Posts Tagged ‘Fort Collins’

Red Bull Road Rage, Guanella Pass, Georgetown, Colorado – Runner-up & 2nd 2013 podium with Black Sheep Bikes

March 10, 2015

It was with great anticipation I awaited the season finale of the Red Bull Road Rage season. It promised to be an epic return back to US soil for the first time since 2005 where this event was born, at the time descending Tuna Canyon, Malibu, California. What excited me most about the event was the chance to race in front of my sponsors from Black Sheep Bikes in their very own back yard of Colorado.

I reached out to Red Bull North America in order to secure a place on the starting list in late August. At the same time, due to my extensive experience at these events over the past few years, I was consulted on several points in terms of format and event running from an athlete’s perspective, to which I obligingly provided feedback to the friendly event manager. Shortly after, the last details were hammered out between Red Bull and the local authorities regarding road closure and the green light was finally given for the event to take place.

Georgetown Red Bull Road Rage event poster

Georgetown Red Bull Road Rage event poster

Tickets were booked for the trip from Dublin to Denver. Due to the race being held at ca. 3000m, I had made the decision to go out a good 10 days before the event to help acclimatise to the high altitude. The morning of my planned flight, I received a phonecall at 4am  with an automated voice message informing me the flight had been cancelled (no reason given). I was to leave the following day on the next one, but with a sister airline and via London instead of Chicago. OK, it’s only one day, I’ll be fine. The following day the delayed trip commenced. Unfortunately, another obstacle presented itself in the form of a fire just outside the airport in London in an industrial park, but right in the landing flight path of incoming air traffic. The delayed take-off in Dublin meant I missed my connecting flight and had to stay the night in London. Finally, another day later, I got on the plane for the final leg, arriving in Denver 52hrs behind schedule.

The plan was to spend the first couple of days in Fort Collins, the home of Black Sheep Bikes, in order to settle in at 1600m altitude before heading further up to Georgetown, over 1000m further up at 2650m atlitude, situated at the bottom of Guanella Pass (3657m) upon which the Road Rage would take place. 5 days prior to the event, I arrived at The Georgetown Mountain Inn, checked in, went to my room, got changed and hopped straight on to the bike for a quick spin up to the top of Guanella Pass. The views from the top were breathtaking out across the vast expanse of the Rockies with the neighbouring peaks standing out prominently. After a quick stop to admire the view, the GoPro was switched on and it was back down to Georgetown. To view the full descent clip, click here.

Basking in the sun with the Georgetown Mountain Inn in the background.

Basking in the sun with the Georgetown Mountain Inn in the background.

After a plunge in the hotel outdoor hot tub, a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast the next morning, I explored the small town before heading back half way up the pass road to the get a few runs of the course under my belt. It was straight forward enough with a couple of hairpin turns at the top and a couple more nearer the bottom, the two sets of hairpins separated by a section of long swooping bends and the last set followed by a long straight that could be ridden flat out. The following day it was more of the same with another few runs just to embed the course in the mind.

All along, the weather was still very pleasant with mild temperatures and brilliant sunshine. The forecast however predicted a severe plummet in temperatures the day before the race, with some snow fall. True to predictions, the temperatures plummeted faster than a Road Rage racer in full flow. I dropped into the local mountain bike rental and ski hire shop at the end of town to see if I could pick up some thermal base layers to help stay warm in the freezing conditions. I spoke to the affable owner, Tom Seabrook, about the race and convinced him to sign up, reassuring him he would have an absolute blast, both figuratively and literally! Despite the treacherous conditions, I went up for one more shot, just to test out the course and my equipment in the changed conditions. I was grateful to Tom for driving me up, which made it just a little easier. To view the run in frozen and snowy conditions, click here. It took less than 3mins to freeze all my cables, as pictured below.

Frozen cables after sub-zero snowy recon run.

Frozen cables after sub-zero snowy recon run.

In the afternoon, I had some interviews scheduled with the Red Bull film crew, as did Tom. Naturally they were excited to learn more about my Black Sheep Bikes Road Rage Custom 2, especially since it was built and hand finished right here in the Centennial State. That night, I took my routine plunge in the hot tub, only this time I had icicles hanging off my beard at the end of it! It was an early night, as an even earlier morning rise was scheduled the following day, with a 7:00 sign-on, with uplifts commencing at 7:30 sharp. James Bleakley from Black Sheep Bikes had made the trip down from Fort Collins with a couple more supporters in tow, ready to witness the days racing. It was a fresh -5°C that morning, but thankfully it was bone dry.

