Tour of Utah Recap – Stages 4-6

Back to the story…  

Stage 4 – Lehi to Salt Lake City (134.3 miles)

We started about 25 miles into Stage 4.  Because it was a 134 mile stage, and it had a “lollipop” in it, we had to push forward to get as far into the stage as we could before getting held up by the pros coming through.  Our start point was in the middle of the Utah desert.  Seriously… it was the desert.  The stage profile was very flat, so the riders made pretty good time.  Unfortunately, because it was the desert, there was very little scenery.  I did snap a few shots of the flat landscape and some Pony Express landmarks, though.

We did get caught by the pros on the lollipop, but we made it almost to the “end of the stick” before heading north, towards Salt Lake City.  It was a very long day, and I blame it mostly on the lack of scenery for the first several hours of the ride.  The week, so far, had been uneventful, as far as mechanical or rider support issues, which was good.

Stage 5 – Newpark Town Center to Snowbird (101.1 miles)

This stage was the queen stage of the Tour of Utah, with around 10,000 feet of climbing.  There were some serious climbs ahead of the guys, but we were more concerned about the start of the ride.  We were scheduled to have a ceremonial start at Newpark Town Center in the midst of a gran fondo that rode the entire race course.  Instead of the “ceremonial start” we were supposed to get, we ended up getting thrown in amongst the fondo riders.  In case you weren’t aware of it, support for an event like ours gets a lot harder when you add an extra 700 RIDERS to the road…

The extra riders added to the confusion, for sure.  At our first rest stop, I tried to speed up to get going and beat a group of fondo riders back onto the road, and forgot to shut the tailgate of the truck.  Looking in the rear-view mirror, I saw my big cooler come out of the truck and go spinning into the highway, rocketing bottles all over the place…  I cleaned up the mess, drove to a grocery store to replenish my ice and water, and continued on.  Everything was good in the end, but for about 45 minutes, I was pretty panic-stricken.

As we continued on, I had to fight my way through the fondo traffic up and down the intermediate KOM climbs to keep up with my group.  The climbs were tight and twisty, and it was very difficult with two-way bike traffic and auto traffic.  We managed to make it through the KOM’s, through the small towns where sprints were located, then approached the climb to Snowbird.  I had visited Snowbird before for a Specialized dealer event, about 3 years ago, so I knew the climb up to the resort.  It was a long, somewhat steep climb, and coming at the end of a 100-mile day, it was going to be no easy feat for our guys.

I made the decision to give the guys bottle hand-ups from the roadside on the way up the hill.  They would ditch their empty bottles, I’d give them a fresh bottle, then I’d give them a spray of water on their back or head and give them a push up the road.  This made a huge difference to them.  They were able to shed a bottle, get a little reprieve from the heat, and get a friendly boost up the road.  Helped for a second, at least…

All the guys made it up the climb, except one coach, Colin Izzard.  He had the legs to go up the climb, but one of the riders suffered a broken spoke, so he sacrificed his rear wheel and helped me sag the guys up the hill.  I definitely needed the help that day.  It was hot, and we did a lot of work on that last climb, making sure all the guys were okay.

Stage 6 – Park City to Park City (77 miles)

This was the final day of the Tour of Utah, and had some of the steepest climbing I had ever seen.  The ride was pretty chill for a long while, except for scrambling around for some odd course markings on some smaller, sketchier roads.  A lot of times, we headed out earlier than the course marking crews, so sometimes we miss turns if the numbers in the race bible get jumbled.  We had two or three odd turns that weren’t marked well, so we had to figure that out before moving forward.  Once we got back on the main road, we found our way.

There were a few major climbs in this stage.  The first was through a gated neighborhood, Wolf Creek Ranch, usually closed to the public.  Once we turned on the climb, we one of the steepest pitches I had ever seen.  After 5 days of riding, I know the guys were begging for it to stop, but the climbing continued…  The boys started “paperboy-ing” (weaving side to side to take the edge off the climb), so I got out of the truck to give them little pushes through some of the turns.  Unfortunately, this was only the first major climb of the day…

The guys continued on, rolling comfortably until we approached Empire Pass.  Empire Pass was hand-selected by Levi Leipheimer for this race, due to it’s length and difficulty, and probably because Levi knew the climb inside and out (Levi won Stage 6 on this day, after our athletes finished).  Needless to say, this climb was a huge obstacle for the athletes, regardless of their fitness.  Less than 500 meters into the climb, the “paperboy-ing” started again…  I knew we were in for it.

