Adventures in life and photography out West

Archive for June, 2012


Ride the Rockies is done, but the summer is just beginning. I had the chance to try out some fun stuff while I was out on the ride. I had the chance to try out the mid-range Specialized Venge aero bike and the top Specialized S-Works Tarmac.

On day two of Ride the Rockies, I cajoled the nice people at the Specialized tent into letting me take out their Venge. Okay, it wasn’t hard. Specialized was there specifically to get new customers on their newest, coolest bikes. I gave them my ID and they let me ride the same frame on which the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, won the world road championship. Mine was a much less expensive version. Rather than top-of-the-line S-Works+McLaren carbon and Shimano electronic shifting with sprint shifters, a set up running close to $18,000, I got the Venge Pro mid compact, which retails at about $6,600. This is still a good chunk of change, but fantastic for an upper-mid-range bike.

The first things you notice are the curves. Not curves in the road, but in the aerodynamic frame. The seat tube forms a fairing around the rear wheel. The headtube, which is tapered for stiff and precise steering, forms a bit of a wing when looking from the side. It also comes with deep-profile carbon Specialized Roval Rapide EL 45 race wheels, and the in-house Specialized cranks. These things were certainly pretty, but how do they ride?

When you take the first pedal stroke you realize how stiff and light this bike is. The wide tubes create the stiffness in the frame. While not the lightest bike, it is not a heavyweight. It comes in at about 16 pounds. Everything about the bike says fast.

The bike lurches when just stomping down on the pedals. This indicates the stiffness. No energy seems to be wasted. A headwind seemed to have no effect on the bike. Crosswinds were noticeable, but not so much as to make the Venge hard to handle, even with the deep carbon wheels.

On the climbs, the light frame coupled with the mid-compact drive train made the bike a nimble steed. Mid range refers mostly to the chainrings in front. Standard for the pros is a 53-tooth big ring and 39-tooth inner ring with an 11-25 rear gear cluster. The compact set up is a 50-tooth big ring and 32-tooth inner ring. This is the serious climbing set up and usually comes with a 12-28 rear cluster. The mid-compact, as the name indicates, is somewhere in between. It comes with a 52-36 tooth setup in front and, for Shimano, 11-28 in the back. For McClure Pass, a category-two climb, this was plenty low.

At no time did I feel that I needed a break or that I needed a lower gear. In the little ring and 28-tooth cog, the bike floated along, even with my distinctly non-climber body on board. And even with the stiff front end in a race geometry, 73.5 degree head tube angle, it never felt twitchy as I bombed down the east side of the pass.

This is not a bike for everyone. It is stiff and the average rider might feel a bit beat up after long miles on it. You will notice the wind on this bike, as it is made to point into the wind. Crosswinds are interesting, but not scary. It is pricy, though there is on model at a lower price-point, the Expert Mid-Compact at $4,700. If you want something that is just plain fast, or need a bike for road-triathlon double-duty, the Venge would be a great choice.

Two days after riding the Venge, I got to take out the S-Works Tarmac SL4. This is a race bike, plain and simple. The Tarmac was developed for the Pro Peloton and riders like Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara. It is stiff, it is light. It can sprint and it can climb.

I had it on the RTR’s longest day. If ever there were a torture test ride for a bike, this would be it. Day four of Ride the Rockies was 94 miles from Leadville over milled pavement on Fremont Pass, down a long, straight descent to Copper, over to Silverthorn by way of the winding Summit County bike path, along the well-paved HWY 9 to Ute Pass, over the pass’ rough and sometimes steep roads, down to broken pavement, dirt and sand and finally a steep final quarter-mile climb to Middle Park High School in Granby. The Tarmac rode like a champ.

The bike handled all road conditions well. While the Specialized Armadillo tires took a beating over the milled pavement, the bike itself never faltered. While the S-Works came with standard gearing, it was low enough, and light enough to be better than just sufficient over the six-mile, four-percent cat-2 Ute Pass. The Tarmac did not beat me to death on the dirt roads, it was not scary on the fast descents. I just pointed it where I wanted to go and the Tarmac went that way, quickly. Finally, after 93 and three-fourths miles, I still had enough energy to put in one last standing sprint up the 12-percent 100 yard climb to the school. The bike never felt noodly, never felt soft, even with my big ol’ self standing and sprinting. For eight grand, it better be perfect. It was.