Black Sheep Bikes - Road Rage Custom 2: Close-up of head badge and truss fork struts.

Black Sheep Bikes – Road Rage Custom 2: Close-up of head badge and truss fork struts.

A new race format would be run at the event, whereby every competitor would race 3 qualifying heats against different group competitors in a 4X format each time. A points system was in operation, 22 for 1st, 16 for 2nd, 12 for 3rd and 9 for 4th. In the case of a tie on points after three rounds, in order to differentiate the riders’ rankings, a coefficient based on the riders raced against and where they placed in the overall qualifying came into play. The top 16 ranked riders would then battle it out in the usual format in a bid to reach the final.

Lining up in the start gate waiting to start a qualifying heat.

Lining up in the start gate waiting to start a qualifying heat.

After the three qualifying rounds, I had won all my heats along with two other racers, yet had raced against more of the other riders who generally didn’t score as high in the overall points as the other two racers to also win all their heats. This meant I placed 3rd overall going into the quarter finals, but was exactly where I wanted to be for seeding purposes. The quarter final was an easy enough affair, a I worked with another competitor, local racer from Boulder, Dwight (Whitey) Debroux, after a quick pre-race chat to ensure we distanced the other two weaker opponents early on. Once we had gapped them, we continued to collaborate to ensure we rode over the line in positions one and two. We even had a bit of fun down the home straight as can be seen by watching the shadows in this race clip run.

Racing during the quarter finals with Dwight (Whitey) Debroux.

Racing during the quarter finals with Dwight (Whitey) Debroux (#11).

Things got a little more serious in the next round, with the second seed Kevin Soller in our group. Again, a tactical approach was hashed out, as I wanted one less competitor to keep an eye on in the final. The run started much faster than any of the previous rounds. I needed to be extremely vigilant and marked Kevin closely all the way down until we were in the home straight. I then made my move with only about 100m to the line, ensuring that once I got past him, he would not have time to counter. It worked a treat and it was into the grand final. To watch how the semi final action unfolded, click here.

It's all smiles as competitors wait to be driven up to the start.

It’s all smiles as competitors wait to be driven up to the start (l-r) John Kavanaugh, Santiago Garcia III and Celia Ferguson.

I knew from previous finals’ experiences, that this would be on the limit, with only the strongest and fastest riders left in the competition. There was one man I felt would pose the greatest threat, the number one seed in the form of professional rider and multiple US National Champion (Scratch and Criterium over the years) Dave McCook, also the only rider to return from the inaugural Red Bull Road Rage in Malibu, California, in 2005. I was proven correct as he powered out of the gate like a demon possessed. The pace was relentless from the start. I slotted into 3rd position and decided to stay on Dave’s wheel. It was close racing the whole way down. Coming into the last hairpin that opened out into the finishing straight, I drifted slightly wide, leaving the door open for the 4th placed rider Mike Mitchell to come up the inside and slot into 3rd. I stepped on the gas again and quickly reversed the order again.

Dropping that position momentarily, was to prove a decisive error, as Dave sitting on Whitey’s wheel took a quick glance behind and with his years of experience in track and criterium racing quickly sensed it was the moment to go, with a little gap having opened between us. I realised too late and he kicked hard shooting off around Whitey into first position. I was able to close the gap and power around Whitey, but with the course running out, Dave had done enough to stay out in front to cross the line in first position. I was nonetheless delighted with second place, especially that I had done so in front of the Black Sheep Bikes crew. It was also enough to retake the Red Bull Road Rage World #1 ranking which I had first held in 2010. To watch the red hot action from the final, click here.

Following winner Dave McCook across the line to take 2nd place, with Dwight (Whitey) Debroux rounding off the podium placings ahead of 4th place Mike Mitchell.

Following winner Dave McCook across the line to take 2nd place, with Dwight (Whitey) Debroux rounding off the podium placings ahead of 4th place Mike Mitchell.

The podium presentations followed under a clear blue sky with the sun beaming down from above. Then it was the customary interviews that wrapped up the day’s events.

