Women's Cycling

Race Report: SBT GRVL -- Black Course (140 miles)

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Check out my race report for Hello Blue CBD!

Steamboat Springs, Colorado smells amazing. Maybe not the hot sulphur springs themselves, but the hills surrounding the area are packed with sage and fields are dotted with fresh bales of sweet hay. Horses graze in the breeze. Steamboat is a ski town, but its roots are in ranching. 


On Sunday, August 18th, I lined up with the 1,500 inaugural cyclists of SBT GRVL — a new gravel race in Steamboat, featuring a 37-mile “green” course, a 100-mile “blue” course, and a 140-mile “black” course. I’m not a black-diamond skier, but I opted for the toughest course this time because, why work toward something you know you can do? Even after quite a bit of training, Sunday morning at 6am, I still wasn’t sure I could do this. 

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I’m the kind of person who has to practice something over and over. I’ve always envied folks who show up at a marathon having never run longer than 10 miles, and pull it off out of sheer willpower. I consider myself fairly head-strong, but I cannot pull impressive physical feats out of thin air. I started doing 100+ mile rides a solid 7-months in advance of this race. 


After my last long training ride through Rocky Mountain National Park — 103 miles with about as much elevation gain as the race itself — I told my husband, “No part of me was interested in going 37 more miles.” He said, “then don’t.” And that changed my perspective. This was supposed to be fun — a privilege. A week out, race organizers sent out an email letting black-course riders know that if they reached mile 85 and weren’t having the time of their lives, they could make the turn and call it a day and join the folks riding 100-miles. So that was my goal: get to mile 85 and make the call. 

AirBnb in Oak Creek

AirBnb in Oak Creek

Race morning was crisp and clear — 47-degrees and perfect — the long-course began right at 6:30am. I dressed for where the day was headed: 85-degrees and full sun. I wore thin gloves for the first 25-miles, but was otherwise ready for the heat. And the heat came. 


By 11am hydration was the name of the game. With aid stations every 20-miles, and volunteers pouring everything from ice water to Gu Roctane to cold Coke, we were absolutely spoiled. There were 3 KOM/QOM timed hill-climbs featuring popsicle hand-ups and cheering squads. There were mechanics, porta-potties, and shade tents galore. 

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It turns out, by mile-85, I was having the time of my life. I planned my nutrition right, drank plenty of water, and was ready to keep going. And maybe I was heat-delirious, or just happy that I was feeling so good, but the second-half seemed even better than the first. The loop around Oak Creek that started at mile 93, took riders up perfectly packed dirt roads. Views of ranches, the creek, impossibly green hillsides, and mountains in the distance, were just serene. The descent from mile 105 to 109 was probably my favorite section of the entire race. 


I’ve done a few century-ride events and something I’ve always noticed is that feeling of solitude. I train almost entirely alone, so I’m no stranger to long, lonely slogs, but I don’t love that feeling in a race. SBT GRVL never felt that way. This race felt like just around each bend there was someone encouraging racers. I can’t say enough about the aid stations. The sponsors were awesome, the volunteers were awesome, the food/drink selection was awesome. 

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Two months before the race I made the life-changing decision to upgrade my gravel bike to a Moots Routt RSL. It was like picking out a diamond, and I would much rather have a diamond I can ride than one I can wear. I ran Zipp 202 wheels and Donnelly X’Plor MSO 700 x 36 tubeless tires. I probably rode 800-miles on my new setup before the race, but in the 140-miles around Steamboat is where I felt like I truly got to know my bike. There’s nothing like a day-long ride up and down more than 9,000 feet of elevation, to make you super comfortable on dirt and gravel. I can finally say, gravel downhills in the drops is where it’s at. 


No matter how fabulous a bike is, after 9.5 hours in the saddle on a hot day and I was ready for that finish line. We were met with cold soaked towels and race-specific trucker hats. After a much needed shower, I was thrilled to sit down to some street tacos and a cold drink that didn’t involve electrolyte powder. As far as I’m concerned, SBT GRVL can rightfully claim their tagline: the greatest gravel roads on earth. 

2019 Rapha Women’s Prestige: Boulder, Colorado

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2019 Rapha Women’s Prestige: Boulder, Colorado

The rules are simple: start as a team, pass through all checkpoints together, finish as a team.

On a steamy July day in Boulder, Colorado, I set out with Leslie Ethridge, Sara Liebert, and Lizzie Newsom on a quest: have fun, ride hard, look good

Ad·ven·ture

: an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks 

Over the course of 81 miles — half gravel, half pavement — crossing such iconic climbs as SuperJames, Brainard Lake, Peak to Peak Highway, and Chapman Off-Road, 8 teams of 4 women accumulated 8,000 feet of elevation gain, all at Colorado altitude. 

During the more than 6-hours of riding, we cycled through all kinds of emotions, but most often were laughing and cheering each other on. At one point, despite 3 of us living in the area, our team realized we were down a road that none of us had been on before. Unknown risks really are best tackled together. 

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Team·work 

: work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole

Heat, wind, rain, slick descents. And tunes. Leslie mounted a portable speaker to the front of her bars, so our day could be soundtracked by Lizzo and Katy Perry. In other words, perfection on wheels. 