Like the Venge, the Tarmac comes in much more reasonable setups. The S-Works SL4 comes with the Shimano Dura-Ace shifters, cassette and derailleurs, the S-Works cranks and chainrings and Roval Fusee SLX wheels and weighs just over 15 pounds. The much less expensive Tarmac Apex Mid Compact comes with the entry-level SRAM Apex group. 52-36 front rings and alloy crank, 11-28 rear cassette and DT Axis 2.0 wheelset. At 17 pounds, it’s heavier, but at about a quarter the price, $2,200, who cares. If you don’t plan to mix up some sprints or take a flier on Flagstaff Mountain with the aspiring Boulder pros, the Apex Mid will be all the bike you need.

Go try one yourself. See how it fits you. Don’t just take my word for it.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.Image


Andy Schleck

Andy Schleck

Andy Schleck wheels past awe-struck fans at the 2011 USA Cycling Challenge prologue in Colorado Springs in August. Schleck fell and fractured his pelvis during a June tune-up race and will miss the Tour de France this year.


Ride the Rockies Independence Pass – 12,038 feet, Cat. 1 climb

Ride the Rockies Independence Pass - 12,038 feet, Cat. 1 climb

Me suffering on the Category 1 climb of independence Pass on the “Queen Stage” of Ride the Rockies. Sixteen miles, 4,000 foot elevation gain. Then a slow gradual climbing slog into Leadville over dirt and crappy roads. What a great day!

Thanks to Sundance Images for this shot of me suffering up Independence Pass. All of the great images of me suffering have been taken by the fine folks of Sundance Images! They are great.

The Unexpected

The best known advice for new adventures is “Expect the unexpected.” I’ve known it and have seen it play out on many occasions. I once blew the engine of a Dodge Colt at the Ohio – Michigan border. Then, on a different trip to see my mother and little sister, I, again, killed a car, then walked around a well-to-do Ann Arbor neighborhood trying to find a phone. It’s been a while ago. Wednesday morning, in Leadville, a fellow rider with the worst sleep apnea you can think of past on. The man, in his early 50s, died in his sleep when he couldn’t get enough oxygen at 10,200 feet.

Those were more negative examples. I have some great examples of much more positive sort. I have met long-time friends who do Ride the Rockies every year. I’ve met people who have come from islands, from the east coast, the west coast, from Wisconsin and many points in between. I’ve met a pair of of sisters who live in different parts of Colorado and come together for this event. They sing, they dance, they grill.

I’ve discovered that if I’m tired enough, I will sleep on a gym floor with hundreds of other worn-out cyclists. I will eat Powerbars as a meal when I run out of cash. I found that one can not thrive on Powerbars and dried fruit exclusively. At least I can’t. I can climb a category two climb in “Pro” gearing. It hurts, and it’s not fast, but I can do it.

I know how a saddle sore feels.

I know that if I go long enough without sleep, I can drift off and into a dream while typing.

Massage therapists deserve every cent they make, as do most bike mechanics.

No mater how advanced modern technology gets, it will still fail, and another bike ride, even after 250 miles of riding in three days, will make everything better, again.

I realized that there are plenty of other parts of our state of Colorado that I want to explore. There is much of this state I have yet to see. Further, while I’m a bit beat up and tired right now, I wouldn’t mind exploring by bike.

There are plenty of cyclist as well as drivers who don’t understand the concept of sharing the road. I have discovered that angry old guys in Leadville don’t know that 98 percent of cyclists, in America, own cars as well, and therefore do pay their fair share to use the road. I also heard a great argument stating we could tax cyclists more, but then you must let them use the entire lane.

Road bike tires do not like milled road surfaces.

Most bike mechanics are about the nicest people you want to meet.

Total strangers will share grilled veggies if you ask nicely. They will also open up, sing and dance. Really.

Managing a rolling town of 2,000-plus people is not always easy or smooth, but if done enough, no one will notice when things get crazy.

Everyone has a favorite and least-favorite variety of riding. Not everyone likes rough roads or headwinds. I don’t enjoy long climbs.

Almost anything tastes gourmet if it’s served after spending seven hours riding a bike.

Tiny towns will go out of their way to make you feel welcome in hopes that you might come back.

It only takes about three days before 2,000 strangers start to feel like a community.

And finally, as much as I’m enjoying all of this, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, There is truly no place like home.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.

One down . . .

So the first day of the 2012 Ride the Rockies is in the books. It was a fun and beautiful ride, cruising the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I had to admit, I liked knowing that the climbing was done at 48 miles in. I’m so tired and achy.

