It came and went. Seven months of preparation, seven days of riding like a pro and the memory of the pain, tiredness and doubts has already faded. The joy remains and the email addresses of my fellow riders will for sure remain. My experience is that I will ride again with those tough and strong teammates (or strong MOFOs as I have been allowed to describe them) with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a week of my life.

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge like any other multiple stage event sure felt as if it took place in one day. A 168 hour day that is. Doing such a long and punishing exploit truly brings home what Chris Carmichael refers to as Eat, Sleep, Ride (repeat). All the days get meshed into one. It is all a big blur after the second day. Here’s a summary of the week:

  • 33.05 hrs rolling time – doesn’t include refuelling stops and pee breaks
  • 19,056 kJ (equals 19,056 calories burned)
  • 959.7 km (596.4 miles)
  • 11,709 meters climbed (38,415 feet)

At the end of the week you can’t really tell which climb was on what stage, what hotel was in which town or which transfer was the longest or the shortest. The meals are always the same, the people are the same and the daily routine doesn’t change. One of the by-products of riding hard for seven days in a row is that life’s complications and stress just disappear. You get too tired to worry, too tired to check emails, too tired to call the office, too tired to even think sometimes – other than to think about what time your massage is at. Truly the perfect way to relax.

Riding a pro-like multi-stage bike race is a truly demanding experience. So why do we do it? What motivates someone to ride hard for a hundred miles a day for six to seven days in a row? Personally I do it because I suffer from the Law of Progression Syndrome or LPS.

I remember spending an entire summer training for my first hundred kilometer ride. That was hard. I remember my first hundred mile race. That was really hard. If you had told me then that one day I would be able to do multiple centuries back to back I wouldn’t have believed you. And that is exactly my point: “Do today what looked like an unattainable goal yesterday.” If a century seemed impossible but you succeded in doing it then why not try two in a row. Get it?

Pros ride one day races (Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo etc), six to eight Tours (Tour de Suisse, Tour of California etc) and three week Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana). As an amateur you can experience what it feels like to ride a one day pro race (as an example, for 95 Euros you can register for the Paris-Roubaix cyclosportive and do the whole course a few days ahead of the pros) and you can also experience what it feels like to ride a mountain stage of a Grand Tour (as an example, also for 95 Euros, you can do one or two mountain stages of the Tour de France). Once you have done a few centuries or a one-day pro-like event, the real question becomes: “How do you experience what it feels like to do a one week pro-like Tour?”

Your LPS might push you to go for it or not depending on the severity of your LPS. Personally, my LPS is quite severe so I elected to do not just one week long pro-like Tour this year but two. I did my first one week event last year in May at the Tour of California. I then showed up with the goal of doing as many miles as possible. This year I showed up with the goal of not only riding every mile but of fighting for every KOM. (Told you my LPS was severe.)

Everyone has his/her own reason for signing up for a week long pro-like race and for choosing a CTS Bucket List event to experience it. This is how I personally articulate my decision:

1 – I love multi-day pro-like cycling events because of the immense physical and mental challenge they represent. It it is the ultimate personal test: “Can I get ready for it although it is not my job? Can I get ready for it although I have a family and a full time job? Can I complete the event? How much can I push my limits?” It is not just a bike ride, it is an adventure. It is an adventure that starts months before the actual event. You need to seriously prepare for it and once you show up, the real work starts. You constantly need to battle physical and mental fatigue, doubts, long stretches of flat straight roads with a crosswind and steep hairy descents. Each morning, you wake up so tired you feel like you can’t ride ten miles yet you go out and ride a hundred miles and battle the last three miles as if your life depended on it. What is there not to like about discovering the limits of your own body and brain?