Final Red Bull Road Rage podium - (from left to right) Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes), Dave McCook, Dwight (Whitey) Debroux

Final Red Bull Road Rage podium – (from left to right) Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes), Dave McCook, Dwight (Whitey) Debroux

To view the official Red Bull event clip, including all interviews and the day’s action, please click here.

The last days out in Colorado were spent unwinding back in Fort Collins, where James took me out to share some of his favourite local off-road trails. My particular favourite was a ride up Hewlett Gulch in Larimer County, a short drive north west of Fort Collins.

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Red Bull Road Rage, Mont Ventoux – From disappointment to relief

July 12, 2013

In March of this year, the exciting news broke when Red Bull announced it was planning to run 4 Road Rage events in 2013. This was greeted with delight by the Road Rage faithful community, as 2012 had been completely barren and Road Rage aficionados were beginning to lose hope of seeing more events organised. Locations announced included Denver, France, Bosnia and Brazil.

After clarifying some communication points on the Red Bull press release, it transpired that the first event would go ahead in France, descending 6km and 445m from the top of the mythical Mont Ventoux. The excitement at a longer course was evident by the positive comments that floated about in the build-up. All the big names, including three of the top Road Rage racers from France, Guillaume Gualandi (World #1 2008/2009) along with his multiple podium standing team mates Frédéric Mazières and David Lacoste, not to mention ex track World Champion and 2 time Road Rage runner-up Christian Lademann from Germany and the most recent Red Bull Road Rage Champion Piotr Szafraniec from Poland, to name but a few of the stars, were all set to be on the start line.

Podium

Wild scences from the last Road Rage podium celebrations in France, with (l-r) Cédric Gracia, Guillaume Gualandi, Frédéric Moncassin, David Lacoste and Frédéric Mazières.

Then 10 days before the event an unexpected announcement came: The competent authorities had issued a non-favourable response to Red Bull in relation to the event and it was promptly cancelled. Naturally the riders were immensely disappointed at this turn-about, but there was nothing to be done, only wait for the next event.

Having booked my flight tickets 2 months in advance, I decided I would go anyway to test out my newly rebuilt Black Sheep Bikes Road Rage Custom 2. After riding the original bike for nearly two years, I provided feedback to the guys at Black Sheep and wanted to have a few things changed to be able to go even faster. The modifications were discussed and the bike sent back to the BSB HQ in Fort Collins where the rear triangle was rebuilt. I got the bike back the day before I flew out and so would have to wait until I was in France before I could unpack it and test it out.

Road Rage Race Day

Saturday 8 June was the planned race date, so I thought it would only be fitting to venture up on the same day for the first test run on the new machine. I drove up to Bédoin, with the intention of making one ascent to the summit of Mont Ventoux followed by a full descent. The weather had turned by the afternoon and not long into the start of the ascent, it started to rain. I toiled on up the climb until I emerged above the tree line only to be surrounded by thick cloud cover and ever increasingly strong winds. It was a struggle up to the top as winds gusted strongly between 80-100km/h, the rain driving down in sheets and the temperature barely 6 °C at the summit (not including the wind chill factor). My hands were completely numb at this stage and I was nearly blown over several times on the summit so strong was the wind.

To watch the clip to get a true sense of the terrible conditions on that day, please click here.

Under these conditions, the descent was incredibly dangerous, and on several occasions I got blown across the road without warning. Visibility was down to about 30m due to the thick cloud cover and the wind was driving the rain so hard it was cutting painfully into my face. It became abundantly clear to me that the competent authorities in the sous-prefecture of Carpentras had made the only sensible and correct decision by cancelling the event, which in hindsight was a big relief. It would have been irresponsible to hold the race under these conditions and emergency services would not have been able to respond effectively had someone gone over the side of the road. I was relieved to get back down to the shelter of the tree line. From here on it was business as usual taking a little extra care due to the wet road.

