Big Climb: Pre-Riding Stage 6 of the Tour of Utah

07.31.2006 | 6:31 pm

A couple weeks ago, I had a “clever” (by which I mean, “not clever”) idea: what if I tried riding the toughest stage in the upcoming Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah?

You know, just for fun?

So I called Travis, the marketing guy for the Tour of Utah (he’s the one who’s helped arrange the bike giveaway contest you should make sure you enter). “Sure, that sounds like fun,” Travis said. “Mind if I email a few other people who might be interested and see if they might want to join you?”

And that’s how, at 6:00am last Saturday, I found myself in a parking lot in Deer Valley with a few friends—Dug, BotchedExperiment, and Rick Sunderlage (not his real name)—and a half dozen other guys, all of us wondering what we were getting ourselves into.


This Isn’t So Hard…Hey, Where’d Everyone Go?

I had only a foggy notion of how the route worked, so was very pleased when Scott, one of the Tour of Utah guys—was there to act as our tour guide.

Scott, I noticed, was riding a brand-new Cervelo Soloist Team. Yup, exactly like the bike we’re giving away. It was the first time I’ve seen that bike up close, and it is beautiful. Whoever wins that is going to be digging it.

Anyway, in keeping with the intention to ride the course just like the pros will be, we did a parade lap around Deer Valley (yes, we really did), and then headed down toward Sundance.

It was all either downhill or flat.

It was easy.

And then everyone ditched me.

While at a quick pee stop, Kenny called, asking when we’d be getting to the base of the Alpine Loop climb; he was planning on joining us. While I talked, everyone else finished their business and left.

By the time I got off the phone, meanwhile, I still had business to take care of. And by the time I finished that, nobody was visible any longer. So I made my own way, following the signs and figuring things out as best as I could.

Eventually, as I came down Heber’s main street, I saw the group, waiting for me at an intersection. The fact that they were facing a different way than I was is a testament to my absolute and complete lack of navigation skills.

You know why race courses are usually marked way more than you need them to be? Because of people like me, that’s why. Sorry.


Wherein I Suffer and Nearly Get Spat Out the Back

As we got closer to the first big climb of the day—the Alpine Loop, which is about eight miles long, with 3000 feet of climbing—some of the fast guys in team kit started upping the pace. I started hurting.

Then a 16-year-old kid put the hammer down and it was all I could do to hang on. And we hadn’t even started climbing.

I knew I was in big trouble.

Somehow, though, I managed to hang on. After the ride, though, I asked Dug: “Can you believe the pace we were riding from Deer Creek to the base of the Alpine Loop climb? I thought I was going to die!

“I didn’t have a problem with it,” said Dug, nonchalantly.



Wherein I Suffer Some More, But With Better Results

As soon as we turned right, starting the climb to the summit of the Alpine Loop, it became very clear who was doing this ride to prove something, and who was there just to get it done.

A guy in a yellow jersey shot off the front at warp speed, clearly hoping to demoralize us. It worked on me.

Then the guys in team kit and the 16-year-old organized and gave chase. Within moments, I couldn’t see them anymore.

Dug dropped off the back; he just wanted to listen to his Black Eyed Peas (?!) in peace (Dug sometimes forgets he’s 40). So Rick Sunderlage (not his real name) and I rode together, testing each other, trying to see whether the other guy could hang.

We both could hang.

I pushed first, shifting up one gear while holding my cadence. I gapped Rick.

Then Rick attacked, but with much more gusto than I did. He stood up and spun wildly, passing and putting thirty feet between us.

I did not react. I just kept spinning in second gear, even though I really wanted to go granny.

Before long I was back with Rick. I held his wheel for ten seconds, then rode by.

He grabbed my wheel until he was ready for another surge, and then he shot ahead again.

It went on like this for a while.

After the second or third exchange like this, though, I noticed something about Rick’s attacks: he hadn’t learned a simple—but vital—climbing trick: if you’re going to stand up, shift up two gears. Why? You can’t turn as high or smooth a cadence when you’re standing; all you’ve got now is the additional force gravity loans you. So use that force by pushing a bigger gear.

As a result, anytime Rick was ahead of me, I’d just watch for when he stood; I’d automatically close 10-15 feet of gap.

