses – the big ones, VIP vans) and the occasional sirens of emergency vehicles heading to who knows where.
About half way up the mountain, I asked (insisted) that David leave me and ride at his own, faster, pace. I would meet him at the top, where we would try to collect the group.
Ventoux is similar to Mt. Evans in Colorado in that you can see the tower of your final destination for quite awhile. While treeline on Evans is caused by elevation, treeline on Ventoux was caused by the systematic stripping of trees for shipbuilders. Erosion of the soil after the trees were cut down removed any chances for new trees to grow and exposed a stern, angry look.
Both mountains, Evans and Ventoux, seem to challenge, “No trees can grow on my summit – what makes you think you can survive?”
While we were struggling against the winds, trying to summit, Phil Liggett was telling television viewers that the gusts on Ventoux were 70 miles per hour. Within a few miles of the summit, the Gendarme were again setting up a barrier. This time they were allowing cyclists to pass through one side of the gate, until a bus load of reinforcements arrived. I suspect there was a certain time cut-off.
The new Gendarme (also Gendarmerie) now stood a line, arm-in-arm, and would not allow any more cyclists to pass. One cyclist in our group was not able to summit due to the cut-off.
Already past the barrier, it was one of those rides that I became steel-willed about doing. Coming this far, there was no way I wasn’t going to summit – even if it meant dismounting and walking because of high winds. Thankfully, I didn’t have to walk and found David and the rest of the gang, sans one, at the top. Below is a shot of David and I at the top.
I think someone else got group photos at the top, but somehow I managed not to take a group shot. We didn’t spend much time at the top because it was cold and windy. We descended to Chalet Reynard, where we would spend the rest of the day near the VIP area, food and a big screen feed of the race. Perfect!
The gang is resting in a spot that we would eventually have to move from. Note the big screen in the top left corner. During the race, yes during, the riders later in the peloton would pause to look over their shoulders at the screen to see how the race at the front was unfolding.
The hillside at Reynard.
My Gendarmerie pal that kept late-arriving people from crowding in front of me.
An excellent view of Contador as he was 6k from the top.
For us, it was a long and hard day on Ventoux. After the riders passed and the course was clear, it was the completely chaotic trip back to Bedoin. Navigating the storm of people, bikes, cars, etc. post-race was more challenging than the trip up and one of our group accidentally took a wrong turn ending up in Sault.
After collecting the lone rider (I’m still convinced he was aiming to get more miles riding than the rest of us) we started back to the chalet. Unfortunately, the rental van broke down. Remaining calm and collected, Julie got the rental company to send a mechanic to fix the problem. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I would have had to deal with this on my own, had I tried to do a self-designed tour.
Ventoux, and the entire trip, was such a great experience that no one allowed a mechanical problem to spoil the day or the end of the trip. We were able to drive the van back to the chalet and enjoy an excellent final group dinner before packing our bikes and heading our separate ways the next day.
Ride time on the Ventoux day was 4:05, “out” time with bike in hand (not counting the van break down) was 10 hours, 7,272 feet of elevation gain in 47.5 miles of riding.
A big thanks to the Ride Strong team of David, Julie and Rob for making the trip a memory of a lifetime.
Ahhhh, a much needed recovery day for us after yesterday and the Tour riders are visiting Lake Annecy for an individual time trial stage.
There are so many good photos from today, it is tough to select just a few. Sometime later, Ill post an entire album.
To begin the day, we went for a ride up Col de la Forclaz. It was a beautiful ride on roads similar to the one below featuring Scott Ellis, Ron Kennedy and Todd Singiser.
At the top of the col was a nifty shop and I think food was available as well. There were several antique bikes, chainsaws, butter churns and other interesting relics. In the shot below, you can see an old bike sitting against the railing, overlooking Lake Annecy. The small green platform that is barely visible on the right is a launch pad for hang-gliders. Yeow, what a leap.
After the ride, we cleaned up and Julie had arranged a boat ride across Lake Annecy to the start/finish area for the time trial. Below is a shot from the boat, looking back toward the valley where our chateau was located.
The time trial stage is nice because you have several chances to see the riders. There is a large grassy area, fenced off, where the team buses are lined up. Riders warm-up next to the bus, then roll out for their TT start. The first photo is the warm-up area and the second shot is Christian Vande Velde heading out for his ride.
