Posts Tagged ‘NeilPryde Epic Rides’

Six Gap Cycling Challenge

| June 17th, 2011 | No Comments »

Each September cyclists from around the country test their endurance and climbing legs at Six Gap, a well known 100 mile century ride that starts and finishes in Dahlonega, north Georgia, and loops  through the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. The Six Gaps, or mountains, make for a very challenging ride with over 10,000 feet of climbing.

Every year I organize a cycling camp in this area; one of my favorites for cycling with its quiet, scenic and challenging roads in the Appalachian Mountains. This area is also a favorite for hikers with the Appalachian Trail running along the summits of the Gaps.

During our camp this early June, it was only fitting therefore that we stayed at the Hiker Hostel, about 6 miles north of Dahlonega and a perfect launch pad to do some epic cycling.

As our group rolled out to conquer the Six Gaps we knew a hot day was ahead of us. This area had been experiencing a heat wave recently and temperatures were expected to soar to over 95 F (35 C) on the road.

As we descended towards Turners Corner, I savored the last bit of freshness in the morning air. At Turner’s Corner a left turn on road 129 would take us immediately on to the first Gap of the day, Neels Gap.  

Neels Gap is the longest of the Six Gaps at over 7 miles (12 kms). The good quality road surface and steady grade of around 4% makes Neels quite manageable despite its length. Our group tackled the climb at a manageable pace, holding some strength back for later challenges.

A regroup at the summit to fill up on some cold water and then it was down the descent of Neels, a fun reward for climbing the mountain before Jacks Gap, our next challenge of the day.

The climb of Jacks Gap is 4 miles (6.5km) on a quiet country road with a rough road surface. The climb has some steep sections of between 7-10%. These steep sections are divided by short downhill sections, a welcome break from the challenging grade.

At the Summit of Jacks the road to Brasstown Bald forks to the left. Brasstown Bald mountain was made famous in the Tour of Georgia pro race as the climb that often decided the race overall. Brasstown is an incredibly steep climb with an average gradient of well over 12% and parts as steep as 22%! We would save this incredibly challenging mountain for another day.

The descent of Jacks is mostly straight before turning right on to Road 75 / 17 towards Unicoi Gap. This part of the ride is one of my favorite with mountain rivers and picturesque landscapes feeding the eyes.

Once we turned towards Unicoi Gap in the direction of the German village lookalike of Helen, the road became smoother again which also meant a road more traveled by cars. The climb of Unicoi Gap is one of the least challenging at an average gradient of just over 5% for 3.4 miles (5.4 km).

The descent down Unicoi is exhilarating  with sweeping turns on a smooth road surface. The better descenders of our group would be dropping even the motor cycles down Unicoi.

Three Gaps down and still three to go. Next up was Hogpen Gap, which is by far the most challenging of the route. Once we turned off road 75 / 17 on to road 75, a few “rollers” would warm-up the legs after the descent, something of an “aperitif” before the “main meal” of Hogpen.

At the 45 mile mark a road sign for road 348 “scenic highway” meant we had arrived at the toughest Gap of the ride, Hogpen Gap. Hogpen is about 7 miles (11 km) with an average gradient of 6%, not a true indicator of the severity of the climb and due to a few downhill sections falsifying the average.

What makes Hogpen so tough is that it pitches up at a constant 9-12% gradient for a good 3 miles. Combined with 95F (35 C) on the road, it was survival of the fittest to get to the summit. Some of our group could not make it on this day; the heat combined with the steepness was just too much.  

The descent of Hogpen is one of the scariest I have ever done where speeds of over 55 miles (88km) an hour are easily achieved.

Wolfpen Gap, the fifth Gap of the ride, is one of my favorite climbs with its many turns shaded by trees. The road surface being rough indicated that we were back on quiet, country roads.

