Monday, August 25, 2014

700 (car) miles in Colorado

Just outside of Frisco, this side of Vail, on the way to Denver
What a beautiful week it has been! Yesterday, after seven stages, the USA Pro Challenge (also sometimes called the Tour of Colorado, a much better name) concluded in Denver, with roaring crowds who cheered on one of the sport's most-respected racers, Jens Voigt, during his farewell event. Jens unleashed one more heroic—if doomed—effort during the three-lap finishing circuit, only to be gobbled up the field. And that pretty much summed up how numerous stages had played out: breakaways that looked as if they might survive, only to be reeled back in by the hungry field. Exciting racing, let me tell you.
The final Jens-capade in downtown Denver. He will be missed by many.
It all started about 10 days ago with a pleasant flight to Aspen. I say "pleasant" because it was—an upgrade on a small regional jet from DFW, a planelet with only 12 First Class seats, and I happened to snag one of them. If you haven't heard of Aspen, you're probably one of my non-US friends, or you have lived under a rock. Aspen is the St. Moritz of the US. The ratio of billionaires vs. pauper millionaires is probably the highest anywhere west of Dubai. As one of the physicians with whom I worked put it: There is this monetary warp into unreality that exists nowhere else. The number of Aston Martins, Ferraris, Porsches, and other esoteric vehicles was just as amazing as the phalanx of private jets parked at the airport. So, maybe I was able to snag that upgrade only because none of the millionaires were coming to town.
The tough life of a jetsetter: in First on an Eagle ...
... then having a lovely pint at Snowmass ...
... only to settle down in the Westin
As always, I had to arrive early to be part of the Team Managers' Meeting, the conclave of commissaires, directeurs sportif, heads of the medical and law enforcement teams as well as representatives of the organizers. That's the day when I have to wear my blue blazer and a tie, sit alongside the big dogs on the dais, and give my little speech. Befittingly, we were put up in the Westin in Snowmass, at more than 8,000 feet elevation, among some of the most beautiful mountain scenery you can imagine. A little bit of well-timed flirting at check-in bought me a much appreciated upgraded room and a visit by the beer fairy.
Rails-to-trails between Aspen and Basalt
Crisp, early-morning ride
Just outside of Aspen
Snowmass is up the valley; those peaks are in the 12,500 ft range (right at about 3,800 meters)
It was here in Apen/Snowmass that I was able to ride the majority of the 80 miles that I covered all week on the Ritchey. For the remainder of the week, bad weather or mostly way too much work kept me from riding even a quick 15-miler before sunset. Oh well—80 is still more than zero. As it turned out, the racers also covered fewer miles than they had in Utah or California, so I was in good company.
Mavic's iconoclastic yellow support vehicles before the start of Stage 1 in Aspen
The photographers are in heaven!
Tour of Utah winner Tom Danielson (l) having a pre-race chat with
eventual UPC winner Tejay Van Garderen
The UCI commissaires assemble a jig that is used to measure the bikes before the Vail time trial
For transportation, I had a brand-new Lexus hybrid at my disposal. Man, that car rocked! It was a sporty as I would ever want (I do have a light foot and don't get a stiffy because I can lay down some rubber) and yet it delivered an average consumption of 46 mpg over the course of the 700 miles that I drove up and down Colorado's mountains. Unbelievable! Maybe I need to hold out for the first hybrid convertible that some car maker undoubtedly will offer before long. Lexus was one of the sponsors of the race, and it was impressive to see all those shiny new cars with the fancy decals and the special-edition license plates that were valid only for the duration of the race.

