Thursday, August 26, 2010


Early this year, I learned I got into the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. I was ecstatic. But nobody I knew well got in. I later learned only 1 in 6 made it through the lottery process. Then this spring, a friend in Colorado Springs told me a timed ride was planned up Pikes Peak the last Sunday of August. I immediately realized I had a serious problem. There was no way I could pull off two trips to Colorado in the same month. Then I broke my ankle, scratching plans for an early August trip to Colorado. I didn't know until July whether I would be rehabbed enough to attempt this climb at the end of August or not. When it became clear I would be ok attempting it, I booked a weekend trip, staying with Tom Ramsey in Colorado Springs.  My fitness is rebounding more quickly than I expected, so I extended the trip to Labor Day weekend. My mountain bike is already at Tom's house. After Pikes Peak, I plan to hit several new high country loops.

I've studied hard about how to ride up Pikes Peak over the last few years. Bikes are banned on the toll road.  Others have ridden up via Barr Trail.  Manitou Springs to summit gains over 7000ft. Much of the lower portion of Barr Trail is rideable. A lengthy section up top looks completely unrideable. The biggest challenge riding up Barr Trail would be water. It would probably take more hours than my water supply would last.

The auto road up Pikes Peak has a long history. At one time, it nearly became abandoned until the city of Manitou Springs took over ownership and maintenance of the road. Bicycles have never been allowed on the toll road in recent history. Until now. Registration was limited to 1500 riders. I expected at least a thousand to sign up. As of pre-reg closing, only 280 signed up. This could be a one-time opportunity. The course will actually climb a closed lane of US-24 from Manitou Springs before picking up the toll road. There will be four aid stations along the way. It is timed, but "not a race." I do not plan to race it. In fact, I will take pictures on the way up so I can enjoy an uninterrupted 24 mile descent.

Pikes Peak hillclimb route

Tom will be loaning me a CX bike with road tires and climbing gears. I think most riders will find Pikes Peak much more challenging than Mt Evans. For one, there is a 3000ft vertical section at 10% grade above 10,000ft. A good chunk of this is gravel too.  That's like an Alpe d'Huez, except a lot steeper, in rarefied air, after you've been climbing continuously for 1-2hrs. Fun stuff.

The climb doesn't really start until 14 miles in.

I've been going back to Colorado nearly every year since first heading there to ride in 2005. I always go with a mountain bike. Most of the trips have been solo. After Pikes Peak, I plan to stay in Gunnison, which is a cheap place to stay near Crested Butte. Some of the rides I have planned are Monarch Crest via Old Monarch Pass Rd and Agate Creek Trail (an all dirt variant of the Salida side loop). Another ride is a triple-pass loop between Crested Butte and Aspen, hitting Pearl Pass, Taylor Pass and Star Pass with a great singletrack descent back down. Nearly all of this ride hovers in the 10,000ft to 13,000ft range. I'm toying with bagging another 14er on this ride, ditching the bike at Pearl Pass and hiking up Crystal Peak. It would be a very long day. Water would be a problem, but there is plenty up there and I'll be bringing iodine tablets along. I will have to hit Trail 401 in Crested Butte again. Like Monarch Crest, it is one of my favorites. I will take a different way to get to it this time, going through Paradise Basin.

The Pearl/Taylor/Star loop. Mt Crested Butte is in upper left.

My fitness isn't quite back to where I was this spring, but I'm starting to feel more like myself again. On a training ride Tuesday, I hit a hill I loosely benchmark myself on. I say loosely, as I never go to Pead Hill with fresh legs. My PR from 2008 was on a Tuesday after the Battenkill race. This year, I hit Pead Hill after D2R2. Kind of apples to apples I'd say. Anyway, my best was 7:00 minutes even. This week I was 7:20. I've been much slower on it. I've run a PowerTap up Pead before. Hard to say what 7:20 translates to, but I'd guess around 390W. This wouldn't win any hilly masters races at my weight, but getting within striking distance. I was quite happy with the progress.

Hope to repeat week 12 (Arizona with Dave) while in
Colorado next week.

Last week was my highest cycling volume week of the summer. Pretty easy to do when one ride gives 8hrs.  Normally I'm more focused on racing this time of year. I'm not sure what a coach would have me do, but I'm pretty sure after such a long forced break, a lot of volume would be prescribed. After Colorado, I think I will focus more on intensity in preparation for the Ironcross race in October. It will be interesting to see if I can return to competitive form by then.