2 – I prefer to do a CTS event as opposed to a solo ride or a tour operator trip because I know that with CTS I will meet people who truly share and understand my passion/LPS (craziness?). I guess one could do it alone but how boring would that be? I could also go with a standard tour operator and just ride my bike and be supported but then I would not have a team of strong MOFOs around me that ensures I always keep going no matter what. While riding in Colorado last week we saw a lot of clients of various tour operators but none of them worked as a cohesive unit like we did to get to the finish line ahead of the pros. All the tour operators riders seems to be doing their own thing. With CTS we are part of a team and if I weaken, the group will encourage me to continue, if someone in the group weakens I will go to the front and pull. It is too easy to slack off on your own and impossible when you are part of a team. (And as most people know, with CTS we are the only riders who stay with the pros, eat with the pros and get access to all VIP areas as if we were pros.)

There is something truly magical which takes place when you put together a group of twenty “A type” guys/girls and get them to work as team. It doesn’t matter if they know each other or not or if they only see each other once every six months. My experience is that it brings out the best in people. The difficulty of such an event makes it impossible not be happy for every rider that comes across the finish line. Cycling is a team sport and everyone that shows up understands it and behaves accordingly. We look after each other, we understand each other and we all support one another.

My wife Mary Lou calls it my own special world away from everything, a place of its own in my life, away from all the stresses of life. I showed up in Durango happy to reunite with Paijee with whom I did the Etape du Tour in 2009 and Tour of California in 2011, Rick with who I did Tour of California in 2011, Scott with whom I did Tour of California in May 2012, Charlynn with whom I have done numerous CTS camps, rode with her and her husband Bob in her hometown of Aspen and my buddy Dave with whom I did a couple of CTS camps, did the Tour of the Gila with and spend two great weeks in Europe back in July.

I often hear some of my friends and young people I know – including some of my own kids – say that they wish their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend would like to do the same things as them. I can’t relate to that. I don’t need my wife to understand my passion for climbing steep hills just as I don’t need my business partners to share my passion for big families.

My wife likes Oprah, I like Limbaugh. I like cycling, she likes reading. I like double black ski runs, she likes green and blue runs. What we share are values and common aspirations for our six kids and two granddaughters. We are very respectful of each other’s priorities. I don’t need Mary Lou to ride centuries for me to love her and get along with her. The truth of the matter is that my wife is the glue of the family. I don’t even know how the washer works and just recently learned to press the button on the dishwasher! Recycling day and kids schedules are like Greek to me. How could I do what I do if my life partner didn’t take care of the million mundane things that keep our family together and functioning? I might do the crazy stuff but she does the essential stuff. If it wasn’t for her there wouldn’t be a family. And without a family what would I be? A cyclist? Come on, even Chris Carmichael who values my business ($ ?) wouldn’t buy that one.

I have a lot of very good friends at home with whom I love to ride with. But not all of them want to invest as much time as I do in training. Not all of them have the opportunity to take time off work like I do and some of them have family obligations that are different than mine (AKA, I have a very understanding and supportive wife). My local riding partners do not seem to have any interest in a whole week of suffering, riding their bikes five to six hours a day. Doesn’t matter to me. We get along great doing what we do locally.

My experience of the last six years is that most people who attend a CTS Race Experience will stay in touch and ride again together again. Very few people have severe LPS and once you find guys who have it, you keep in touch with them. I am convinced that last week’s group will do the same. Over the last few days my teammates have been emailing each other, sharing addresses and inviting each other to the next big ride(s). Here’s a summary of what gets said:

“Dear Friends – just wanted to say how much I enjoyed riding with and meeting all of you. It was an epic week. I look forward to riding in future bucket list events and hope we will re connect.

You have all said it so well. It will provide memories, stories and friends for a lifetime.

Ditto, ditto, ditto! Thanks for a wonderful week, one and all.

Every day was a lesson out there for this bike warrior. Such a great time.

I have had serious withdrawal from riding together all week. My contact info is attached and I hope to ride with you all soon. All the best to my new group of besties.

I enjoyed meeting all of you! I was proud of my ride considering my injury. I would have loved to be able to hang with a faster group but the support from all you was great so in the end it didn’t matter! It was a fabulous week.