At the last hard climb of the Loop (about 3 miles from the summit), I stood up at a hairpin, upshifted twice, and pedaled by Rick, chanting, “I am Ullrich!” over and over.

“What? You’re all Rick?” he responded, confused.

But I was building too big a gap to explain.


Do Not Wear Yellow

With Rick dispatched, I started looking for another carrot. And there he was: the guy wearing the yellow jersey. Now, here’s a question: why would anyone ever wear a yellow jersey? It makes you a target. Even if you’re just trundling along on a mellow recreational ride, you can bet that anyone who passes you is thinking, “I just passed a guy wearing a yellow jersey.”

Catching the guy in the yellow was not easy. But I did. And as I passed him, I said out loud my chant: “I Am Ullrich!”

“Good to meet you Al,” he said.

Is something wrong with my diction?


Home Sweet Home

The nice thing about being one of the first guys to the top (how do you like the way I worked that in there?) is it gives you plenty of time to eat, refill your bottles and so forth, so that you really are rested by the time the group is back together.

I ate lots of Clif Shot Bloks. They’re like strawberry jam. Yum.

I had figured we were pretty much on our own support-wise, but the Tour of Utah guys proved otherwise. Waiting for us at the top of the Alpine Loop was food, water and Gatorade-a-plenty.

The Tour of Utah guys are cool.

While here, Kenny and Chucky rode up, joining us for the rest of the ride. Oh, good: more people to make me feel slow.

Next up, the descent down the American Fork side of the Alpine Loop, and then the climb up Suncrest.

Descending, I’m afraid, was not fun for me. Ever since that downtube incident, I have been incredibly timid on road descents. So I dropped toward the back of the pack. And then I dropped behind the back of the pack.

Oh well.

Climbing up Suncrest, though, was great: since I do this climb most weekdays as part of my commute to work, I knew exactly where the climbing’s difficult, and where it eases off. Home court advantage, big time. Before too long, Kenny, Scott and I were ahead of the group, riding a good fast cadence.

And I had to wonder: why wasn’t I tired? Why wasn’t I bonking? Is it actually possible I’ve ridden myself into shape?

That would be nice.


Last Big Effort

A quick (or in my case, not very quick) descent down the North side of Suncrest, then a few miles along Wasatch Boulevard brought us to the base of the Snowbird climb, the only one I hadn’t ever done before.

People say that it’s approximately the same length and profile as L’Alpe d’Huez.

I don’t think they say this to be encouraging.

As Scott’s wife handed out fresh water bottles to anyone who wanted one, Rick (not his real name) and Dug caught up, and announced they would not be finishing the ride. They had their reasons, all of which I’m sure sounded very convincing. To themselves.

At this point, I no longer had any idea where BotchedExperiment was.

I started the climb with Kenny and Chucky, but I am just not in their league. They gapped me before long and I rode on my own.

This is when I planned to spend a little time in my own little private hell.

But I didn’t. I felt good. I was bumping up my maximum effort, but I wasn’t redlining, and I wasn’t cracking. I wasn’t passing anybody, but I also wasn’t being passed.

Six miles later, I reached Snowbird.

And that’s when I realized I hadn’t really checked to find out where we were all going to regroup.


Marco! Polo!

Figuring that the Tour of Utah guys were not the type who would let the stage end at the lowest entrance to the resort, I rode past the first entrance. And the second and third. I pulled into the fourth entrance, because if I didn’t do that, I would have been on my way to Alta.

Luckily, Kenny called. He gave me some directions on how to find him.

I rode down and around, trying to find anyone who looked really tired and had a bike.

I called Kenny back, and got some more instructions.

Eventually, I found him and Chucky, sitting on a patio and finishing a meal they had bought. From the looks of them, they had been there for some time.  

I got a big Diet Pepsi (Diet Coke is Dug’s hangup; I’m fine with any diet cola at all), and we headed down.

Half a mile down the road, we saw BotchedExperiment, working his way up.

I signaled for him to turn around. He shook his head “no.”

So I turned around and we finished the climb to Snowbird.


BotchedExperiment is Tenacious

It’s his story to tell (and I hope he does), but BotchedExperiment apparently doesn’t have the “give up” gene in him. He had bonked completely and utterly—unable to even turn the cranks—part way up the Snowbird climb. He was sitting in the dirt when the Tour of Utah sag wagon got him some food and water. Before too long, he felt well enough to ride again, and finished what is widely regarded as the toughest sustained climb in the area.