The group ended up splitting up today. Four of us enjoyed watching some of the early riders on course, had some lunch at an excellent café and then spent most of the rest of the day at the entrance/exit to the team bus area. Others did something very similar, just in different locations along the course. A few folks hung in a pub and watched the live TV coverage of the event.
After a great day, it was back to the chateau via boat to enjoy a delicious meal prepared by the innkeeper complete with dessert to celebrate Sandy Singisers birthday. Todd will have a tough time topping a trip to France birthday present
Todays stats: 13.76 miles, ride time 1:18, out-time was 1:41, 2,783 ft of ascending this day.
This was the toughest day of the week with lots of climbing 12,393 ft. - and rain.
After riding LAlpe dHuez yesterday, we ended the day in Allemont. We grabbed lunch at a deli and got into the vans bound for Lake Annecy. One of the things that made this trip so enjoyable was staying at chateaus. Ill include a few chateau photos in the next blog. I should have taken even more chateau photos, but hindsight
The group split up today with some of us riding bikes to the train station and boarding a train to begin our ride in, I believe, La Roche-sur-Foron. Others got in a van and drove to Grand-Bornand to drop the van for the drive home. That was the plan anyway. This group had a short climb up the back side of the Columbiere (opposite direction from the race) and they intended to meet us at the top.
There was a sense of urgency for the train group to catch an early train and get riding. Because we rode some of the actual race route, we needed to be sure that we were well ahead of road closures. As you would imagine, the roads close to all non-credentialed vehicle traffic well before the riders come though. If my memory serves me correctly, this means we needed to be at our race viewing location some two to three hours before the riders would roll though.
Early in the ride we were not on the actual race course. As we got closer to the Romme, there were more and more spectators making the same nomadic journey we were making. I dont recall exactly when the rain began, but it was somewhere on the Romme climb. Perhaps the wet conditions were the perfect compliments to riding in a river of people.
Riding up any major Tour climb is hard to describe. I will describe it for you here, but you cant know what it is really like unless you experience the madness. At that, it is a madness of order, yet no order. I am still in wonder how more people are not injured. Somehow it seems to work.
Imagine navigating a narrow mountain road on your bike. The climb is tough, so you have to lend concentration to keeping your pace. Now put that ride within a river of pedestrians walking up the climb, carrying coolers, chairs and cheering equipment. Make half of those spectators cyclists with varying cycling skills and fitness levels.
Line the sides of the road with campers and trailers that, in some cases, secured their particular location a week ago. They are barbequing, some are watching the Tour on satellite television and many are having parties.
Add a few darting dogs, kids and the occasional chattering group of adults with arms waiving enthusiastically and you can begin to formulate an idea of the normal flow of the ride.
As the ride is progressing along normally, sprinkle in the occasional sponsor caravan that is tossing out free shirts, which causes everyone around you to swarm the caravan vehicle. I got very good at shouting out attention! (Click on the little speaker at this link to hear the correct pronunciation.)
Finally, to complete your vision of the ride, imagine paint and chalk artists standing, sitting, and lying in the road, creating their personal message to the riders. The river of pedestrians and cyclists parts around each artist like a river parts for a giant boulder.
Wow, what a surreal experience.
It poured rain for the climb to the top of the Romme, and once at the top we huddled under a picnic shelter for awhile. David Cooper, one of our guides, finally made the call that we needed to keep riding to summit the Colombiere to meet up with the others in our group. There was only one way to get to our destination before the road closed down, pinning us on the Romme, and that was to ride in the rain.
After a descent that took us past a downed tree that had been struck by lightning, we began climbing again. It is a long and sweeping climb from the valley up the Colombiere. (Photo later).
Once on top of the Colombiere we found the others in our group. The shelter at the top was limited and Peter was the first one I saw when I reached the top. He told me where the others were and gave me a Coke from the pack he carried from Grand-Bornand. I was in sore need of sugar and the caffeine was good too.
After some recovery we settled into our spot. Below is a shot of the end of the rain and our location to watch the riders, preceded by the sponsor caravan.
The next photo shows the road up the Col de Columbiere lined with spectators for as far as the eye can see. Click to enlarge the photo to see the road wind deep into the right side of the photo about ¾ of the way across.
Below is a shot of a few of the sponsor caravan vehicles. People atop the vehicles throw out schwag to eager spectators. One of the vehicles throws out the publication specific to the caravan, telling the length of the parade is 200 vehicles.