Wolfpen is just over 3 miles (5kms). Some sections are quite steep at 7-10% but overall it is quite gradual with an average gradient of 3.5%.  Wolfpen is the last real challenging climb of the Six Gap route. After a fun descent a few more “rollers’ would sting our tired legs on the road to Suches. Once we arrived in Suches, a left turn on to road 60 meant we were very close to the final Gap of the day, Woody’s Gap.

After all the tough climbing of the day, Woody’s Gap, by comparison, is a little bump in the road at less than 2 miles in length and at a gentle gradient. The descent off of Woody’s is another fun descent and offers stunning views of the Appalachian mountains. A huge pile of rocks at the bottom of Woody’s indicates the bottom of the descent. Legend has it that a Cherokee princess is buried under the “rock pile” and dropping a stone on her gravesite will bring good fortune. 

From the Rock Pile, it was only one mile to our base camp at the Hiker Hostel. This challenging ride would take the majority of the group well over 6 hours to complete and included a total of over 9,300 feet of climbing. Epic! 

To see the Garmin File, click here

Climbing the Tour Legend Alpe d’Huez

| February 23rd, 2011 | No Comments »

I have been fortunate to climb Alpe d’Huez many times while guiding bike tour groups at the Tour de France. This July I am excited to test my NeilPryde Alize on Alpe d’Huez and on some of the alpine descents. NeilPryde Bikes have partnered with Gourmet Cycling Travel for their Tour de France final week bike tour and will be supplying their Alize and Diablo model bikes to all participants during the tour. Guest will be able to test their ability using a Diablo or Alize model bike up Mont Ventoux, Col du Galibier and of course Alpe d’Huez. 

Alpe d’Huez has been the stage for incredible race action and intense emotion over many years of Tour de France history. Tour fans will remember fondly epic battles between Lemond and Hinault in the 80s, Bugno and Indurain in the 90s, and dominating performances by Pantani and Armstrong more recently.
This year’s Tour edition includes a finish at Alpe d’Huez in the final week of the race. There is nothing quite like experiencing the mountain on race day with thousands of tour fans from across the world turning the roadside into a carnival like atmosphere.
Riding up the mountain before the pros arrive is a thrilling experience for an everyday cyclist. Tour fans cheer you on as if you were in the race. This year on the Gourmet Cycling Travel final week tour, we’ll be camped out at 4 kilometers to go in a prime location overlooking the course.
The climb of Alpe d’Huez has a total elevation gain of 1071 meters or 3513 feet. This is less than some of the longer climbs like Mont Ventoux or the Col du Tourmalet, yet it is the most famous and attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators who camp on the roadside for weeks ahead of the race.
The total length of the climb is 13.2 kilometers or 8.25 miles with an average gradient of 8.1% and a max of 10.6%; a challenge for any level of cyclist. Last year I saw gradients maxing at 14% displayed on my Garmin computer.
The climb’s initial impression is one of a very steep grade on a wide, straight road. Cyclists attempting the climb for the first time will do well to remind themselves that the later slopes are far less steep.
Tour de France racers, both super stars and lesser known names, have their names painted on the road. Some names are still quite clear while other names have faded over the years.
There are 21 switchbacks in total on the mountain. Each switchback has a sign counting down from 21 on the first switchback, to 1 on the last turn before the summit. Past stage winners like Hampsten, Bugno, and Pantani have their names displayed with each switchback number, sparking memories of past tour battles and race emotion.