Strangely, one of our athletes, Shannon Lawrence from Bermuda, started stretching his legs a bit.  He was very nervous going into the day, and said for the first 40 miles of the ride that his legs were feeling very heavy.  On Empire Pass, he had evidently worked all the kinks out, because he steadily motored away from the rest of the group.  I don’t know what got into him, but he changed from flatlander to climbing machine that day.  It made things a bit difficult for me, though… he was so far up the road, I would have to zoom ahead in the truck to take care of him, then wait or drive back down the mountain to feed and push the other riders.  It was definitely a test of my abilities, not as a mechanic, but as a sag driver (NOTE:  My legs were sore the next day from running and pushing riders up 20% grade hills for two days… just sayin’…).

Shannon made it to the top first, and the rest of the group followed shortly thereafter.  There was a nice, long, windy descent with one minor little kick in it before the finish in Park City.  All the group descended into town together and finished the CTS Tour of Utah Race Experience together.  All the guys made it, and like most of the CTS events I’ve been to, they seem to have forged a bond and developed a sense of team accomplishment that I have only seen in my days in the Marines.  All the guys are friends, and seem to have gained a brotherly bond over the course of the week.

After we returned back down to Salt Lake City, I began packing bikes for the riders’ journeys home.  Once completed, we organized the trucks to travel to their respective destinations, then got ready for our team dinner and departure.  Another race week in the books.  Next up, four days off, then back out west for the Tour of Colorado… STAY TUNED!

Repair Stand Roulette

After working USPRO Championships with Team Exergy in May, I sold my trusty Park Tool PRS-21 repair stand to a buddy back home, so I could purchase a new stand I had seen on some cycling blogs, the Feedback Sports Sprint repair stand.  The SRAM NRS West Coast crew and Josh from Team Exergy had already been using  the Sprint stand since Sea Otter, and being a fan of the fork-mounted repair stand, I wanted to get my hands on one.  I called Feedback, and placed one on backorder to ensure delivery as quickly as possible.

Fast forward a few months… no Sprint Stand yet.  I called back and forth to Feedback to see if there were any updates, and they told me that they had received some feedback (pardon the pun) on the stands from the prototype units that had been sent to the race teams, and were making improvements before they put them to market.  I completely understand that, and as an end-user, I’d rather not hassle with additional modifications needing to be made after the initial purchase.  It should be as simple as pulling the stand out of the box and getting to work.

Unfortunately, the delivery date on the Sprint stand is August 9th-10th, and I’m flying out for the Tour of Utah on the 5th of August, so… I had to make a switch.  This time around, I had to pass on the Sprint stand for the good ol’ Feedback Pro-Elite stand.  I’ve used the Pro-Elite in the past at several events, and used the same clamp in a Park floor-mounted shop stand before.  It works well, and I’ve had no issues with the ones I’ve dealt with on previous occasions, so I don’t mind making the switch.  It will be here next week, just in time for the Utah trip.

Thanks to Feedback Sports for not compromising the integrity of the product by pushing it to market before it is ready, and ultimately looking after the customer.  Even though the outcome isn’t exactly what I had hoped for, I appreciate the honesty and the willingness to work with me to get me taken care of in a pinch.  I look forward to dealing with Feedback Sports again in the future, because of their great products, but more importantly, because of their amazing customer service.

(Another quick customer service note about Feedback Sports:  Earlier this year, at the CTS Bucket List Tour of California Race Experience, we didn’t have any racks to hang the bikes from before or after rides, and were in a bind.  We had been leaning the bikes against the truck and trailer for the first two days of the event, which was not very safe, especially with the quality of the bikes that the CTS clients were riding.  One of our mechanics, Mike Hetrick (Mr. Goodbike, Gainesville, FL) called his friend Doug (founder/president of Feedback) and he was able to ship us two A-Frame portable event stands NEXT DAY from Colorado, allowing us to be safe with the bikes, and to be more efficient in our work for the remainder of the trip.  This is one reason I decided to choose Feedback Sports for my repair stand purchase.  Kudos to the staff of Feedback Sports for all their good work!)