Black Sheep Bikes Road Rage Custom 2 Test Day

Two days later the weather had turned for the better and I decided to embark on a triple assault of Mont Ventoux, that is to say, climb every one of the three sides. Well, I really only wanted to cycling down each descent, but that inevitably meant I would also have to cycle up each side. I commenced in Bédoin and nearly failed on my mission before I got started. 2.5km into the climb I realised my bottom bracket was creaking a bit. Upon quick inspection I realised that the previous ride had probably been the nail in the coffin for my bottom bracket bearings, so I turned around straight away and went to the Bédoin Location bike shop to have a new set of bearings and cups installed. I received friendly, quick service and 45mins later it was mission on again and I commenced the trip in earnest. A little under two hours and the summit was reached. A short break later and I was plummeting down the western descent towards Malaucène a breakneck speeds. 20min34sec later I had completed the first descent of 21.6km at an average speed of 62.9km/h, currently 44sec faster than the next best time. I checked my Garmin to see I had hit and maximum speed 117.5km/h! Going in the right direction I thought, having bettered my previous PB of 115km/h set back in 2008 during the Ötztaler Cycling Marathon race in Austria while descending the Kühtai into Innsbruck.

To watch the full clip of the descent from the summit of Mont Ventoux to Malaucène, please click here.

After refilling my water bottles at the village fountain, it was back on the saddle for the slog back up. Again, it was around two hours of steady climbing before I would reach the top. It was also the first time I was able to admire the stunning views on the way up, that I had missed on the way down due to having to concentrate fully on the road. Again a short break was afforded, before I plummeted down in the direction of Sault. This is the longest descent at 25.1km, but with the least elevation difference, making the gradient somewhat gentler, a welcome relief after the first two tough ascents. Unfortunately my progress was interrupted by some roadworks which killed any chance of grabbing a triple crown of Strava KOMs for the descents. Well, it’ll leave something to aim for on my next visit.

Again a quick bottle refill was made at the village fountain, before the last climb back to the summit. With about 6km to go from Chalet Reynard, another cyclist I had passed at the beginning of the climb fell into pace with me. He had been shadowing me at about 100m back or so the entire time. As he drew level with me, my unusual looking bike caught his eye and was enough to start us chatting and I got to know him as Bernard. It turns out he is the cousin of a famous former professional road and track rider and multiple national French champion Charley Grosskost, from the era of  Eddy Merckx and Luis Ocaña, at one time even riding for 5 time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil. Bernard was no slouch in his day either, winning the Alsace 100km team time trial title and taking podiums in other notable races. We exchanged many cycling stories before we reached the summit for the last time that day. At the top he took the only photos I have of the day as he luckily had a camera with him. We exchanged emails and he left before me while I sent a quick text to my friend who I was going to meet in the village, to let him know I would be down in about 20mins. I also tucked in anything that might fly out on the super fast descent that was to ensue.

P1000601

Summit of the Col du Mont Ventoux (1912m)

Once ready, I clipped in, switched into downhill race speed mode and let rip. A nice 50km/h westerly tail wind meant that I had a wind assisted descent on the exposed top part, the same section the Red Bull road Rage would have taken place on. I picked up speed quickly and passed the Col des Tempêtes not long after, continuing to accelerate hard. I quick glance down at my Garmin where I spotting 108km/h on the screen and I was still picking up speed rapidly. I passed Bernard after a short while later flicking him a quick wave of the hand as I negotiated the bend. As he was in my racing line, I had to go wide in order not to cut across him. This also pushed me wide on the exit and made for an additional adrenaline rush. Back on the power and flat out the rest of the way, slowing marginally for the ensuing bends. Chalet Reynard was reached rapidly and from there on it was a roller coaster ride to Bédoin. 21min19sec later I had completed the final descent of 21.3km at an average speed of 59.8km/h, a mere 3sec faster than the next best time. Now for the moment of truth as I checked my Garmin to see my maximum speed: 131.8km/h! I could hardly believe it! Total trip distance was 139.3km, including 4463m of total elevation gain, taking me 7h18m to complete.

It was only then I not only understood, but could also fully appreciate just how significant the improvements and modifications to my second generation Black Sheep Bikes Road Rage Custom were in terms of performance. The guys in Fort Collins worked their magic like only they know how, using their decades of experience to pull the best out of the machine following the feedback I provided. In addition to the bike now being much much faster, it is also more stable at high speeds, handles better in corners, doesn’t lift the rear end under heavy breaking on extremely steep descents, but the nicest and most unexpected added bonus was that the bike is now also super comfortable on longer rides. To find out more about their wonderful two wheeled, creations of working art, just visit the Black Sheep Bikes web page.

To watch the full clip of the final descent from the summit of Mont Ventoux to Bédoin, please click here.