Hell of the Northwest

The USA Pro Challenge peloton zips down Tejon Street in Bibleburg in the 2012 edition. Photo: Herself | Mad Dog Media

The USA Pro Challenge peloton zips down Tejon Street in Bibleburg in the 2012 edition. Photo: Herself | Mad Dog Media

The USA Pro Challenge (which is still a stupid name) has unveiled its route for 2013, and maybe it’s time to start calling the race the Tour of Colorado Ski Country USA (which is equally stupid, but at least tells you something about the event).

No Durango. No Colorado Springs. No Boulder. Yes to Aspen/Snowmass, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, Beaver Creek and Vail.

Loveland/Fort Collins made the cut, which is good, as Fort Collins has a rockin’ cycling scene. And Denver appears to be a mortal lock as the event’s Champs-Élysées; last year’s snoozer of a time trial is history in favor of a circuit race.

But it’s too bad that Southern Colorado gets shut out. There’s already bugger-all for lesser events south of the Palmer Divide — those tree-hugging sissies in Boulder are afeared that Jeebus and/or the NRA will git ’em if they dare to venture down this way to race they bicycles — and now anyone who wants to see The Big Show will have to crank up the idiot box or the family tank.

Ski areas have all the infrastructure (especially the green folding kind) that an event like this requires, of course. And it certainly doesn’t help that organizers have been known to pull enticing attendance figures right out of their asses, irking locals who found themselves coughing up big bucks for very little bang. Still, it would be neat to see the Stupidly Named Race visit less-heralded locations like Pueblo, Trinidad, Cuchara, Weirdcliffe or Function Junction.

I’d like to see a real weirdo stage that concluded up Phantom Canyon Road to Cripple Creek-Victor, or worked in Pass Creek Road and Old La Veta Pass. But I’m funny that way. Maybe not. Ain’t enough gold in them thar hills, I’m a-guessin’.


59 Responses to “Hell of the Northwest”

  1. Khal Spencer Says:

    Surprised Durango got iced out. Its been a great supporter of racing and the Iron Horse ain’t for the faint of heart, so to speak. One of these demented years before I get too old I want to ride up to Silverton from Durango, pour myself into a beer glass, and have my better half come and rescue me.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      K, Durango, like Boulder, decided not to apply. The city fathers were pretty disappointed with the turnout they got.

      But you definitely have to do the Durango-Silverton ride. I forget how many times I raced the Iron Horse, but even when I was getting stomped it was a beautiful way to get an ass-kicking.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Want to do it as a beer ride this summer?

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        That’d be fun. I’d have to start training, um, last year, though.

        We should put together a peloton of Mad Bloggers. There must be some pokey old barstard in the commentariat whose wheel I can still suck.

      • GJ John Says:

        Count me in, absolutely! Might need to avoid Iron Horse weekend, though, as I can’t really afford price gouging motel rates.

        Okay, truth be told, I may need more training that I’m likely to get by the end of May, something to do with getting fat in winter…someone ought to put that on a jersey.

        I’ve only done that route once a few years back, and that was going the other way on a Surly Cross Check in a downpour while pulling a loaded BOB trailer that kept wanting to pass me on the downhill. I never clinched a saddle so much in my life.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        The rules would be simple:

        No one can train too much.
        No plastic-fantastic bicycles and gossamer wheelsets.
        Anyone pushing the pace too hard has to stop and drink a beer.
        One has to look the part in an Old Guys jersey.

        Could probably even get such an event published in RKP or Adventure….

      • GJ John Says:

        Regarding Khal’s rules: so basically ride the way I always do, certainly no faster than I always do, and ride the bike I always ride. Got it.

        Seriously, I’m in. I’ve always wanted to do that ride.

        We’ll figure out the details (like how to get back from Silverton) later. Like maybe right after the ride.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        There is always the train back to Durango.

      • GJ John Says:

        The train is a good possibility. I’ve ridden it a couple times and I can attest that it’s a lot of fun but is best ridden just one-way, so that works well. One year we cut a deal with some friends in which they rode the train up and we used the other half of their tickets for the ride back (saves money too).

        Another possibility is that since we’ll be coming from Grand Junction we could just leave a vehicle in Silverton the night before. Either we could take two vehicles or someone could meet us in Silverton and give us a lift to Durango.

        One way or another, we’ll figure something out.

        Geez, I’m looking outside at 5″ of fresh fallen snow and thinking about riding the passes next year already. Gonna be a long winter.

      • md anderson Says:

        Ok guys, I’m in iff’n you all will let a girl in on the fun. But yeah, let’s avoid Iron Horse weekend. I’m thinking mid-June would be about perfect. Or even, hmmmm Summer Solstice?