Rapha Rising – Circle of Death Challenge

Rapha Rising - The Circle of Death

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I’m addicted to Strava.  For those of you unfamiliar with Strava, it’s a cycling/running program that you track ride/run statistics with, and you can use it to compare stats and compete with friends.  You may have seen the television commercials on during the Tour de France coverage, featuring Tim Johnson (Cyclocross stud, multi-time National Champ, and one of my former riders on the Jittery Joe’s Team when I wrenched for them), Jesse Anthony (Optum p/b KBS rider), and others.

The cool thing about Strava is that you can set particular segments of road or trail, and the program keeps track of your times via your mobile phone or GPS-based computer.  I find it extremely fun to challenge myself on particular segments (mostly uphill), and see how this 200+ pounder compares to his 170 pound counterparts.  I’ve pushed myself harder to compete on climbs, even though I’m not a natural climber, and it’s been a good training tool for me, since I’ve started riding seriously again.

Last month, Rapha posted a challenge to Strava users that was to take place last week called the “Rapha Rising Challenge.”  The challenge was to climb 6,881 meters (22,575 feet) over the course of last week, which was equivalent to the “queen stage” of the Tour de France, which took place last Wednesday.  Basically, you had to climb, in one week, the same amount the pros did in one day…

I wasn’t planning on completing the challenge, but I got a good start, getting several thousand feet of climbing in on Monday of last week.  On Tuesday, I pounded out a big ride with the Free-Flite Canton group ride, where I pulled a lot, we broke some records (collectively), and after splitting from the group, I tacked on a few more miles.  Wednesday and Thursday, I figured I’d add a couple of extra rides and see how my climbing was adding up.  We took off for the beach this weekend, so I got a long climbing ride in on Friday morning (3 hours, 3700 feet of climbing) before we took off for Myrtle Beach, SC.

Myrtle Beach is obviously flat, which was not conducive to setting any climbing records.  I was going to do laps in the parking garage to get a little bit of climbing, but I didn’t have any expectations of getting the remainder of my climbing – around 4400 feet) finished by Sunday at Midnight, so I just canned that idea.  We enjoyed our time at the beach and headed home on Sunday.

We rolled into my parents’ house for the night around 6:30pm on Sunday.  I talked my wife into letting me ride some more and see how much climbing I could finish before it got too dark.  I rode about 3/4 mile down the road to Old Six Mile Road, where I did repeats until 9pm.  I rode to my parents’ house and had close to 1200 feet of climbing left to go… only 3 more repeats.

After much sweet-talking and a few bottles of Gatorade, I headed back down the road with Niki in the van behind me, shining headlights so I could see where I was going.  Together, we knocked out three more hill repeats, and finished up with 56.3 miles and 4236 feet of climbing for the evening, all on Old Six Mile Road… and I was cooked.  We got home and I uploaded the data to Strava, and… I was around 15o FEET SHORT!  99% complete with the challenge was not going to cut it…

Since it was only 10:45pm at that point, I jammed my bike back in the van and drove down to Clemson.  It’s a pretty well-lit town, so I felt comfortable riding downtown and around the university for a few miles to tack on the extra few feet I needed to finish the challenge.  I completed an extra 3.8 miles and 259 feet of climbing, and FINALLY finished the challenge with 6,917 meters of climbing for the week.

I had to take a day off after completing the challenge, especially after the strong finish on Sunday.  Would I do the challenge again?  Absolutely, except next time, I won’t plan a beach trip in the middle of it, so I can space out the climbing better.  I think because of the climbing that I had to seek out to complete the challenge, I’m actually enjoying climbing a little more.  I’ve kind of honed some of my techniques and I now look forward to the hills a little more.

Down Time

I’ve had the last few weeks off, and I’ve been collecting my thoughts and trying to figure out what’s next for me.  Last week, Niki and I dropped the kids off at my folks’ house and we spent a couple of days in Asheville, NC.  She surprised me with a ziplining trip at Asheville Zipline Canopy Adventures.  I wasn’t expecting it, but enjoyed it thoroughly.  Our guides, Joe and Jamie were AMAZING!  If you’re ever in Asheville, visit the Crowne Plaza Resort and check them out!