When we set out, most of us had never met. When we finished, we were truly a team. We focused on strengths instead of weaknesses, and pulled each other through numerous tough climbs. And it turns out, with a positive attitude, enough Nuun hydration, and good music, you set PRs without noticing. You find yourself at 80 miles before you’d planned. You win.    

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Re·sil·ience

: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress

The first half of the course involved most of the heavy climbing — up to Brainard Lake at 10,300 feet. There was a refueling station that involved popsicles, cold towels, mini Cokes, and pickles. It’s remarkable how crushed one can feel, and then how quickly things can turn around. Five minutes off the bike with words of encouragement and a little sugar / salt fix, and onward with smiles — glad to be coasting down to a mere mile-high. 

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At the beginning of the day, teams departed just a few minutes apart, so we crossed paths several times throughout the course. After an intimidating 3-mile descent in the rain toward the end of the day, 3 teams regrouped at the bottom. Someone said, “For a minute there it was like the whole world was just women cyclists.” And it was true: the day was made even more powerful because it was all women. Organized and cheered on by the legendary Meredith Miller, photographed by Natalie Starr, the whole experience was a mantra of, “we can do anything.” And we did.

The day ended on blankets at a park back in Boulder. Cold beverages, gigantic burritos, sweet watermelon. And as often happens when recounting epic experiences on the bike, the pain quickly fades and strength stands out. I’d gladly get back on the bike with these women — eye of the tiger, fighters, all of us.    

Adventure over workout, every time

Trail Ridge Road — Before it’s opened for cars

Trail Ridge Road — Before it’s opened for cars

After an incredibly rainy and snowy spring — including several late-May storms — we’ve finally made it to summer, and even had a few of those TOO hot days. (I consider anything above 80-degrees too hot). The entire state is anywhere from 200-700% saturated, and some of the passes have just barely opened to car traffic. One of my favorite things to do is bike up high and see the huge walls of snow. I went a few miles past Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road at the end of May, and it was other-worldly.

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We also recently made the trek down to Watershed Ranch, and I biked Independence Pass on the first full day that it was open to Aspen. It’s one of the most beautiful and most fun passes to ride. Mostly a gradual climb for 17 miles, with a slightly steeper final push. The views are just nonstop amazing. This year, because of the tremendous amount of snow, there were several sections of avalanche damage. It makes the power of the snow really clear. Entire sections of forest turned to matchsticks.

Watershed Ranch

Watershed Ranch

One thing I’ve continued to notice about myself — especially when friends and people I follow on Strava and elsewhere post about zones and numbers — is that I don’t care about working out at all. I’ve always thought trainers and treadmills were ridiculous. I’ll bike in 17-degrees and run below zero. I’ll get up at 4am to beat the heat. Because I care a lot about adventure. I want to climb the highest peak. I want to go a little farther and maybe even sometimes a little faster. But damn. I do not care about monitoring my heart rate.

Independence Pass — First day open for the season

Independence Pass — First day open for the season

Yesterday I took the new Moots (such an insanely amazing bike) up Old Fall River Road, and down Trail Ridge. I didn’t see a single other person on the road, and thought most of the time about what I would do if I came upon a bear. I sang to myself a lot.

I’ve got some events coming up that I’ve been “training” for, but I think I’m finally ready to admit that I’m more a wake-up-early, grab-a-Clif-bar-and-go kind of person. I’d much rather be the first one at a trailhead, and discover some stunning view, than tow the start line at any race. I like to push myself, but generally, I’d rather do something impressive alone than with a number pinned on my chest. A mountain sunrise always beats a t-shirt and a participant medal.

Old Fall River Road — before cars are allowed on for the season

Old Fall River Road — before cars are allowed on for the season

Get up high, is what I’m saying. Find the snow and the views and the adventure. Maybe think more about sticking your feet in the cold creek at the end of a tough hike, than about those zones on your device.





Ready for the warm-up

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This is my third winter in Colorado, and it’s been the most brutal, though I still can’t complain. We’ve had plenty of days in the 50s and 60s. But we’ve also had pretty consistent (weekly) snowfall. And a LOT of single-digit mornings. I’ve bike-commuted my 35-mile trip to Boulder MANY times, with tons of layers, hand-warmers, foot-warmers, and eventually completely frozen water bottles. The last time I did the commute was a week ago during the first of several 15-degree “freezing-fog” days. It was maybe the coldest I’ve ever been. Honestly, it broke me a little. I’ve had no urge to do the morning commute since. In fact, I may not ride in the morning until it’s solidly in the 30s or 40s. Something about that frozen moisture got to my bones.

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Cycling in the cold is different from any other activity in the cold, in my experience. Just a few days ago I ran 9 miles in 0-degree (but sunny) weather. It felt great! And I can ski for several hours in wind and snow and not really be bothered. (Though, I’m spoiled as a gear-tester for Backpacker Magazine to get some of the best ski jackets that money can buy…for free). Cycling, though, especially with a headwind, is something entirely different. Overall, what I’ve learned this season is, sun changes everything — sun plays by a different set of rules. Anything is possible with full-sun and low wind. And grey skies with headwind will always crush your soul.

