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21 July 2014

Mount Evans on my mind

We have a really big mountain in Colorado called Mount Evans

The mountaintop reaches to 14,265 feet (4,348 m) in altitude, and man built a road to the top. I can't believe they put a road up here - this is something you might say out loud at least three times while driving the 15-miles to the tippy-top. Because there is no reason for the road, other than for our enjoyment. The line I heard from cyclists as they reached the top went something like, "This is what death looks like," "I feel like I am drunk," and "This is insaneness."

Doesn't that make you want to go?

Mt Evans is on my mind this week for three reasons: 1) The Mt Evans Hillclimb race is this weekend, 2) I received an email recently from an out of state tourist wondering what other activities they should try to do while in Colorado for the USA Pro Challenge next month, and 3) I went on a super cool wildflower hike on Mt Evans last Saturday.

Did you know Mount Evans was originally called Mount Rosa or Mount Rosalie. The peak is a 51-mile drive from Denver, Colorado. Located inside the Arapahoe National Forest, in Clear Creek County, Colorado, U.S., on the Front Range. Mount Evans is closed in winter. Road closure and visitor information available at: Mount Evans CDOT and Mount Evans Visitor Information website 

All photos by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®  click photos to enlarge

The road up Mount Evans through fields of wildflowers
Mt Evans is west of Denver (south of Idaho Springs), and the closest to Denver of Colorado's 54 "fourteeners" (mountains over 14,000ft elev.).

Mount Evans Hillclimb

People race a bike up this mountain, for fun. Sponsored by Team Evergreen, the first race began in 1962, and after this weekend, will have been held 49 times (with three cancellations). In 1981 it was renamed in honor of five-time race winner Bob Cook, who died of cancer at the age of 23. The race is 27.4 miles (44.1 kilometers) in length. Volunteers are instrumental in the success of this race which is scheduled for Saturday, July 26th, 2014, registration is still open.

The record for fastest ascent was set in 2004 by Tom Danielson, in a time of 1:41:20 (note: Danielson's race results were voided between March 1, 2005, and September 23, 2006 due to doping). Bob Cook held the course record from 1975-1980. Race participants number between 600-1000 every year and range in age from nine to eighty-five years.

Go test yourself on this massive challenge. My nephew, Kenneth Rakestraw, won his category in 2009 at the age of 21, in a time of 2:05:31.

A lone cyclist climbs above tree line
A few big corners but mostly a road along a mountain side.
Smiling at altitude
Final switchback to the top of Mount Evans
Then you have to go all the way back down the mountain after the race up.

Mount Evans as a Tourist

Mount Evans is the highest paved road in the United States. Opened in 1931, the forest service guide states the the road was built as part of the Peak to Peak Highway system intended to link Longs Peak (14,259' / 4,346 m) to Pikes Peak (14,114' / 4,302 m). This section of the scenic byway was planned to reach around the west side of the summit and down to Hwy 285 below; it was never completed, considered unfeasible. The road instead was extended just short of the summit at 14,130ft.

Tourists will quickly feel the thin air during even short efforts, cyclists will feel the high altitude during a very long hard effort. The park brochure explains, every 1,000 feet gain in the mountains is equivalent to traveling 600 miles north in latitude. "In only 45 minutes, you will drive through a landscape that reflects the upper regions of North America."

Parking lots and spaces are very limited, but there are several spots along the road worth stopping and hiking. The Dos Chappell Nature Center, located 2.9 miles from the Fee Station is informative. The Mount Goliath Natural Area (short hike) is a wonderful short but rugged walk. There are numerous hiking trails on the mountain. Even with easy access from Denver, beware that this is cautionary seasonal mountain hiking, two bodies were discovered on the mountain just this week, missing since April.

If you are visiting Colorado for the USA PRO CHALLENGE, I recommend Mount Evans as a top tourist sight in Colorado. If cycling in late August, go with sag support if possible.