The next day, we visited my buddy Andy Grabowski’s shop, Chainheart Cycling Studio, on Riverside Drive in Asheville.  I’ve been telling him for the last several years that I would come up and visit, and I finally made good on my threat!  Andy and his partner, Chad, run a sweet little cycling studio (not your ordinary bike shop…) that caters to higher-end and professional clients from all over.  Andy’s been a good friend since he worked for SRAM and I was Head Mechanic for the Aaron’s Women’s Team.  The last time I saw him was this year at USPRO Championships, where he and Chad worked for Team Liquigas riders Ted King, and eventual USPRO Champion, Timmy Duggan.  Andy’s work wins races… big ones.  If you’re ever in Asheville, go see Andy.

We had to drive home quickly, because the following day was the Georgia Games Road Race.  It was the Georgia State Championship Road Race this year, and it was the goal I set for riding and getting back into some form of shape lately.  The most fun part for me was that it was going to be my wife’s first bike race… EVER!  We met as a result of cycling and she’s been involved with it for 9 years, but had never done a bike race herself.  She was extremely nervous, but I was proud of her for just starting the race.  The first one is definitely the hardest.  She finished one of two laps, with a very strong women’s field (they averaged 21mph for Cat 4 Women!!!), and I was super-proud.

My race (Cat 4 Men) was a decent race for me.  I was riding with my friend Harvey’s Lifetime Bikes/Loganville Ford team.  Since I left my previous shop, I had no real team affiliation, so Harvey brought me a kit for the day’s racing.  I missed my start by a few seconds because I had forgotten my energy gels, but was able to catch the peloton within the first half mile, so no reason for panic.  We started out with a really fast first lap, in which my teammate and friend, Stephen Baxter, was taken out by a crash.  He survived, but had to pop his shoulder back in place before his race on Sunday…

It was a pretty quick pace throughout the race, and got progressively hotter as the race went on.  At the start of lap 3, one of our Lifetime Bikes/Loganville Ford teammates attacked right before the start/finish, and I was sitting about 4th wheel.  I tried to get on the front and slow down the pace, but he didn’t have the energy to sustain a solo break with 45 other riders chasing not too far behind him.  Right after the last turn on the last lap, some idiot decided to take a drink from his bottle and hit a reflector in the road, causing a massive crash.  We were less than 2 miles from the finish at that point… any smart racer would have already fueled up for the finish by that point and been ready to turn on the gas.  As we neared the finish, our aggressive motoref pulled EXTREMELY close to the field with less than 500m to go and tried to start relegating more people.  It got too dangerous for my tastes, and my legs were worked from the race, so I pedaled across the line for 28th place out of 65 racers.  My goals were accomplished:  Finish with the field, and don’t crash.

A good friend I made at the Carmichael Training Systems Tour of California Race Experience, Will Williamson, came up and raced his first road race and criterium over the weekend.  He and his wife, Jenny, came up from Alabama the previous weekend with the kids to hang out and for us to pre-ride the race course.  They left the kids at home with the grandparents, so we had a chance to hang out with them after the road race.  We didn’t really have any plans on Saturday, so we went down to East Point and watched the action at the Dick Lane Velodrome.  They were having a big race weekend, and Outback Bikes had free tickets available, so we got the chance to introduce them to the track.  Bumped into Jeff Hopkins (one of my former Jittery Joe’s riders, and track operator), Scott Patton (race announcer, and overall good guy), Joe Eldridge (Racer and Friend, Team Type 1), and Jon Woodroof (TwoToneATL.com, Bike Blogger, Instagram hero).  Good times had by all.

Since Monday, I’ve been helping Harvey out over at Lifetime Bikes in Loganville, GA.  One of his mechanics is on vacation, so I’ve been getting my hands dirty a little bit.  If you haven’t made the trek over to Loganville, you most definitely should.  The shop does a little bit of everything, but based on the cyclists coming in the door, I’d say it’s mostly a road shop.  There are LOTS of group road rides that leave FROM THE SHOP (key to a successful road following), and Harvey’s got a passion for getting out there and cycling, himself.  He competed in the road race and criterium this past weekend and pulled off a 2nd place in the Cat 5 crit at West Oak.  Not bad for the owner of the bike shop, huh?

I’ve had a great time over here, and I’ve got one day left.  Tomorrow is my 32nd birthday, and I get to spend it doing something I love.  Working on bikes.  I’ve said enough for now.  I’ll catch up later.

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