The fourth shot show some of the helicopters that are following the race. These are not the television camera copters, those followed later. We suspected these were some sort of VIP choppers. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)
The final shot shows how close we were to the racers, and more, it is a good illustration of the fatigue they cannot hide. It was a hard day in the saddle.
After the sweep vehicle came past us, it was time to ride toward the finish line and our van. That river of pedestrians and cyclists I previously described is now more crowed, heading downhill and it now includes exiting vehicles. Constant vigilance is essential.
Once at our van, Julie realized that we would get back to the chateau faster if we just rode our bikes. A long, hard day; but still nowhere near what the riders have experience.
Todays stats for the crew that rode long: 62.88 miles, ride time 5:15, out-time was 11:55, 12,393 ft of ascending this day.
When I get back to the chateau, the airline has finally delivered my second bag. Woo-hoo!
Tomorrows ride is a much needed recovery ride near Lake Annecy.
The legendary LAlpe dHuez has to be one of the most recognizable climbs included in the Tour de France. One source has the climb at 13.8 kilometers with an average grade of 7.9 percent. There are 21 hairpin corners on the climb, named after winners of the stages there. In 2001 when the 22nd race was held on the mountain, naming restarted at the bottom with Lance Armstrongs added to Coppis.
A second source, Climbbybike.com, has the climb at 13.2 kilometers, an average grade of 8.1 percent with a maximum grade of 10.6 percent, when approached from Bourg dOisans. This is the approach we used on Day 2 of our trip, requesting that the legendary mountain be included in our bike tour package; even though it was not part of the actual Tour de France this year.
The first photo I have for you is a glance at some of the switchback corners. I cant tell you what number corners are in the photo and I do apologize for some of the washed out colors in todays photos as some of the shots were taken with my cell phone.
The second shot is a cool church that sits at the inside of one of the swithbacks.
The third shot is another overview with switchbacks visible.
The forth shot took a bit of a hike to get to the sign and I felt like I would slide off the slope, but it was too cool of a location to resist. This too came from my phone, so the color isn't great.
The final shot is somewhere along the Balcony Road of Auris-en-Oisans, the side route we took part way down from Alpe dHuez. Left to right are Peter Stackhouse, Ed Shaw, Scott Ellis, me, Todd Singiser, Ron Kennedy and Bruce Runnels.
The Balcony Road had stunning overlooks, three(?) dark tunnels and a fair amount of climbing. Ride Strong Bike Tours notes, If you have vertigo or nothing left in your legs, its best to return directly to Bourg. Noted.
Todays stats: 41.59 miles, ride time 3:09, out-time (enjoying the scenery and photos) 4:31, 7,462 ft of ascending this day.
I still do not have my luggage on this day, find out about that here.
Look forward to Day 3 of our tour, Col de Romme and Col de la Colombiere where we get to see the riders, the caravan and experience the Tour up close and personal. It was the toughest day of our bike tour for several reasons. Ill fill you in on the next blog.
Before launching into day one of riding, Ill give you a summary of the week. Each rider could choose to ride all days or not. Those of us that rode all six days logged 22 hours of ride time, 40.5 hours of out time (ride time plus time spent on the mountain side waiting, hiking, etc., basically this is total chamois time), 293 miles of riding, 50,525 feet of climbing (see update on climbing footage here) and a ranking of 172.54 ft/mi of the tour. Just how did we get those miles? It all began one morning in Grenoble
In the photo below, we are getting ready to leave Grenoble. Left to right are David Cooper (Ride Strong Bike Tours guide. This company provided two vans, sag support and a minimum of one riding guide each day.), Peter Stackhouse, Bruce Runnels, Ron Kennedy, Linda Kennedy, Ed Shaw, me, Todd Singiser, Allie Singiser, Craig Singiser and Scott Ellis. Todds wife Sandy is missing from the photo and could well be the one that took the photo with my camera.
Once out of Grenoble, we rode through stereotypical stunning French country side. Below is a shot of Todd. We couldnt resist the backdrop and there were kids on ponies learning to jump in the valley below. The second photo shows a close up of the mailbox marker, assembled with incredible attention to detail and a replica of the house below. Clicking on the photo allows you to see the detail.
The final shot is of a stone, one-way bridge that spanned the valley. Ed and Scott found it irresistible and had to ride across it.
Day one stats: 69 miles, ride time 4:45, out-time (including a great picnic lunch) 7:16, 10,472 ft of ascending this day.