Props to Botched.


Final Thoughts

I felt better than I had any right to feel for the entirety of the ride. I had one of those rare, perfect days where you have more strength and stamina than you really believe possible. That said, I was still completely cooked by the time I got to the top of Snowbird, even though I had taken several breaks.

I have no idea how pros do the whole thing under race conditions, and frankly don’t want to find out.


Review of Bike Mechanic Poetry

07.28.2006 | 4:18 pm

A Note from Fatty: Over at Random Reviewer, Dug, Bob, and I are taking a little walk down memory lane. That is, we’re publishing—serially, no less—one of the strangest, most wonderful e-mail threads I have ever been part of.

In October, 2002, Jeremy Smith, a bike rider of stunning skill and bike mechanic of wizard-like talents, sent an unsolicited email to the nascent Random Reviewers.

Jeremy had written a poem.

After the initial shock wore off, the Random Reviewers found themselves reviewing the poem, as well as each others’ reaction to this poem. I’m reprinting the poem, as well as Bob’s review of said poem, here. Through next week, Random Reviewer will publish the competing reviews that follow.

Warning to sensitive types: Some may find some of the language and images in this poem and review offensive. I’ve done a little bit of clean-up here on my site, but you’re on your own over at Random Reviewer, which plays by a different set of rules.


Poem #2

I’m changin da flats and lubin da chains

i’m so fast people say i’m insain

doin the 24 hours

keepin dem rollin without a hitch

yea thats right bitch

with out a hitch

I got mad skils on a bike

but don’t excersize that right


back in the day we’d party all night

livin the life

ridin the bikes

fixin um up, mixin it up,

they call me inde

cuz I’m so speedy

gettin it done before you’re ready

givin you time to rap with da bettys

doin it tight

makin it right


yea that’s right we’d party all night

moto ridin

Props to chuck

to bad I sold the duck

pace’in, race’in in yo face I am

goin all night

fixin them right






Bob’s Critique

As a critic of poetry, I have become jaded after having read so many poems. I frequently find myself analyzing art without feeling. Until now. Reading Smith’s poem shook me out of my analytical posturing, impaling me with its masculine prowess. Although I appreciate my intense visceral reaction to “Changin da Flats,” I find myself shell-shocked by the poetic explosion. I am numb. I don’t want to analyze. I don’t want to write. I want to sing! I want to eviscerate myself, tie my intestines to the mailbox, and dance naked in the streets shouting “Hosanna! Hail to Jeremy!” But alas. I must write.

I want to make it clear that my “interpretation” of Jeremy’s poem is by no means definitive. “Changin da Flats” is indeed many-sided in nature, reminding us of the nature of beauty. When Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined beauty as "multeity in unity," he was foreshadowing Smith’s opus. As a critic, I am compelled to discuss individual parts of poetry as they relate to the harmonious whole, and yet I maintain that no interpretation can do this poem justice. I ought to merely say, "Read the poem, delight in it, and you have done well."

The poem consists of three stanzas. In the first eight-line stanza, the narrator asserts his weighty skills as a bicycle repairman. The rhyme scheme, a loose AABCCCDD structure that mixes near rhymes, sight rhymes, and actual rhymes with equanimity, conveys a sense of glorious torment. Consider the stanza finale: "I got mad skils on a bike / But don’t exercise that right." In sacrificing his riding career so that he can fix others’ bicycles, the narrator sets himself up as a hip-hop Christ figure.

In the second stanza, the narrator reconfirms the sacrificial nature of his calling while using sexual double-entendre as thematic counterpoint. Consider the lines, "They call me inde / Cuz I’m so speedy / Gettin it done before you’re ready." The disturbing image of a bicycle repairman exhibiting marginal self-control while laying pipe momentarily establishes a sexually fallible human being who seeks redemption. This image is only fleeting, as the lines "Givin you time to rap with da bettys / Doin it right / Making it tight" reestablishes the narrator as a potent God who sacrifices Himself through the medium of bicycle repair.

The lyrical final stanza moves from language into music. Divine music. Music that drags us to Heaven on the narrator’s coattails: "Pace’in, race’in in yo face I am / Goin all night / Fixin them right." I am tempted to compare Smith’s masterful ending to that of James Joyce’s "The Dead," but I shall resist. There is no comparison. I shall say no more.