Nature and hiking trails
Photo opportunities
Summit Lake is not at the summit
Mountain goats
Magnificent views
At the summit

Mount Evans wildflowers 

Seven years ago, I was riding my bike over the Col du Lautaret in France, looking down at a huge group of botanists spread out across the fields below my climb up the Col du Galibier. As I pondered their day out searching and studying wildflowers in the Alps, I decided, someday I am going to do that.  So last Saturday, wanting to bring something into my mind and body other than cycling, and inspired by the Tour de France traversing the Col du Lautaret that very day, I joined a free guided wildflower walk on Mount Evans.

Sponsored through the Denver Botanic Gardens, we walked (very slowly) looking at tiny plants along the Mt Goliath Natural Area trail at 11,040 ft. I learned so much and totally enjoyed my time with our guide and fellow flower hunters. The wildflowers peak around July 4th, but there was still plenty for us to identify. Our guides had sent us a list of 108 different floral species found on the mountain. All of the flowers located in the alpine rock garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens have been transplanted from this preserve area.

The harsh environment yields trees hundreds of years old that grow inches per year. This is wild land with twisted tree trunks and plants that root 15 feet into the earth for survival. I want to do more wildflower hiking. Our guide had traveled to Switzerland, Argentina, Chile, Turkey, Ireland, and New Zealand - just to look at wildflowers.

Hiking looking down at wildflowers
This was our guide, he got within inches of the flowers
A peach Indian paintbrush
Elephants head, one of my favorites
Such variety jam packed in together
Spruce and Bristlecone pine forest

Mount Evans on a bicycle

You can climb the Mount Evans Scenic Byway on your bike. Starting from Idaho Springs, you will climb 13-miles (21 km) on State Highway 193 to Echo Lake (and the Echo Lake Lodge), from here you will turn onto Colorado 5 (passing through a forest service pay station, free to bikes, $10 to cars) and continue a very long 15-miles (24 km) at altitude to the top.

Much of your climb will be above tree limit, the area where average temperature is around 50F during the warmest month of the year.  Conditions are wickedly changeable and the window of being able to ride this mountain in good weather is probably 6-8 weeks. Come prepared!

In July 2012 a tornado touched down northeast of the summit at an elevation of 11,900ft above sea level. The rough weather plays havoc on the road. Saying the road surface is rough is an understatement. The descent will take a lot of concentration (by both cyclists and drivers) to avoid pot holes, cracks, drop-offs and cars.

The road angles all the way to the left of this picture (click to enlarge)
Open to the elements
A spectacular view, but rough roads!
Almost there! You will see bikers, runners, and hikers.
Tweeting from the top - I made it!
The road stops at 14,130 feet above sea level!

Recommended Rides near Mount Evans by Pedal Dancer®:
Echo Lake Lodge is a good place to stop for a cold or hot drink. Hiking and fishing nearby.
It was a beautiful day on the mountain!

Pro Teams for 2014 USA Pro Challenge

Teams announced to race in Colorado pro race in August

From August 18-24, 2014, sixteen professional cycling teams from six countries will gather to race over the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The race begins in Aspen (Monday) and finishes in Denver (Sunday). Please come see some of the best professional cycling teams in the world compete on the magnificent roads of Colorado.

UCI ProTeams
UCI Professional Continental Teams
UCI Continental Teams
Read more about the teams on the official USA Pro Challenge website

2013 American National Champion Road Freddie Rodriquez, the yellow jersey winner Tejay van Garderen, third place GC Tom Danielson, and the best climber (KOM polka dot jersey) Matt Cooke, race the final circuit laps in Denver.  Photo © By Ryan Wallace of for Pedal Dancer®

USA Pro Challenge trivia: 
Which five teams have participated in every edition of the USA Pro Challenge since the inagural race in 2011? Answer: BMC Racing Team, Team Garmin-Sharp, Cannondale Pro Cycling (formerly Liquigas-Cannondale), Team Novo Nordisk (formerly Team Type 1) and UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team.

Remember the winners from 2013:
Overall winner Tejay van Garderen’s BMC Racing Team
Sprint Jersey winner Peter Sagan’s team Cannondale Pro Cycling
King of the Mountains Jersey winner Matt Cooke’s team Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home
Best Young Rider Jersey winner Lachlan David Morton’s team Garmin-Sharp
Overall best team: BMC

Tejay van Garderen is currently 5th overall racing in the Tour de France. After he rolls into Paris, one week from now, hopefully (!) he will return to his home in Aspen, Colorado to take place in one of the biggest professional cycling races in America. The team rosters will be announced 6-10 days before the race start.