***Big thanks to Ron Kennedy to providing the lion's share of the data that will be logged in the blogs for this trip. I managed to mess up my Garmin most days, total operator error - having too much fun?
As many of you know I spent last week in France riding the country side and watching some of the best stages of the Tour de France. Originally, I intended on doing more blogging, but a few items got in the way of that plan. The best excuse is that I was busy riding my bike a lot and the days were packed full of fun. There was nearly zero time for internet access because we stayed in chateaus rather than major hotels, making internet access less convenient. (Know that Im not complaining about this fact, just to be clear.)
The next few blogs will give you more detail about the rides and the actual trip. In this blog, I want to give you a few tips about foreign or long-distance travel for bicycle tours. I write this blog because I hope I can keep you from some troubles in the future. Lets begin at the beginning of the trip.
I was booked on a United flight to leave Colorado on Saturday afternoon, July 18th. I got to the airport a couple of hours early, checked in and then went to look for some lunch in the airport. Mid-lunch, I received an easy travel update from United, on my phone, that the flight was leaving at XX time.
I listened again and the departure time on this update was 1.5 hours beyond what I expected. I grabbed what remained of my lunch and high-tailed it to customer service. After standing in line for about 15 minutes, the woman at customer service was extremely helpful and booked me on a Star Alliance Lufthansa flight that was direct to Frankfurt, to replace the Denver-Chicago-Frankfurt flight. This was great because I could make my Frankfurt to Lyon, France flight with no changes and less actual time in an airplane.
The customer service woman was able to find my bike in the system and got it changed to the new Lufthansa flight. My one checked bag...was dicey. The system told her it was on hold which meant that it could be on an earlier flight to Chicago or it could be sitting and waiting to be loaded. She said not to worry, that they would be sure they got the bag to me one way or the other.
When I got to Lyon, France, the bike case did arrive but that checked bag did not. Here are a few things that saved the first four days of my trip:
1. I receive automated updates on my flight status on my phone and via e-mail. This update allowed me to get a jump on rescheduling the flight.
2. In my carry-on bag I had my helmet, bike shoes, pedals, shorts and a jersey. I had most of my critical toiletries as well. Very critical, I carried my hotel (chateau) itinerary with me. Because we were changing cities during the bike tour, the airline needed the detailed information to deliver the bag to the right place on the right day.
3. I borrowed arm warmers and a jacket from fellow, generous, cyclists for two of the rides.
4. At the end of each daily ride, I got into the shower wearing my cycling kit. I shampooed the kit first and after taking it off, washed my body.
5. To get the clothes to dry, I first wrung out as much water as possible. Then, I laid the clothes flat onto a bath towel. I rolled up the towel and used my knees (you can use your feet too) to squish the water into the towel. I then hung the kit in the window to catch the breeze.
6. Julie Gildred took me into town shopping to buy a couple of sets of clothes and a few toiletries to get me through until the airlines brought my luggage. She also called the airlines multiple times for me, to track my luggage while I was enjoying my bike rides. Great service from the tour operator.
7. Because I was not a business or first class traveler, nor was I a Lufthansa frequent flyer member, my luggage delivery was delayed by one day. I received the bag at the end of my fourth day in France.
8. In hindsight, Id recommend carrying one extra set of street clothes in your carry-on bag, if possible. Know that Lufthansa allows only one carry-on bag per person, and each airline has its own policy. Check the policy before you go to the airport because you might be planning on taking two carry-on bags when they only allow one. That written, this issue might catch you if you have to change flights and airlines like I did. (United allows two carry-on bags one personal item and one carry-on.)
By packing the essentials to get you through a few days without a checked bag, you can still enjoy your trip.
As a coach, it is normal for me to look ahead three to six months. I am planning workouts for now, today and next week, that will help athletes be successful some 12, or more, weeks from now.
Looking ahead to looming fun gives me butterflies. I’m excited for the process of building fitness and I recognize that summer riding and racing is not that far away.
For me personally, it is going to be a riding kind of summer. I have two big events this summer. First, is one of those life-list items – seeing the Tour de France live. The ride is a mix of some Tour stages and some away from the Tour riding the roads of France. This trip has been in the planning since last October.
Just three short weeks after being in France, I will ride my fifth Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. While I normally include a big block of cycling before the mountain bike race, the week is normally in Colorado and some six weeks before Leadville. It will be interesting to see how the change in training format will affect this year’s race.
With the heart of summer just two to four months away, what are you doing now to be ready for your looming fun?