In conclusion, if I may indulge in directing my comments directly to the author, I’d like to say—Yo, J-dog, mad props for busting loose with some sick rhymes. Y’all gots madd poetic skillz. Peace, I out.



Monday: Dug offers an alternate interpretative review. Be sure to keep reading Random Reviewer to see how the conversation unfolds.


PS: Have you entered the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Bike Giveaway contest yet? Make sure you do!

How To Build A Bike Rack With No Plans, No Skill, and One Tool in About Two Hours

07.27.2006 | 4:38 pm

(100 feet of 1.25" PVC pipe and 50 T-connectors)
(Ryobi Table Saw)
No Plan, Except a Vague Picture in My Head
2 Hours (10pm – Midnight Last Night)
(PVC Bike Rack: Roomy Parking for Eight Bikes!)
PS: Yes, I read about Floyd’s A-sample testing positive. But I’d rather talk about my cool new bike rack, pictured here in a blurry photo actually holding bikes:

PPS: My regular camera croaked last night, so all pictures here taken with my phone. Sorry.


PPPS: I have enough PVC and T-connectors left over to build another 4-6 bike rack if someone local wants to come get it.


News Flash: Floyd Landis to Face “Attractive Nuisance” Class Action Lawsuit

07.26.2006 | 5:28 am

A Very Special Note From Fatty to Readers Who Are Kinda New to this Whole Fat Cyclist Thing and Maybe Didn’t Follow the Tour de France: Sometimes I write fake news. In this case, I’m writing a fake news story about Floyd Landis’ heroic Stage 17 ride in the Tour de France, which pretty much everyone agrees was the most dramatic and exciting stage in several years (some say ever). Basically, after a humiliating defeat the previous day, Landis shot off the front at the beginning of this very difficult day in the mountains and reclaimed almost all of his lost time, an unheard-of accomplishment. And now everyone in the world who loves cycling dreams of having a Floyd Landis moment.


Seattle, July 26 (Fat Cyclist Fake News Service) – Representing more than 2500 enthusiast cyclists, attorney Al Maviva, Esq., today announced that he would be suing Floyd Landis for irresponsible behavior that enticed his clients to imitate his “miracle stage” in the 2006 Tour de France.

“On Thursday, July 20, 2006, Mr. Landis, fully aware that cameras were trained on him, engaged in any number of dangerous, ill-considered activities that can be categorically called “attractive nuisances,” said Maviva.

“As a causal result of imitating Landis during the week following his so-called ‘miracle stage,’” continued Maviva, “My clients have suffered physical and emotional trauma, and in one case: death.  Landis must pay for the harm he has done.”


Grievances Enumerated

According to the suit filed by Maviva, the following damages have been (allegedly) caused by Landis’ (allegedly) heroic ride:

  • Strategic Blunders: Since Landis’ audacious Stage 17 attack, early, ill-considered attacks have reached epidemic proportions, appearing in nearly every race and usually by multiple people. The suit mentions one race in particular where at the beginning of the 200 mile race all 450 entrants left the start line at a sprint, all believing—apparently—that they were Floyd Landis. Maviva notes that 448 of the race participants had collapsed within two miles, and that the remaining two racers coasted to a stop during the next mile. “Clearly, these people suffered physical, emotional, and financial harm,” notes Maviva. “If Landis had shown the courtesy to at least put a disclaimer on the screen that he was doing something that nobody else in the world could do, perhaps we wouldn’t be seeing this rash of crazy attacks in club races.”
  • Crashes: Hospitals across Europe, Australia, and America have shown a steep rise in cycling-related accidents since Landis’s dramatic Stage 17 ride. “Evidently, riders are trying to emulate Landis’s time-trial-on-a-road-bike pose,” notes Dr. Mike Young. “They rest their elbows on their handlebars and clasp their hands together, laying their backs as low to the ground as possible.” Dr. Young then concluded, “And then of course, they inevitably fall off their bikes, usually landing on their chins because their still-clasped hands are trapped in their brake cables.”
  • Death: Noting that Floyd Landis was almost constantly dousing himself with water during his massive solo attack, racers across America have taken to doing the same. Unfortunately, taking the American “more is better” philosophy a little too far, one enterprising Cat 5 racer got his wife to drive a pace car he had specially equipped with a compressor, a complex network of hoses and nozzles and 250 gallons of water. His plan to be constantly misted as he biked went horribly wrong as the compressor ran amok, giving the rider the dubious distinction of being the first person to ever drown while riding on a bike on dry pavement.
  • Lots and Lots of Embarrassment: “The most prevalent and common harm caused by Mr. Landis,” notes Mr. Maviva in the suit, “is that everyone now both wants to be Landis, and recognizes the folly in others as they try to emulate him. Upon seeing a friend crack, it is almost universal to hear another rider say, ‘Yeah, you’re Floyd Landis all right. Too bad you’re the Stage 16 version.”