Michael Schär and Tejay van Garderen.  Photo © By Ryan Wallace of for Pedal Dancer®

More information on the Pedal Dancer guide page: USA PRO CHALLENGE

These are our 2014 Host Cities and Stages:

Stage 1: Monday, Aug. 18 – Aspen
Stage 2: Tuesday, Aug. 19 – Aspen to Mt. Crested Butte
Stage 3: Wednesday, Aug. 20 – Gunnison to Monarch Mountain
Stage 4: Thursday, Aug. 21 – Colorado Springs
Stage 5: Friday, Aug. 22 – Woodland Park to Breckenridge
Stage 6: Saturday, Aug. 23 – Vail
Stage 7: Sunday, Aug. 24 – Boulder - Golden - Denver

These are our 2014 Race Sponsors:

Colorado Come To Life
Sierra Nevada
United Healthcare
Team Novo Nordisk
Colorado State University
Centura Health
First Bank
Colorado National Guard
The Denver Post
Beyond the Edge

Cliff Bar, Peal Izumi, Optum, Jelly Belly, The Infinite Monkey Theorum, Maxxis, Smart Stop, DraPac, Trek, EKS&H, Bissell, Cannondale, Fleetwood RV, Red Fox, Smith Optics, Yakima, Cateye, Sutter Home, Polar Bottle, Mavic, Osprey, Velo, 10Speed Coffee, 5280, 102.3 ESPN, Entercom, US Forest Service, Easy Goals, Colorado Athletic Club, USA Cycling

The peloton climbing through the mountains in 2014. Photo © By Ryan Wallace of for Pedal Dancer®

2014 USA Pro Challenge FAQs:
Race Owner Rick Schaden and USA Pro Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter celebrate with the best team in 2013 - BMC! They will be back. Photo © By Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

20 July 2014

Pro Pedals and Bikes

What kind of pedals do the pros use? 
What kind of bikes and components do the pros ride?

Visitors to my blog today are again wondering about the type of pedals world tour riders use on their bikes. I wrote two popular posts on the topic awhile ago and readers are landing on those previous topic pages, however I thought it good to offer a quick update on the 2014 equipment used by pro team.


I did not update these posts for the 2014 season, but here are the pedal brands used by the teams in 2014, plus their bikes and components.

Laurens Ten Dam's Belkin team Bianchi bike with Shimano pedals.  Photo by Willie Reichenstein for Pedal Dancer®
Mark Cavendish's SWorks Venge bike with Look pedals.  Photo by Willie Reichenstein for Pedal Dancer®
Christian Knees' Team Sky Pinarello bike with Shimano pedals.  Photo by Willie Reichenstein for Pedal Dancer®
Jens Voigt's Trek bike with Shimano pedals.  Photo by Willie Reichenstein for Pedal Dancer®

2014 Team, Bike Sponsor, Component (drivetrain) Sponsor, Pedal Sponsor:

Ag2r-La Mondiale: Focus bikes, Campagnolo, Look pedals

Astana: Specialized bikes, Campagnolo, Look Pedals

Belkin Pro Cycling: Bianchi bikes, Shimano, Shimano pedals (Pioneer)

BMC Racing Team: BMC bikes, Shimano, Shimano pedals

Cannondale: Cannondale bikes, SRAM, Speedplay pedals

Confidis: Look bikes, Shimano, Look pedals

Europcar: Colnago bikes, Campagnolo, Look pedals Lapierre bikes, Shimano, Shimano pedals

Garmin-Sharp: Cervélo bikes, Shimano, Garmin pedals

Giant-Shimano: Giant bikes, Shimano, Shimano pedals

IAM Cycling: Scott bikes, Shimano, Shimano pedals

Orica-GreenEDGE: Scott bikes, Shimano, Shimano pedals

Lampre-Merida: Merida bikes, Shimano, Look pedals

Lotto-Belisol: Ridley bikes, Campagnolo, Look pedals

Movistar Team: Canyon bikes, Campagnolo, Look pedals

NetApp Endura: Fuji bikes, Shimano, Shimano pedals

Omega Pharma-Quickstep: Specialized bikes, SRAM, Look pedals

Team Katusha: Canyon bikes, Shimano, Look Pedals

Trek Factory Racing: Trek bikes, Shimano, Shimano pedals

Team Tinkoff-Saxo: Specialized bikes, SRAM, Looks pedals

Team Sky: Pinarello bikes, Shimano, Shimano Pedals

Although these equipment brands sponsor the teams, there will be some swapping out depending on rider requirements. 