Steven said...

just an FYI and probably outdated, but I was riding out in Aspen in the middle of July where I ran into some folks coming back from Crested Butte. At that time they said that part of 401 was closed. Don't know for how long or how much of it, but it changed my plans.

Bill Thompson said...

Doug -- I raced up PP in 1986, when I was out there spectating at the World Championships. The track and road events were awesome. The track was especially fun because you're only a few feet from the racers. The eastern bloc trackies were all hugely muscled --gee, I wonder how that happened? The race up PP was a blast, even on my old rigid mtb. A lot of guys dnf'd because they were on road bikes with way too hard gearing. We were not allowed to ride down - had to take a bus. My recollection is that the first half of the ride was paved and then became a pretty well maintained dirt road. You'll have a blast.

Hill Junkie said...

Bill - I'll have to pick your brain on prior PP events. I really couldn't dig much up on it. Read somewhere once about a bike event up PP, and since it was pre-Internet days, there's not much of a digital history of it.

The promoter hasn't said anything about grades or gearing. I suspect some guys will show up with Mt Evans gearing and be in a world of trouble on Pikes Peak. Double-digit grades at those altitudes demand respect.

Brent said...

I threw the climb into brentacol if it helps:

Hill Junkie said...

So is that a pretty high Brentacol rating?

Brent said...

so, yeah, that makes it top 10 in my list, coming in only about 300 points below Washington at just over 3000. But I also don't factor in altitude, so it should be harder than that, by quite a bit.

speaking of...I'd love to add a factor for altitude, I'm just not quite sure how to go about it. My thought was to basically add a supplement to the gradient before making the rating calculation. So something like: for a hill over 5000 feet add 1% to the hill, per 1000. That would be saying, essentially, that climbing a 6% hill at 7000ft would be equivalent to 8% at sea level. and climbing at 12% at 13000 (parts of the end of Mauna Kea, I believe) would be equivalent to sustained 20%. But I don't really have enough experience climbing at altitude to know if that's a good adjustment or not. The last 3 miles of Lemmon felt somewhat comparable to Okemo, which would be about the ballpark for the 1% per 1000ft mark, but you also have 28 miles of climbing when you hit the last section, so it's hard to tell.

Anonymous said...

I climb all the time at altitude, but on one wheel. So, not sure if I can help with that ;-). Doug I will see you sunday morning. BTW, USA Cycling almost banned me from participating Sunday, but after sending them my resume, I got the ok. I am shooting for a 5 hour adventure, how about you? 2 -2.5Hr????

Hill Junkie said...

You could adapt what the Dutch magazine Fiets did: H^2/(D*10) + T(>1000m)/1000, where H is height in meters, D is terrain distance in meters, and T is summit elevation in meters (if above 1000 meters).

They start adding a factor above 3300ft. It's not a multiplier or scale factor. Thus a short climb at very high altitude could have a large difficulty index. Not sure I entirely agree with this. At 14,000ft, non-acclimated athletes can suffer something like 40% hit in power output. You'd need a lot more than 1% per 1000ft.

For Mt W, Fiets adds about 5% for 6200ft summit. For Mt Evans, it adds about 33% even though it is a bigger vertical climb and starts with a higher difficulty number.

aspenmike said...

this is testing my account, couldnt find profile before. are you in colorado doug?

Hill Junkie said...

Mike - what a major letdown that would have been. The event is billed as a "fun ride," so I'm not sure why USAC would even care. I doubt riding singly wheeled is a bigger liability.

I am going to treat the ride as it is billed, a fun ride. No time goals. It may take me 3hrs. I've pretty much concluded that sea level dwellers just don't grow thick enough blood to make finishing times on beasts like Pikes Peak very meaniful.

I fly out Saturday morning and plan to hit the pasta dinner Saturday night. If I don't see you there I'll look for you in the morning. We may cross paths when I head back down from the summit. I'll try to get some photos.

Brent said...

ok, I started working on an elevation adjust thing, and adding 1%/per 1000 ft above sea level (starting at the 4000ft threshold) doesn't really seem to work. Based on that formula, the brentacol rating for Mount Evans jumped to 13,000 points from 1875, which would make it, umm, 4 times harder than Mount Washington, which based on what I've heard doesn't really seem right.

I'd say it needs to be graded a little differently, because 5% grades at the top are scored as if they were about 15%, since you're adding almost a 10% adjustment, which doesn't seem right.