It was climbing for better than 45 straight miles, almost from the moment we got out of Gunnison. We had a few flat spots, like the bridge across a narrow part of he Blue Mesa Reservoir, to the big point along the way.There were plenty of picture opportunities as the striped rock of the Painted Wall beckoned. It seemed wasteful not to stop, with such great vistas spread out before us. The views of the San Juans far south of the canyon also helped to take our minds off of the heat and stinging pain in our legs.

After the climbing, there was a steep, bombing descent, followed by a long run into Hotchkiss. I didn’t have the sense to take it easy over the last10 miles, and hammered like a crazy person all the way in.

The ride organizers, who have done this for more than two and a half decades, know exactly what a tired rider need. At the finishing town, a small, mostly agricultural West Slope community of Hotchkiss, massage therapists worked out knots, the smoothy booth provided replacement calories and the local school parents and kids made dinner and lunch.

And so, now I am off to bed. Visions of a bored $8,000 race bike dancing in my head. Tommorow, an Aid Station rundown, as well as a look at the Specialized Venge Pro DA.

Six hours out, six days back

Drove from my home in Estes Park out to Gunnison, Colorado today. Through the Denver metro area, through South Park, through Buena Vista and Salida and finally ending up here.

I’m with several Ride the Rockies veterans, so I’m confident it will be great. My only concern is my lack of long miles before this ride. Due to the crash nine weeks ago, I’ve managed one long ride, and that one only 35 miles. This might hurt for the first couple days, but by the time we reach Independence Pass on Tuesday, I should be in good shape. We’ll see.

The Other Half

I was reminded this week, ever so gently, that I don’t often write about the women’s side of bike racing. This is an oversight on my part. There is plenty to report and enjoy from the women’s side.
Now that the men have finished up their tour of Italy, we are about four weeks away from the Giro Donne, or more formally, Giro d’Italia Femminile. They begin in Napoli with an 86-mile ride to Terracina. The race is nine stages through a smaller swath of Italy, and ending in a sprint into Bergamo, smack in the middle of Northern, Italy, after about 1,000 km.

One of the teams bound to make an appearance is the Specialized-Lululemon super team. The team dominated the General Classification of last week’s inaugural Exergy Tour in Idaho. American Evie Stevens took the overall in the new race, but her team dominated throughout.

The team took all of the podium spots of the stage-two time trial in Kuna, Idaho. American Amber Neben took the top step, covering the 10.4-mile course in 21:37. Teammate Evie Stevens was second, 15 seconds back, and Canadian teammate Clara Hughes slotted in third at 20 seconds back.

As a result, and continued hard driving, Specialized-Lululemon took all three podium spots on the GC. With Stevens on top, Neben was on the second step and Hughes ended up third.

Colorado has a tie to the history of the Giro Donne. The only American to win that race is Boulder’s Mara Abbott. This is not some fluke performance for Abbott, who won the Giro in 2010. She has won the Iron Horse Classic from Durango to Silverton on five consecutive occasions, a record for the race. This year, she covered the 47 miles over Coal Bank pass and Molas Pass in 2:44:35. That’s fast for anyone, and certainly faster than I could cover that terrane.

Unfortunately, I do not speak Italian, so I can’t really tell who will ride this year. The Specialized-Lululemon team has the Giro Donne scheduled, however. It should be a great test for the squad as they match up against the best European teams at the most important date on the women’s racing calendar.

I think I’m healed up, but I’m still trying to control myself. Returning to training after an injury is not quite as bad as sickness or starting anew. I still have to ease back in, however, or risk further pain and delays.

I have taken three short rides, one with a small group, none longer than 10 miles. Everything feels good, so far. I am monitoring my clavicle and not really lifting, so far. I’m only doing 10 pushups at a time, but it’s better than missing my biggest ride.

It’s tricky, returning. My gut instinct is to go crazy. Of course, that’s always the case for me, but now that I’ve been out so long and only have a week until Ride the Rockies, the urge is even stronger. I know, however, that a misstep now will ruin the summer. So now it’s slow and steady. If I’m good, I will get two long rides in. One to Rock Cut, and one to Ward, both slowly. It’s the only way I will get to do this ride, and document it for you, the readers.

By the way, I plan to have two new videos up on the Trail-Gazette Facebook page by the time this paper hits newsstands. This is my warm up. I will blog, photograph and post video on my experience on Ride the Rockies, as well as interviews with other Estes Park riders, interviews with interesting random people, demos and information on the towns along the way. Look for these updates on our website and Facebook beginning on June 9.

As always, have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.