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        As long as you promise not to drop us in the first 10 miles, you’re welcome to join us, MD. I like the idea of solstice, too. I’ll nose around a bit, see what’s going on in Durango around then.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        I especially like Solstice because it will probably take that long for me to climb my sorry carcass over those cols. Plus, nice weather for a few cold ones afterwards at Carver’s, across the street from Joey’s shop, Velorution.

      • GJ John Says:

        Right around the summer solstice works great for me too, that would give me time to ride a few of those “up things”…what ya call it?… oh yea, hills, before then. Every minute of daylight we can get. And Khal, I won’t be doing “too much” training, but it probably will be “not enough”.

        Larry, if you’re not in this hemisphere by then…well, no reason we can’t do it again when you get back. It ain’t that far for me, just three hours down the road.

        My far better half says that she’s “in” also, so MD you’ll have company off the front. She already knows that she has to bring her steel bike, which makes her that much happier.

        Oh, Khal, be sure to give Joey an invite, but he needs to follow the rules. I’ve hiked with guys from Fort Lewis and found out that those Durango people all got extra red blood cells so he’s got an advantage on us. (Look at me, I’m already making excuses.)

      • Derek Lenahan Says:

        If you let a new guy in I promise to ride a Surly Pacer with a Dura-Ace group from 1986.

  2. GJ John Says:

    Geez, I got bored just reading about the route. No big uphill finishes as near as I could tell, just a tour of big dollar towns. I heard that Boulder didn’t even submit a bid, which is surprising as it appeared that the Flagstaff Mountain stage really brought out the crowds last year and pretty much saved the race. Then again, all those rif-raffy cycling fans may just not be “Boulder” type of people.

    I’m not surprised, though, that they skipped the southwestern part of the state, attendance in those parts was way below expectations (I think a dozen or so showed up to watch the depart in Montrose). The Qwiznos Qwassic (I always preferred that name) seems to have decided that I-70 in the mountains is where the money is to be found and so what if it makes for a boring race. And although we here in Dysfunction Junction are technically along I-70, we just don’t have much to offer in terms of route or money.

    Two years ago we watched from the side of the road along Independence Pass, but last year the Forest Service, State Patrol and Aspen CofC made sure that stretch of highway was spectator free. So I see no reason to even consider heading that way again this year.

    Well, there’s always the Tour of Utah. Rumor has it that it’s headed for southern Utah in 2013. My guess is St. George or Cedar City, somewhere along I-15. At least there might be one interesting race taking place in August.

  3. Khal Spencer Says:

    Thanks for the Durango Herald link, Patrick. We did go up to Durango last summer, but deliberately avoided the week of the U.S. Pro due to what we thought would have been high prices and serious trouble getting a decent, dog-friendly room. I did hear later on that the crowds were much lighter than promised.

  4. John Levy Says:

    Walsenburg to Trinidad on highway 12 over apisipah pass would be a nice stage through segundo and by the drowned mining camps. trouble is not enough places for the literati and glitterati to place their fat asses. or mayve over La veta pass and up the bunbare\rerl on the west side of the crestones an 7200 ft excuse 2400 metres/ oh Well as the cyclist who shall not be named resides in Little Texas aka Aspen. the rest of CO. Will be wcrewed over

  5. Andy Bohlmann Says:

    Beer tour?

    You can use my Trade Name, “Tour of Colorado.”

    Pay me in beer.

  6. John Dallager Says:

    Ref. USA Pro Challenge: The phrase “Follow the money” comes to mind.

  7. Larry T. Says:

    If this will happen in late July or August when I’m back from Italia, I’d LOVE to join you. Wanted to come out to CO this year to see a bit of the former Toasted Sandwich Instant Classic but some family obligations threw a wrench in the works. 2013 would be good for another attempt.

    • GJ John Says:

      Hey Larry. If you’re thinking about riding western Colorado in July or August you might want to add at least one day in Grand Junction to your itinerary. I’ll play host and take you over to ride the Tour of the Moon aka Colorado National Monument, home to a stage of the Coors Classic. That’s a ride that needs to be on everyone’s bucket list: challenging without being too tough, and eye-popping gorgeous.

      • Larry T. Says:

        Been there, done that. Way back in the daze of the Coors Classic. Remember when the nutjob took over the courthouse? I was there (not taking over the courthouse) working on a tour in conjunction with the race. That’s one of the reasons the idea of going out there and riding around with some other old farts sounded good. See some of the pros race around, blab about left-wing politics, etc. etc.