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But we’ve made it to March. The days are more than 11-hours of light. And the recent dumping of snow means phenomenal spring flowers are in the making. I’ve still got 2 trips to Eldora on my pass, and am looking forward to some of those classic spring bluebird days. Soak it up, Colorado. Only a few more weeks and we’ll barely remember the cold, dark, mind-numbing commutes of the winter. Despite the intensity of the weather, I still can’t imagine not biking year-round. There’s always something to be gained from being outdoors. I’ve (almost) never regretted getting out in it. Anyone can ride a trainer in front of a fan and a TV inside. Climbing slick streets to see the Flatirons and pine trees dusted with snow — that’s something special, every time.



Sunshine Canyon--Gold Hill--Jamestown--Boulder

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Earlier this year I talked about Gold Hill, and how I needed to try biking all 4 roads that ended in this tiny mountain town. I recently crossed another one off the list.

Fall is really settling in to Boulder County, and this week we’ve seen temperatures dipping into the 40s over night and in the morning. I love this weather. Starting in the 40s and ending in the 70s is perfect, in my opinion.

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I set out for Gold Hill with a goal to continue on through town all the way to Highway 72 (this isn’t an actual highway, just a larger/paved road at the end of a lot of tiny gravel/dirt roads). I wore a medium-weight long-sleeved jersey and medium-weight gloves, but short bibs. It was 45 when I started at 7:30am, but I knew that if I did the entire ride, I’d get hot if I layered too much. I was really never cold: the sun beamed for the entire ride.

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After reaching Gold Hill (which alone is a decently tough HC climb from Boulder), the road narrows slightly and continues to climb. I wasn’t sure exactly how far it was to reach 72, but I figured around 5 miles…It was more like 7.5. Sometimes I like not knowing, and sometimes not knowing is torture.

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After 5,500+ feet of climbing (to around 10,000 feet) I took 72 past Ward and descended back to Boulder via Jamestown. They recently finished paving most of Overland Road, and it is like silk (especially after 17 miles of gravel!) My final climb was Olde Stage, which looks like a speed bump on the Strava report after doing Gold Hill!

Cheers to more epic fall rides!

Race/Fondo Report: Buffalo Bicycle Classic--Epic to Estes

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About a month ago I was feeling like I should have signed up for one more triathlon this season. Last year I had the Harvest Moon Long-Course, but this year I didn't really want to do another Boulder Reservoir race. I searched for cycling events instead, and found the Buffalo Classic. In its 16th year, 100% of the money from this ride funds Colorado student scholarships at the University of Colorado. There are a LOT of choices for this event, which allows almost anyone to participate. I decided to go for the toughest option: 100 miles with 8,000 feet of climb. Called the "Epic to Estes," it is aptly named. 

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Only the first 18-miles of the ride (up Boulder Canyon to Nederland) are considered a race, though I tried to ride pretty hard for the whole thing. I came away with 12th-place female and 4th in my age group. This was my first time riding up the canyon and it was a huge perk to have the road closed to traffic for that initial climb. 

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Overall, this race is really well organized. The start was right around 7am as planned (60-degrees to start the day off), and the aid stations throughout were amazing. I stopped at the snack area in Estes and was surprised to find fresh fruit, PB&J, and tons of Honey Stinger and Skratch products. I made a couple other quick stops in Lyons and at Diagonal Highway, just to fill up water. By the time I got to the last ten miles (around 1pm) it was probably around 85-degrees. 

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I was also really impressed with the signage: there are directional signs for the riders, but also TONS of signs up for vehicle traffic, to make them aware of the cyclists. They obviously can't close 100-miles of roadway, but the signage definitely made me feel safer. 

Awesome day, great weather, and amazing views of early fall foliage. I will definitely do this event again. 

 

Broadmoor Pike's Peak Hill Climb Gran Fondo

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12.42 miles, 156 turns, start elevation 9,390 feet, finish elevation 14,115 feet = 4,725 feet of climb at an average grade of 7%. 

We got an Airbnb and stayed about 30 minutes from the start, which was good considering my wave went off at 6:15am. Sunrise in the mountains was amazing. The weather was perfect: almost no wind, mid-40s at the start and mid-30s at the top. I wore light gloves and a super light wind jacket. I packed a heavy jacket and heavier gloves for the descent (a shuttle took drop bags to the top) and was pretty much perfect for the whole experience. 

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There were only about 20 women in the fondo, which I still don't really understand (why isn't this climb more popular?!) There were over 100 guys. I had no real expectations for my time, though I've been training on hills quite a bit (mostly because I just love to climb). For the first 5 miles I was back and forth between 2nd and 3rd place. Then for the rest I was back and forth between 3rd and 5th. I think I came away with 4th place, but mostly I just had a great time. The switchbacks are awesome. The last two miles are by far the toughest: not only are you nearing 14,000 feet, but it's got to be above 9% at that point. 

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I'm definitely ready to do this again. My time on the climb was 2:03:47. So, obviously I need to get sub-2. For a first-timer, I couldn't have asked for a better day.