Just like me: sexy, sleek, and über-economical—the Lexus ES300h
Aren't these special-edition plates cool?
Like at all stage races, much travel between hotel and start and finish and the next hotel was involved, pretty much on a daily basis after our initial three nights in Snowmass.We stayed in Salida, Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Colorado Springs, Vail, and Denver, sometimes in posh places, but also in a Super 8. Don't even ask about the ADA-compliant room in the Eleganté! Since I never have to share a room, privacy is always a given. I usually have my meals by myself since my work is sometimes still ongoing when the commissaires have already changed into civilian clothes. And my paperwork is usually done when the others are snoring, or whatever they may be doing. I like it like that.
I love the beer fairy! (Her name is Bianca.)
This greeted me after getting back to my room after a 40 miler.
(I wish the beer fairy had stayed.)
So who cares whether it's not a Guinness glass?
Driving the Lexus over passes such as Independence or Monarch is infinitely easier than riding up those slopes, and one has more leisure to marvel at the countryside. As already hinted, the weather was not always cooperative, and that limited the vistas on occasion. Still, Colorado in the misty rain is still much more scenic than West Texas in bright sunshine. Not having to travel with the race caravan allowed me to stop for photos whenever I wanted, and yesterday I had enough time before I had to arrive in Denver that I stopped in the historic hamlet of Georgetown and wandered around what was a bustling place in the 1870s when ore was king here. Next time I come through I will make sure to plan a trip on the Loop Railroad. It is kinda crazy that every year I pay my share of taxes and insurance for the pretty house in Rico (in the Dolores valley that Judy and Mike's parents bequeathed upon them) yet so seldom go up there. Maybe in retirement!
Panoramic view toward the western half of the United States from Independence Pass
Unfortunately it was a cold, overcast day
Just like in Utah, I was working together with Fred and Candi who had driven their 36-foot RV from Steamboat to help at the race. The three of us really have bonded over the course of these two major stage races, and they have set a high standard for other helpers in the future. It sure is nice to make new friends like this. The same goes for some of the docs who helped out, one of them the cardiologist of president Ford. You can imagine some of the interesting conversations we had while waiting for riders.

A gallery of friends: Pamala Thullen, doing time-board duties

Steve Crews, letting the boys go after a neutral lap or two in Billionaire City
Cath Jett, best timer in the world and an even better friend

John Jett, Cath's apendage and just as great

Brad Sohner (l) and Dave Towle, the finish-line announcers who can whip any crowd into a frenzy
Colorado is a state that has an above-average number of micro breweries and brew-pubs. I was lucky enough to be able to use hotel shuttles and the like to go out in the evenings without having to touch the Lexus. Beer and pizza are certainly staples for this UCI dude, and in most towns where we overnighted we had been given $15 meal vouchers at various food establishment—among them, lucky for me, some that catered to hopheads. So even while we sometimes had to substitute lunch with that big jar of pretzels in Fred and Candi's RV, eventually we'd get fed.
Cute waitresses ...
... fine taps ...
... colorful beer menus
Life is good!
This was my third and final "grand tour" of the season. None of them came close to the scope (or length) of the Tour de France—thank goodness! After 10 days of being around bike racing you want to escape! It's a good thing that the likelihood of my working the TdF is very low as I'm not sure whether I would want to. Three weeks—really, with travel and pre-race days, an entire month—is a helluva long time to live out of a suitcase and subsist on a diet that's not always the healthiest. Still, the allure is always going to be there as working with the world's best cyclists, one on one, is an opportunity that very, very few of us have.
The yellow Mavic boys are coming!
For the uninitiated, Mavic has been providing neutral support at professional bike races forever
What maybe impresses me the most about the entire scene is how professional this sport and its participants are. Sure, there is the occasional outburst of expletives directed by a directeur sportif toward a commissaire as well as the public urination while the race is still in the neutral start and traversing Aspen's city streets (!!!) (both of which gained the offenders some heavy fines to be payable in CHF, or Swiss Francs), but overall these guys are all world-class. (Just today I learned that one offending DS sent a bouquet of flowers to the female commissaire whom he had berated.) I had zero problems with the riders with whom I had contact, or their team personnel, as it should be. These are not NFL linebackers who behave like big idiots. I like my sport, and I like what I do.

Isn't this worth it? I'm one lucky dude!
Downtown historic Georgetown
Book-sharing program alive and well
Next time I'll ride the train—the Loop Railroad in Georgetown
So, another good trip has come to its conclusion and I am putting on the finishing touches of this entry on my approach into Lubbock International Airstrip (LIA). Two-and-a-half days at home, and then another destination beckons. Stay tuned for some pics from a much more humid and hot place than Colorado. And in a week's time all that will be history and I'll be heading for Seattle. Whew ...
With these on the line, maybe I should return to racing....

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