  8. JoeyDurango Says:

    The Durango-Silverton ride is pretty sweet, I gotta say, so long as you avoid Texans driving RV’s, short men driving diesel brodozers at 80mph, and stupid people of all stripes texting. Go early and you’ll be okay. Maybe I’ll even join you, if you’ll allow young-ish folks along.

    As for how to get back… ride, of course! Much of it is downhill… 🙂

    Whatever you do (Outside magazine’s droll assessment notwithstanding), DO NOT pay however much money it is Ed Zink wants these days for an Iron Horse entry. You’ll miss all the above vehicular tomfoolery, but you’ll be surrounded by road racers and chamois sniffers instead… I’ll take the RV’s, thanks.

    • GJ John Says:

      My FBH (Far Better Half) and I made some similar comments just the other night about preferring that some people just stay in their cars. While we were riding around town the other night we had a near miss with a cyclist riding the wrong way in pitch darkness and with no lights at all. Just because someone throws a leg over a bike doesn’t mean they gain IQ points. At least when they’re driving a car I can see what they’re up to no matter how stupid (usually).

      As far as I’m concerned, youngish folks allowed and encouraged to participate, but we may insist that you replace the air in your tires with Animas River water. See you there.

  9. Jon Paulos Says:

    So… at the risk of seeming a bit out of it, I have a few questions. What altitudes are we talking here, is it a paved or unpaved course, and what is the distance? I’ve got the time and the money and I’d like to see youse guys in person even if I can’t drink beer.

    • GJ John Says:

      The road is paved the whole way, in fact it’s State Highway 550. The distance is somewhere in the 50 mile range, but others with more local knowledge can correct me on that. The route starts in Durango, with an elevation of 6500 ft or so, then goes over Coal Bank Pass at 10,660 ft. It then descends to about 9800 ft before climbing up and over Molas Pass at 10,889 ft before finally descending into Silverton at 9300 ft (I got my Topo program running here, can you tell?).

      I’ve only ridden this route going the other way, but while descending these road I don’t recall any climb being worse than five percent or so (again, others with more local knowledge can set me right on this).

      Now, a couple passes flirting with two miles high might make it sound as if oxygen could be in short supply, but fear not for PO’G has become so decrepit that he’s now toting an O2 bottle with him everywhere and he’ll no doubt be willing to share with the rest of us (for beer, of course).

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Joey can give you chapter and verse, Jon — it’s been many a moon since I last raced the Horse — but GJ has it pretty much nailed.

      The big climbs are not the tough ones. It’s the little punchy bastards that get you. As I recall, the first comes nine or 10 miles in, where the road crosses over the railroad tracks. Then there’s another by the Tamarron resort (where Herself and I honeymooned). And there’s yet another just before the ski area.

      After that you have the two big bastards to climb before the descent to Silverton. Coal Bank is the worst of the two. Always was for me, anyway.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Right now I have the Long Haul Trucker with full triple gearing, the ‘cross bike with 34×32 or 34×34 low gears on the wheelsets, and the Cannonball with 34×29. Any ideas on which would be best for an old fat bastard of uninspiring talent?

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        K, I’d have to check with a friend and neighbor who’s ridden the Horse more recently than I have. He’s in our age range and is sadly too trim and fit to make good company, but I seem to recall him going to a 27 on the rear end. I would think the Cannonball would suit you just fine.

        I tend to run relaxed cyclo-cross gearing on most everything, as in 48/36 or 46/34 with a pie-plate cog for come-to-Jesus moments, like a 26 or 28.

        Modern Shimano 105 and SRAM Apex let you do a 30 for a big cog on the backside, which is nice. But I’m still mostly on eight- and nine-speed.

      • GJ John Says:

        Hey Khal! Let’s both bring our LHTs. We’ll fill the panniers with packing peanuts and drive these guys nuts!

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        We could make it a touring-bike adventure … I have a Soma Saga with a triple-ring crank and a low end of something like 24×32. Sucker has a spare spoke carrier, a pair of Soviet-era Triumph of the People Beet Farm Collective tractor wheels and everything.

      • GJ Shelly Says:

        I want to ride my new touring bike on this ride. I just got a new Salsa Vaya Ti and GJ John is working on customizing it with the parts I want.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        A touring bike adventure would be cool. In that case, the LHT shod with 26″x1.25″ Richeys on its summer wheelset might do fine. Right now its set up with a vintage Sugino 46-36-26 in front (sentimental value–bought it from the late Sheldon Brown) and 12-34 9 spd (bar-end 9 spd) in the rear with an old Bontrager wheelset in the rear holding 26×2.1″ Richey Speedmax Pros in honor of the ice and snow on my commute. I might change out the 46 big ring to a 48, which I have been meaning to do, for a serious touring adventure. Patrick, if we all show up with touring rigs, can you sell a story to Adventure Cycling? Presuming we don’t break the camera….

