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.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 07.31.2006 | 6:49 pm

    I demand that you take a drug test after that ride.  No amount of ClifShotBloks can make you that strong. 
    The wife was happy to see me roll in to the house within 15 minutes of my commit time which means I now have the hall pass for the next big ride.  A tactic, perhaps, more important than shifting up when standing.
    Thanks to the Tour of Utah crew for the great support!  Good times…

  2. Comment by Unknown | 07.31.2006 | 6:54 pm

    Thanks for the insight, I’ll let you know how it feels under racing
    conditions when I’m recovered enough to type. Assuming I make it that
    far to begin with. Props to the way you’ve been promoting this race, I
    am getting really excited to do it. Even though I’m going to be hanging
    on/off the back all week.

    California Giant Cycling

  3. Comment by Random Reviewer | 07.31.2006 | 7:07 pm

    let me just list my excuses for not going up snowbird with you:
    1. on the drive home, i stopped at the IFA and picked up about a dozen rolls of weed block fabric, went home, changed out of lycra, and spent the next 5 hours laying weed block and wheelbarrowing 20 yards of bark around the yard. outside temp: 100 degrees. nice.
    2. i showered, we grabbed wendy’s burgers, and went back up AF canyon to rock climb for 3 hours.
    3. i had just climbed to snowbird two days previous. here’s an important fact about that climb: it is very difficult. i was tired. you were strong (suspiciously strong), i was at my car.
    4. i think the gauntlet ride from a few weeks ago was so hard on me it somehow fundamentally altered my dna. i am now half the man i used to be.
    that is all.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 07.31.2006 | 7:15 pm

    Please note I was mentioned twice in this post. Once at the beginning before we started to ride, and once at the end, LONG after everone else had finished riding.
    And that pace from Deer Creek to Alpine loop? I don’t know because I lost contact long before you guys reached top speed.
    Yes, I was sitting in the dirt on the side of the road too tired to even hold my head up, whimpering when the Tour of Utah Sag Wagon guy noticed me on his way down and turned around.  I forgot to get his name, but THANKS. Just before he stopped, I had decided to call 911 and get some help, but I was too weak to push the buttons on my cell phone (at least that’s how I remember it).
    Additionally, I decided that I like to be "Eldened" when I’m riding alone, in last place, quasi-bonked. Having someone to ride with at those times is invaluable.
    P.S. Here’s the stats: 95 miles, 12,000 vert feet of climbing.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 07.31.2006 | 7:27 pm

    I sometimes wear yellow jerseys, the brighter the better, day-glo would be fine, thanks, because they’re highly visible to cars. My favorite jerseys from an aesthetic standpoint are usually darker colored and feature a beer brand label, for example the Harpoon U.F.O. jersey in dark blue with yellow and white bits here and there, but I don’t often wear them because I’m afraid the Georgia drivers won’t see me.

    It has occurred to me it might be best if they didn’t see me, because sometimes it seems like they’re actually out to get you, which might be worse than just being, as it was once eloquently put to me, a "professional road hazard."

  6. Comment by Unknown | 07.31.2006 | 7:58 pm

    Sorry, the climbing was more like 9,000 vert feet.
    Botched (again, as usual)

  7. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 07.31.2006 | 8:05 pm

    frank – dayglo yellow is fine. i’m talking TdF Maillot Jaune yellow, complete with sponsor names and stuff. You wear one of those, and you’re making a statement. And that statement comes off as silly when a guy who calls himself "Fatty" catches you on a big climb.
    rick – you just need to be better at estimating your commit times. that said, how about we do a redux of that gauntlet ride you did a couple weeks ago? i want to try that.
    max – you’re racing it for real? seriously, i would love a race writeup.
    dug – yes, all four of those are very good excuses. i mean reasons.
    botched – you were eldened by elden! what are the odds?

  8. Comment by craig | 07.31.2006 | 8:08 pm

    Ahhhh FC……I see you have received my package in a timely fashion. 

  9. Comment by Cinco | 07.31.2006 | 8:38 pm

    Senor Fuentes: that is pretty funny
    Senor Elden: did you ever get a new road bike and, if so, what kind?

  10. Comment by Unknown | 07.31.2006 | 10:13 pm

    Ridden yourself into shape?
    Everyone on the ride that knew you, speculated to every other person that knew you, that you are doping. Hard. And that leaves only one question: why aren’t you sharing?

  11. Comment by Stephanie | 07.31.2006 | 10:41 pm

    back in the spring i ran a 1/2 marathon on some random dirt road that was windy and hilly.  I thought i was going to die and i truly believed that my kneecaps really did discover a way to disconnect themselves from my legs.  I ended up taking some Shot Blocks (a whole bag pretty much) and ended up finishing middle of the pack with around an 8:30 min mile and a PR.  (for me that was really good, for an one else, that’s like a walk in the park).
    moral of the story.  Shot Blocks are the new doping agent.  I like the raspberry ones personally.  The orange ones taste like stale tang.

  12. Comment by Unknown | 08.1.2006 | 5:40 am

    Is the Kenny you speak of, the same Kenny that I saw at the Marymoor Velodrome Friday night racing a Madison? If so, he’s wicked fast, and that’s a crazy race. I don’t ever plan to ride with people that can grab me and throw me forward.Wonder if he was eating Clif Shot Bloks too??

  13. Comment by Unknown | 08.1.2006 | 1:18 pm

    I don’t think it’s your diction. Your problem is quite simple to understand:
    1) You said "I’m Ulrich.", but
    2) you were standing up!

    You should know that Ulrich never stands up! If you want to pretend you’re a big hulking german guy who goes to a spanish doctor, you need to just turn a huge gear while staying in the saddle. I think then people might understand you!

  14. Comment by Unknown | 08.1.2006 | 2:02 pm

    You’re right Shot Bloks are awesome.  Combine those with a Red Bull and you can do just about anything.  I barely made it over Suncrest, but with those two "doping agents" was able to finish, although probably two hours or more behind Fatty.  Great ride, but I want to try it again in the fall hopefully 20 lbs lighter and 30 degrees cooler. 

  15. Comment by Unknown | 08.1.2006 | 7:42 pm

    I’ll write up a race report, I am fairly sure I owe several people one.max


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