Expert Analysis

Dr. Dan Richardson notes that there is precedent for this virus-like mass mimicry among cyclists. “For years,” says Richardson, “Cyclists have been suffering from Lance Armstrong Syndrome.” Dr. Richardson continues: “However, the symptoms of Lance Armstrong were much more benign—a tendency to try to hold a fast cadence, a propensity to give rivals the stink-eye as you attack, that kind of thing.”

“The Landis version of this disease,” concludes Richardson, “is a little bit terrifying.”


Landis Contrite, Expresses Concerns for Future Mimics

For his part, Floyd Landis has expressed regret that he has not to this point adequately explained that he is superhuman, and did not give a “Don’t Try This At Home” warning. “I’ll try to be a little more clear about that in the future,” said the Tour de France champion. “I’ve already lost some sleep worrying about what other hip replacement patients are going to go try to do when they see me destroy the field again next year.”


PS: Don’t forget to enter the drawing for a free Cervelo Soloist Team road bike ($2200 value), courtesy of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.


PPS: Today, in Random Reviewer, Dug reviews Lance Armstrong’s opening monologue at the ESPYs. Dug’s review is worth a read, and Lance’s monologue is worth a watch.

I Do Not Want To Give You This Bike

07.25.2006 | 6:31 am

First off, welcome to those of you who found me via MSN’s “What’s Your Story?” page. It’s nice to have you here.

Now, whether you’re here for the first time or are one of the people who regularly contribute to what everyone knows is the best part my blog—the comments—you’ve picked a good day to come to this site. Because today I’m announcing the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah / Fat Cyclist Cervélo Soloist Giveaway.

Yes, that’s right. The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah has given me a dream bike (pictured below) to give away on my blog.

Excuse me while I hyperventilate into a bag for a few minutes.

OK, I’m better now.


Why Am I So Excited About Giving Away This Bike?

Those of you who are bike geeks already know what a big deal it is for me to be giving away a Soloist. It’s a dream bike. For the rest of you, let me do my best to explain, while hopefully not sounding like some hoity-toity elitist bike snob.

It all comes down to this: most people in the world never find out how great riding a bike can be. That’s because most bikes in the world are heavy, steer poorly, shift erratically, and brake unconvincingly.

It’s like everyone’s basing their impression of what driving a car is like based on having ridden in a Yugo, even though if they stretched just a little, they could be driving a brand new Lexus.

What I’m getting at is this: If you’ve never had a great road ride, the bike I’m giving away will change the way you see bicycles. It is light, fast, and sexy as all get-out.

Check me out: I’m Mr. Hyperbole today.


So How Do You Win The Bike?

Just click here and fill out the form. At the end of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah (August 12), we’ll pick an entry at random. That’s all there is to it. Specifically:

  • You don’t have to give up the names and addresses of your friends for us to spam.
  • You don’t have to embark on a pyramid scheme where you must get your friends to buy bushel after bushel of concentrated detergent, and you must also buy lots of that same detergent, and I get very rich from everyone having more soap than they can use in three lifetimes.
  • You don’t have to buy anything. In fact, there’s nothing to buy even if you want. Although if you really want to buy something, let me know and I’ll sell you an open container of Apple-Flavored Cytomax I don’t think I’ll ever make my way through. That stuff’s gross.

And What Will the Tour of Utah Guys Do With Your Name and Contact Info?

They’ll probably email you next year about the Tour of Utah. Pretty nefarious, eh? Go enter, already.



PS: I’m just kidding about selling the Cytomax. I don’t have any to sell. I wasn’t kidding about it being gross, though.

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