        I hear you on not going to the new ten speed stuff, Patrick. The 9 works just fine, since I’m not trying to overtake any drug-addled old farts in bike races.

      • md anderson Says:

        Since I don’t have multiple steeds in my stable I’ll be riding “the usual” which is a Gunnar Roadie, steel ‘natch. I still run the Ultegra triple on the front but did upgrade to 10 gears on the back a few years ago. So sue me. Anyhoo, I’ve ridden it everywhere, pavement, packed dirt, up hill and down dale for over 10 years now.

        As for not dropping you guys, I’ll just consider it a recovery ride, ok? /sarcasm

      • GJ John Says:

        Hey md! I’ve got a Gunnar Roadie myself lurking in my stable of bikes. Great riding bike, very underrated. I only replaced it as my favorite road bike last year with a custom steel frame that was inspired by the geometry of the Roadie.

        My FBH has a custom Gunnar Sport that was custom for someone else but is just about spot on for her. The frame was scored off ebay super cheap ($170!). If this Durango-Silverton ride is a road ride (as opposed to a touring bike ride) look for her on that Gunnar Sport.

        On top of everything else, have a Rockhound for my mtn bike. So yea, we too are fans of Gunnars.

        Since you’re running 10s and we’re talking about big climbing you might be interested to know that there’s a way to fit your Gunnar with a 12-36 cassette, we’ve done it a bunch of times.The trick it to use a Shimano nine speed shadow rear derailleur (has to be a 9 speed even though that sounds counter-intuitive, and has to be a “shadow” model, either XT or SLX), and then use a Shimano 11-36 or a SRAM 12-36 cassette. A triple up front and a 36 in the back! Hell, you won’t break a sweat as you drop the lot of us!

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        I set up our Co-Motion tandem with the 12-36 and a Shadow derailleur. Works great.

      • md anderson Says:

        I love my Gunnar. It was the first road bike I ever bought. Originally I had it built up with an XT rear der and a 12-34 (I think) cassette because I knew I was going to be doing a lot of climbing on it. And coming from a mtn bike background didn’t have the usual roadie bias against “sensible” gearing. After a couple seasons of getting stronger I changed to a road derailleur and cassette, but still usually have something like a 27 or 28 bailout gear on the back.

        Look forward to meeting you and your FBH if this thing gets off the ground. Hey maybe she and I can get matching jerseys. “Gals on Gunnars.” But then they’ll prob think we are some sort of wingnut militia.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        If you go off the back on your Gunnars you can get jerseys that say “Tailgunnars”

  10. khal spencer Says:

    Its a tough ride, but if one is not doing it at an anoxic pace, is a really a beautiful ride. We have driven up to Silverton a couple times when we have run off to Durango for R and R from Bombtown, and I really want to ride that road to Silverton at some point before they carry me off in a pine box.

  11. High Plains Drifters Says:

    Tell y’all what: I show up with the Burley Bee and 45 pounds of toddlers in tow, and none of y’all will have to worry about getting dropped. Although, I’m guessing I’d still find at least one of you sucking my wheel, if only because there’s room for a couple of coolers behind the passenger area.

  12. High Plains Drifters Says:

    Re: The 2013 Not Necessarily the Tour Von Colorado.

    Given our lack of snow production, the ski areas need all the help they can get. Although, given what folks are saying about CO’s tourism future, maybe a route that highlighted dispensaries would be smarter.

  13. Larry T. Says:

    When will this madness take place? I’d probably ride my LeMond Poprad ‘cross bike sans fenders…same as I’d planned for the Crooked Roubaix a few years back when Maynard Hershon and friends were trying to talk me into joining them. That whole plan petered out but I still have some interest in going to CO in late July or early August, especially if it can be combined with some other stuff like seeing a bit of the pro race there?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      My schedule is fluid — right now, I have firm commitments from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News and Adventure Cyclist for 2013, and there may be other bits of this and that which demand my attention in the New Year. I’ll know more after the world comes to an end tomorrow.

    • GJ John Says:

      Personally, I like the summer solstice idea, but I’m flexible too. Sometime in July would have the appeal that it would get us out of GJ at a time when it’s hotter than hell in this valley. Just not around July 4th, when we’d have a good chance of getting mowed down by a tourist in a rental RV on his way to the Silverton or Ouray fireworks. If we wait till late July or August, though, I would think we would stand a good chance of seeing the monsoons up close and personal at the higher elevations.