As you can see Speedplay pedals have all but dissapeared in the peloton, you will find them limited to Cannondale Pro Cycling team bikes, and on Drapac Professional Cycling Team (they ride Swift Carbon bikes with SRAM), and some others.

Also see the list at: Pro bikes: Who’s riding what in 2014, and what it all means, By Caley Fretz, VeloNews. Published Jan. 23, 2014

According to CyclingTips, the groupset count for 2014 is (WorldTour teams only):
  • Shimano: 10 teams
  • Campagnolo: 5 teams
  • SRAM: 3 teams
There are excellent photos of each team bike by Cycling Tips: See the bikes part 1. and See the bikes, part 2.


Uniquely French

Today's scenery in Stage 15 of the 2014 Tour de France brought us through the heart of tourist Provence. Visually striking from the air, the aerial views of pools and vacation homes, fans in shorts and sandals, plowed fields and lavender, stormy skies and noticeable wind - were evidence of what makes Provence uniquely French. And one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world.

I have only visited Provence five times (2001, 2003, 2007, 2010, 2012). I would have liked to have gone this year, if only to sit on the side of the road and watch the riders speed by. I would sit there with my family at a small table and chairs, wine, cheese and bread on the table, lavender as the scented backdrop, and enjoy the simple things in life. Entertained by the grueling effort of others.

I'm not sure why four of my five trips to Provence centered on riding a bike up and over things, but I look back and realize that first trip in 2001 might have been the most interesting. Not the stuff to brag about, but really cool to experience. The Roman amphitheater and Mason Carrée in Nimes, the morning market in Arles, VanGogh's trail of beauty and tragedy, big tourist sights and so many quaint villages, old hotels that are now 5 star hotels, four course prix fixe meals, leisurely patio breakfasts in the garden, and going inside if it rained or the mistrals howled.

Perhaps it is the cycle of cycling that I am experiencing in waxing poetic this morning about Provence. Over the years, it seems I have graduated through steps; expanding my knowledge and desire. I know a man who is doing the Etape du Tour (Pyrenees) today in France. He and his friends talk of reminding each other to eat breakfast and pee before the event race. How cute, I thought, I remember when my world centered around that sort of excited anticipation, but that was nine years ago.

Since that first trip to France in 2001, where I was inspired to try this road cycling thing, I have researched and bought three road bikes, gone to bike clinics, found training partners, had bike fits, joined a bike tour, measured my VO2 max, attended spin classes, got injured, mapped out countless routes, followed training plans, did countless event rides, joined teams, ate like a bird, bought decreasing jersey sizes, rode upon foreign lands, got injured again, started a bike blog, learned race photography, became press/photo, bought increasingly larger jersey sizes, continued to put my bike in the car and take it out someplace new, and ride .....

As the circle comes back around to complete its cycle, I find myself wanting to return to 2001 when I sat on the roadside and was inspired by others. Only this time, I'd like that nice petit déjeuner at a comfortable hotel with a blue water pool. I'd like a short morning bike ride before going to sit on that country road, where I would not take photographs but instead look into the face of each passing rider of the Tour de France peloton. And then I would sit down again to taste the chilled rose wine under the plane trees of Provence.

For those of you out on your early morning training rides this morning, who plan to watch the replay of Stage 15 tonight at home, here is a reading list of posts about travel and cycling in Provence.

REST DAY tomorrow, if I were the teams and riders, I would relax in beautiful Provence/Languedoc. I am not crazy about the city of Carcassonne, although La Cite ruins are interesting to roam around early morning.