It’s a good idea not to pay too close attention to the countdown as this can crack one mentally. I prefer to get in the “zone” by staying focused on the effort and looking only every couple of switchbacks at my current progress.
The climb initially zigzags at mostly 10% gradient in a serpentine fashion lined with trees, rocks and a protective wall. A welcome break from the steep gradient comes only briefly on the almost flat switchback turns before the road pitches back up to 10%.
Cyclists with a good base of fitness will be able to climb Alpe d’Huez using a compact crank and a 25-27 easiest tooth rear cog at the back. The first year I rode the Alpe back in 1992 I used a 39X23. More recently I have had the luxury of a triple chainring to keep a relatively high cadence up the climb.
In my role as a cycling coach, I recommend to cyclists who are going to ride Alpe d’Huez to perform specific training ahead of time to simulate the effort of the climb in the form of 60-90 minute big gear intervals at a cadence of 60-65rpms.
The surrounding scenery while climbing Alpe d’Huez changes from one of menacing, rock faced switchbacks in the first part of the climb, to one of green meadows and winding roads of milder gradient in the last few kilometers to the summit. In these final few kilometers one can see in the distance the finish goal up ahead, the ski station of Alpe d’Huez.
There is an incredible view on the final few turns of the climb just accomplished of the neighboring mountain ranges. A feeling of fatigue mixed with satisfaction and elation comes over one as the summit nears.
As one reaches the ski town lined with street cafes and souvenir shops, the amateur finish line together with a pretend podium is reached. If you are climbing with your buddy, this will be a natural sprint to claim bragging rights as the first one up. The pros continue on for another 1 kilometer through the town for the Tour stage finish line.
Many cyclists each year come and time themselves with the official timing system offered. At the Tour de France the climb has been timed since 1994. Pantani holds the current record in a time of 37 minutes and 35 seconds achieved back in 1997. Armstrong comes in a close second with 37 minutes and 36 seconds achieved during his time trial win back in 2004. On a good day I am happy to come within 20 minutes of the records to break the hour. This puts into perspective how good the top pros really are.
The Alpe d’Huez is a mythic climb to experience by bike and gives one a new found respect for what a Tour de France rider has to endure to make it to Paris!
For the Garmin file of Alpe d'Huez, click here

An informal ride & “war stories” with Tom Danielson, Garmin Transitions Pro

| December 20th, 2010 | No Comments »

I was invited to do an informal ride with Garmin-Transitions pro rider Tom Danielson in Fort Myers, on the west coast of Florida. Fort Myers is a favorite destination to sun-seekers and retirees, and was once a winter home to world famous inventor Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to ride again with the now world famous pro rider after having raced with him back in 2003 when he was a young pro on the Saturn team.

In 2003 we raced together in the US Pro Championships in Philadelphia and in the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia. The 10-day Tour de Langkawi stage race was the fourth highest paying race in the world and attracted many of the world’s best professional teams.
Tom was racing for the Saturn team in the Tour de Langkawi. He had already established his remarkable talent early in the race by taking the leader’s yellow jersey. I remember clearly racing the decider stage up the extremely difficult mountain to Genting Highlands resort. As we approached the base of the 11 mile climb with a gradient ranging from 12-20%, Chris Horner and his Saturn team were charging towards the climb with the goal of setting up Tom for yet another attack. I was producing a steady 400-450 watts just to ride next to Chris and keep our best climber shielded from the wind and as fresh as possible for the immanent battle between the climbers.  
As soon as the first climber launched his attack, I went from being at the front to being spat out the back in less than 30 seconds. Close to 1.5 hours later, I approached the finish line, zigzagging the 20% pitch towards the resort hotel above the clouds. Dizzy and cold, and over 28 minutes lost on the climb, I learned that Tom once again had displayed his unbelievable climbing talents by winning the queen stage. He would go on to win the final yellow jersey.   
Back then as a young pro, Tom Danielson was beginning to make a name for himself as a powerful climber and strong time trialist. Fast forward 7 years and Tom has become one of the best US international pros, exploding into the big time when he defeated Lance, Floyd and Levi in the 2005 Tour de Georgia. His 2010 season resulted in a strong 8th place overall finish in the Tour of Spain, the third biggest stage race in the world.
For the past two Decembers, Tom, invited by Z Motion a top Florida racing club, heads to south Florida where he participates in two centuries for charity and resumes his base training.
As we left for our ride, I reminisced with Tom of our racing back in Langkawi and US Pro Champs. Our ride today would take us on a flat and fast 65 mile coastal route to beautiful Captiva and Sanibel islands, home to some of the top rated beaches in the US. Unfortunately, a thick coastal mist would hide much of the surrounding beauty on this day. It’s refreshing to see Tom’s humility and friendliness, void of any pretentiousness. He seems like a genuinely great guy.
Riding alongside Tom, my power meter was showing a steady 250 watts. I was thankful to be in good shape and riding my NeilPryde Alize, with its aerodynamic frame design. The Alize is perfectly suited for the fast, flat and windy coastal roads of Florida where wind drag is the main challenge to overcome.
Tom’s training included 5-6 hour rides each day at a similar pace for a total of 33 hours this week. I discovered his peak 20 minute power is 420W at 130lbs! No wonder he climbs as if he had wings.
After our 3 hours ride, most us weekend warriors were happy to call it a day. Tom however, would go out for another 3 hours. Such is the life of a top pro and this dedication is what is required to be one of the world’s top cyclists. 

