Living in Florida has many advantages. We are able to use our bicycles year round. While we may need to bundle up a bit during the winter season or endure the heat of July and August, we are able to get out and enjoy cycling whenever we choose. During the warmest times of the year, it’s possible to escape to other parts of the county to get some relief from the heat and enjoy different scenery. The Rocky Mountains in Colorado are about as “opposite” as you can find. They present some amazing cycling opportunities and challenges.
This summer I attended the Colorado Cyclist Copper Triangle Ride. It was held on August 4, 2012. The route started at Copper Mountain, located about 75 miles west of Denver. The course is a spectacular 78-mile loop cresting three Colorado Mountain passes – Fremont Pass (elevation 11,318’), Tennessee Pass (elevation 10,424’) and Vail Pass (elevation 10,666’). The course passes three ski areas and is littered with historic mining outposts and camp Hale, the training ground for the famous 10th Mountain Division. The total elevation gain for the course is 5,981 ft.
It is important to note that I said “attended” rather than “rode in.” The Davis Phinney Foundation had extended an invitation to me to attend its top fundraiser dinner the night prior to the ride. A ticket to ride was included in the packet. I mentioned this to some cycling friends and they told me “don’t even think about doing that ride.” Good advice for this stage in my “cycling career.” I am recording some decent miles –about 1,000 per year, but I have not trained for the climbs or descents that would occur in that type of event. So, I declined and offered to take photos for the group instead. The morning of the ride, as I was taking pictures of my friends who were riding, I felt so guilty and jealous. It was the strongest “put me in Coach” moment that you can imagine. If I’d found any unclaimed bike available, I would have been dashing after all of them – and quite likely “bonking” half way up the Fremont Pass.
The same people, who talked me out of riding this year, also told me afterwards that there is no reason that I couldn’t set Copper Triangle as a “goal” for next year. The difference is time, preparation, and training. I learned a great deal by witnessing the event in person. It will be helpful to me if I do “lock in” this objective or to you if you decide to take part in a major ride in the mountains.
There are three areas to address before attempting a ride as unique and strenuous as the Copper Triangle – equipment, fitness, and altitude.
Equipment – I certainly saw a full range of road bikes in use for the event; no doubt some very expensive models. Riders carried that bare minimum amount of additional accessories – nothing that would add weight. In fact, not a single rider had a headlight in spite of the fact that the first wave left before the crack of dawn. The temperature was about 48 degrees in the morning, so most riders had on windbreakers and a few even wore mittens or full gloves. Since this was a fully supported ride, no one had to carry a large amount of water or snacks.
I did see about four couples riding tandem bikes and one gentleman on a Bike Friday folding bike. It was “odd” that I didn’t see anyone riding my bike, an Electra Townie. I ride that bike because it is stable, comfortable, and allows me to sit more upright and not put as much pressure on my hands and shoulders. If I want to take on the “Triangle,” I’m going to have to rethink that and get a legitimate road bike. I know that a good bike shop is capable of making adjustments to accommodate my needs. I’ll have to do that early in my “one year plan.”
Training – People do cycle as a way to increase their fitness, but when taking on a major ride, it’s important to review your overall approach to physical development. Get clearance from your doctor before taking on any serious training program. There are many resources available to point you in the right direction, from an abundance of articles stressing cross-training, weight training, strengthening your core, and improving your on-bike performance to programs offered at your local gym.
One of the sponsors of the Copper Triangle was Optimize Endurance Services, a company which offers services to improve the physiological, mental and nutritional aspects of sport performance. There are similar companies in your area who are available to assess your current capability and help you train for special events.
The key is to start training early, build your core, replicate climbing in spin classes or on stationery bikes with programmable options for simulating hills, or simply tackle as many genuine hills as you can in your area – even if they are simply “blips on the landscape” compared to mountain passes. Of course, if you are really serious – and have a spare $ 1,500 laying around – you could always purchase the PRO-FORM Tour de France Training Bike with all the bells and whistles to replicate just about any type of terrain.
It’s equally important to prepare for descending on a steep road after a successful climb. One article offers the following key tips – maintain proper tire pressure, pay attention to the road to avoid obstructions that could cause you to fall, don’t ride the brakes, do all your BRAKING before you start the turn, position your body properly, and look where you want to go and your bike will follow. Lots to remember, and practice, before you head to the Rockies.
Altitude – High altitude can pose serious problems for anyone. For those coming from a state like Florida which is basically at sea level, it’s a significant physiological change to your system. Most people adjust well, but Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can affect anyone. A few symptoms of AMS are: headache, mild dizziness, nausea, insomnia, and irritability. These can indicate the onset of AMS and should not be ignored. This can come on very quickly and is serious. Prompt medical treatment including an IV and being placed on oxygen generally reverse the symptoms quite quickly.
Preventive strategies include allowing at least 2 days of acclimatization before engaging in strenuous exercise at high altitudes, avoiding alcohol, and increasing fluid intake. A high-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-salt diet may aid in preventing the onset of AMS.
Dehydration is the biggest reason AMS can become a problem for an athlete. Make sure to hydrate prior to coming to elevation and drink before you get thirsty while enjoying the scenery that mountains can provide. Proper training and nutrition practices will assist in an enjoyable event at altitude.
Back to Copper Mountain –
It was a thrill to see over 3,000 riders embark on their Copper Triangle adventure. While they were out for the ride, my wife and I drove over to Vail to visit the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, a beautiful display of wildflowers at 8,200 ft. As it turns out, the riders went directly past that same spot, so we were able to cheer them on. Several volunteers rang cowbells as encouragement. Driving back to Copper Mountain, we were able to view the riders as they sped down a bike trail which swept back and forth under the freeway. They crossed a covered bridge just before reaching the finish line.
The Davis Phinney Foundation benefitted from a share of the registration fee for each registration and fundraising efforts conducted by some of the riders. A check in excess of $ 135,000 was presented to the group to support its Parkinson’s Disease Research campaign and educational efforts to help people with Parkinson’s to Live Well Today. Two members of the “Victory Crew” (supporters of the Foundation) who live with Parkinson’s completed the ride – Carl Ames and Doug Bahniuk. Perhaps I’ll be able to join them next year. How about you?