Or for those into really nice bikes, read: Pro Pedals and Bikes (2014)

18 July 2014

France Cycling - Col d'Izoard

Climbing the Col d'Izoard

I was fortunate to climb this HC climb which will be featured in Stage 14 of the 2014 Tour de France. Here is my quick description of the climb:
  • Flies
  • Hot
  • Isolated
  • Wild
  • Discovery
You are probably thinking I should rethink my choice of the word fortunate, but I am glad I got the chance to do this climb. The Col d'Izoard is an epic climb, not only because it is rough and tumble out in the middle of nowhere cycling, but because this is the place of legends. Fausto Coppi and Lousion Bobet made this climb famous and a small museum and plaque mark their history on the Col.

Dirt from the Col d'Izoard was brought to Fausto Coppi's tomb; geez that's kind of intense. Apparently on this Col, there were "gifts," because it was on the Col d'Izoard where Gino Bartali was given the stage win by Coppi in 1949, because it was Bartali's birthday. Nice gift.

Lousion Bobet made history in the 1953 Tour de France when he gained over eleven and a half minutes off his rivals during this one climb, moving him solidly from third to first place, and securing the Tour win. There are more stories of Bernard Thévenet taking three minute off of Eddy Merckx, or Greg Lemond taking 13 seconds off of Laurent Fignon.

This mountain can be decisive. This mountain is tomorrow.

The Haute-Alpes are beautiful

The Col d'Izoard is just one of many incredible climbs in the Alps and is featured on My Top Twenty Climbs in France.

Col d' Izoard

The Col d'Izoard is rugged beauty. As monumental as Col du Galibier or Mont Ventoux in making the cyclist feel very small in the presence of such natural grandeur. These are the mountains where elements (cold or hot) can mess with a cyclist.

The Col d'Izoard has been featured in the Tour de France over twenty times and also in the Giro d'Italia five times.

I actually found plenty to keep my mind occupied during this climb, the big wide roads with changing views, the wildflowers, the abandoned towns, the army personnel training nearby, the 24 black flies gathered on the back of my brother's jersey pockets (we figured out there was a certain pace that had to be maintained to keep the flies at bay).

Briancon was a nice town. We drove in from La Grave and parked in town in a public lot to begin our ride. It was a good choice because the ice cream shop in town was not far away after our return from no mans land (don't expect to find any supplies out on this climb!)

The Photos - all Photos by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer (except the memorial one)

The Col is way up that valley
Nobody is around, for hours we rode and saw hardly anyone.
Looking back over our nice climb from way way back there.
My brother waiting for me, either that or he is brushing off the flies.
My brother Mike, in red, on the final switchbacks.
Look I made it to the top!
This is what I saw at the top.

The Climb
Briancon to Col d' Izoard, a very winding road.

Believe me, those last 7km are tough.

Climb rating: HC
Average grade: 5.8 %
Max grade: 9%
Length: 20 km
Height start: 1210 m
Height top: 2361 m
Elevation gain: 1200 m
Rating: 4.5/5

Memorial on the Col to Coppi and Bobet
Coppi and Bobet memorial on col d'Izoard (Photo from 10SpeedHero)

Stage 14 - TDF route map

For much of the time tomorrow, the riders will cruise down the big D1091, it is a busy road that I would have no interest in cycling a bike upon, The road from Grenoble to Bourg d'Oisan is okay, but the road from Bourg to Briancon is traffic, trucks, tourists and tunnels, with at times non-existent room for car and cyclist. The Col du Lautaret is pretty much a bump on this very long (false flat) service road between ski resorts, although the wonderful views of the surrounding mountain peaks are fine from a car.  This route goes right past Alpe d'Huez, Les Deux Alpes and Col du Galibier on its way south.

I am sorry for all those tour guide clients who might have to ride any of this road from Grenoble to Briancon, it is far from my favorite (unless you can also enjoy closed roads), but the climb from Briancon over to Risoul will be well worth the trip, especially for the top five GC contenders.

- - -

This is the coolest road ever, I have been on it (because this is my photo), and for the life of me, I cannot remember where exactly it was, but it is southwest of the Col d'Izoard, we came through the Vercours, driving south and ended up in Gap. Somebody, please let me know if you know where this is?

Coolest road that I do not know.
More climbs listed on my guide page: FRANCE CYCLING