The Horrible Hundred Ride Report

| November 28th, 2010 | No Comments »

The Horrible Hundred is an annual organized ride that takes place each November in the town of Clermont, Florida, just 20 miles from the major US city of Orlando.

This area of Florida is known for some of the best cycling roads in the state with lots of steep little hills on relatively quiet roads and scenery that resembles Tuscany at times. The Horrible Hundred route covers many of these short steep climbs and the dreaded Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest climb in South and Central Florida, coming at just under 20 miles from the end.

Beautiful November weather brought 1500+ cyclists for this 31st edition of the event over distances of 100 mile, 70 miles and 35 miles.

Even though this event is truly a ride and not a race with no official results posted and each cyclist responsible to obey traffic rules and navigate the ride directional arrows, it always turns out to be an unofficial race.

Leaving the start for the 100 mile ride the nervous energy was palatable. In the opening miles a few close calls and the resultant distinct smell of burning rubber did nothing to calm the nerves. The wind was blowing hard on this edition with gusts of over 25mph. These windy conditions combined with lots of short, steep climbs and frequent turns made it important to ride near the front at all times. It was not long before the strong riders took advantage of the conditions by forcing the pace and creating a front separation of 25 riders, among them many local Florida racers. I made the front split with two of my Florida Velo teammates. Together we helped drive the pace hard to establish a clear separation over the rest of the riders. My NeilPryde Alize equipped with carbon tubular wheels, was making its advantage felt on these fast and windy roads by slicing through the wind beautifully.

By the 60 mile mark the two bottles I started with had long been empty. The 70 mile sag stop was calling my name with its selection of cold drinks and delicious snacks but stopping would mean losing the front group who were still in full race mode. I skipped the sag while the thought of a drink became ever more prominent in my mind.

The strength in my legs suddenly vanished as I went from being one of the driving forces in the front group to barely hanging on. I finally had to stop and get some water, letting the front group disappear into the distance. I was a sorry sight as we hit the hardest climb of the ride – Sugarloaf mountain, which climbs for about ½ a mile (800 meters) at a gradient ranging mostly between 8-14%.

Thankfully the 80 mile sag stop was not far now, and this time, I made sure to stop and enjoy ice cold water, Gatorade, fresh oranges and freshly baked muffins. This ride is known for its great sag stops manned by friendly volunteers.

I now rode towards the finish at a leisurely pace, this time taking time to enjoy the scenery. In the final 10 miles I joined up with a small group which included fellow front group strong man Gary Stern and a few others. In the final 5 miles an unintentional wrong turn shaved 2 miles of our total distance. I was not complaining and happy to get back a little sooner to the finish area at Waterfront park in Clermont.

My total ride time was 4 hours and 29 minutes for 97 miles covered (to see the Garmin Connect file click here). My Garmin read: 4250 feet of elevation gain (1300 meters) which was impressive for the “flat” state of Florida and confirmed why the Horrible Hundred is known as the toughest century ride in the State.