      June 22-23 is a weekend and seems ideal. Late enough that we probably won’t see snow (no guarantees) yet early enough that we most likely won’t get into any summer rains (again, no guarantees….welcome to Colorado).

      My 1/50 of a dollar.

    • khal spencer Says:

      I’m flexible on time, Larry. Would love to have you and Heather join us.

  14. JoeyDurango Says:

    O’G pretty much has the route nailed. The passes aren’t what bother me either – it’s the climb between Hermosa and Purgatory. Boring, steep, four-lane. The passes are windy, two-lane, and beautiful. Bring it on!

    • Khal Spencer Says:

      Hey, Joey, how’s that rider in your “11.08.12 – Be careful out there” photo doing?

      • JoeyDurango Says:

        Last I heard she was recovering well. Still in serious condition, but no longer touch-n-go with the Grim Reaper. It’s been a few weeks, so I assume she’s progressing nicely. Still no word on possible charges against the driver either.

        The best story I heard about the whole thing was from a friend who works for the victim’s husband. Jody wakes up in the hospital room, after being airlifted and operated on, hours since last consciousness. First words? “I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.” Her sense of humor, apparently, survived intact.

  15. Khal Spencer Says:

    Is Maynard Hershon still riding bicycle? Last I talked to him, he was living in the Denver area having recently recovered from a bad spill on his pedalbike.

    • Larry T. Says:

      Maynard’s back on the bike last I heard. As I wrote, last year he was trying to coax me into joining the Crooked Roubaix with some of his cronies. Of course they live at altitude so would have dropped me like a rock in the thin air, but I was still thinking about doing it but didn’t hear much more about it…don’t even know if they had the event as things were kind of sketchy last time I checked. But for some stupid reason I keep thinking about heading west when we come back from Italia in late July. Early August would work too.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        It is gorgeous up there in mid to late summer, with one caveat. Things can be gnarly come September. When I’ve done the Red River Century in northernmost New Mexico, its usually the week after Labor Day and the temperature at the starting line (which is at about 8700 feet) at 8 a.m. is typically in the high thirties. I think it was 2003, plus or minus, when the weather closed in fast as I was finishing the ride. Cresting Bobcat Pass (9800 ft) in early afternoon, it was sleeting heavily, which made the steep, high speed descent back to Red River rather interesting. Some of the folks behind me had to be rescued as it started to snow. I spent twenty minutes in the hottest shower I could pour after I got back to my hotel room.

        Then again, Larry, you lead rides into the northern Italian mountains, so weird weather (aka Andy Hampston cresting a pass in a snowstorm) should not be anything new to you.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Looks like Maynard is still dispensing wisdom at The Bicycle Paper. I haven’t seen him in a bazillion years, but it seems that like me he’s spending a lot of time on the bike paths … and has discovered that they are damn’ near as dangerous as the streets.

      • Larry T. Says:

        September’s way too late for me, I’m talking late July or early August. For all the reasons you outline we tell folks who ask us for advice on a DIY tour in the Dolomites to forget about it after early September….and even then a lot of our hotel partners are on vacation themselves – taking a break after the summer season to get ready for the skiing season – where the REAL euros are made!
        PS-Khal, I might be the guide, but unless it’s on the descent, I’m not doing much leading these days…I’m most often the last one to make the top of the pass!

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Can everyone do it in late July or early August?

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Late July or early August would probably work for me. I don’t know yet whether I’ll have any involvement in coverage of the Tour, the USA Pro Challenge and/or the Vuelta, but if I do that window would fit neatly in the gaps.

        I do have BRAIN deadlines July 19 and Aug. 9, and there’s probably an Adventure Cyclist deadline in there somewhere, too. But a lot of what I do can be banked in advance.

        We talking weekend or weekday here? If weekend, I may have to do a bit of juggling, but it shouldn’t be a big deal.

  16. md anderson Says:

    Late July early August I hope to be on my transcon trip. We are scheduled to finish in VA on August 8. So I do prefer June. But that’s just one vote

    • khal spencer Says:

      Weekday or weekends are both OK for me, as long as my better half doesn’t have any looming deliverables to the Dept. of Entropy. Her birthday falls on a weekday in July, so the 2nd or 3rd week in July would be options for us.

      • Larry T. Says:

        I’m afraid this is going to end up as one of those “choose a date and let the excuses begin”….as I don’t (as currently planned) return from Italy until late in July.

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