My sentiments entirely, except I wish I had seen more of you guys on the road … 🙂

Ditto gentlemen and women. I miss the days already and back riding solo for now.

Fellow riders, It was a blast, what a great group to ride with.”

All of this is very consistent with what was being discussed when the group had the final team dinner on Sunday. The mood was great, the speeches inspirational and there was clearly a lot of emotion in the air when the week finally came to an end. The dinner provided an opportunity for all to show their soft spot and that strong and humane go hand in hand. The strong MOFOs will not weaken on the bike but they will show their soft spots while off the bike.

So what did we accomplish as a group? Here are a few statistics that will give you an idea of our challenge:

Stage 1:

  • 6:03 hrs
  • 3,764 kJ (equals 3,764 calories burned)
  • 185.7 km (115.4 miles)
  • 2,107 meters climbed (6,912 feet)

Stage 2:

  • 5:40 hrs
  • 3,438 kJ (equals 3,438 calories burned)
  • 158.7 km (98.6 miles)
  • 1,937 meters climbed (6,355 feet)

Stage 3:

  • 5:51 hrs
  • 3,143 kJ (equals 3,143 calories burned)
  • 162.6 km (101 miles)
  • 2,122 meters climbed (6,961 feet)

Stage 4:

  • 5:42 hrs
  • 3,148 kJ (equals 3,148 calories burned)
  • 162.8 km (101 miles)
  • 2,153 meters climbed (7,064 feet)

Stage 5:

  • 3:20 hrs
  • 1,657 kJ (equals 1,657 calories burned)
  • 115.7 km (72 miles)
  • 804 meters climbed (2,638 feet)

Stage 6:

  • 4:58 hrs
  • 3,184 kJ (equals 3,184 calories burned)
  • 135.8 km (84.4 miles)
  • 2,462 meters climbed (8,077 feet)

Stage 7:

  • 1:29 hrs
  • 722 kJ (equals 772 calories burned)
  • 38.4 km (23,8 miles)
  • 124 meters climbed (407 feet)

Total for the week:

  • 33.05 hrs
  • 19,056 kJ (equals 19,056 calories burned)
  • 959.7 km (596.4 miles)
  • 11,709 meters climbed (38,415 feet)

So here some interesting math: there are approximately 133 calories in 100 grams of cooked pasta. Let’s assume that cooked pasta weighs the same as uncooked pasta. There is 500 grams of pasta in an average bag of pasta. If a rider had lived only on pasta this past week he would have had to consume 35 bags of pasta (or 4.1 bags per day) just to replace the calories burned while on the bike.

There are 105 calories in a medium size banana. Therefore, had we lived on bananas alone we would have had to eat 181 bananas or 25.9 bananas per day.

The roof of the Empire State building in New York City stands at 1,250 feet. We climbed its equivalent 30.7 times or 4.4 times per day.

The distance we covered is the same distance between my house and the White House.

Oh, by the way, this post is supposed to be about Stage 7, the Denver Time Trial. A picture is worth a thousand words so here’s what I posted on Facebook a few minutes after riding Stage 7. Read my comment on the top right end side:

Here are great videos summarizing each stage:

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

Stage 4

Stage 5

Stage 6

Stage 7

And here are the pictures of Stage 7 and the final dinner:

For map and profile of Stage 7 please click here.

To watch a video about Stage 7 please click here.

Stage description:

After a week of tough racing over mountains at altitude, this flat and fast time trial course in downtown Denver will have those looking to win the overall competition facing a tough individual test.

Using many of the same roads as the final Denver finish circuits of 2011, the course will provide a challenge for the riders and fantastic viewing opportunities for race fans. Starting at one minute intervals near the State Capitol Building in Denver’s Civic Center Park, the riders will first face a familiar out and back section along Speer Boulevard and Colfax Avenue – with a slight detour through the entertainment district along Larimer Street. Then the individual riders will turn north to 17th Avenue for a short but technical run in City Park before racing back to the finish line on Broadway, adjacent to Civic Center Park.