Monday, August 7, 2017

2017 ultimate challenge (and tour of utah, stage 6)

Stage 6 (8/5/17) Soldier Hollow to Snowbird, 61 miles and 7,700 feet of elevation gain.  The race organizers have been mixing it up with the Tour of Utah this year.  For instance, Stage 6, the "queen stage," is much shorter this year, clocking in at only 61 miles.  It was nonetheless challenging: starting at Soldier Hollow and going around the end of Deer Creek Reservoir before climbing up the Alpine Loop behind Sundance, descending through American Fork Canyon, sweeping around the Point of the Mountain and then finally the grueling climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon for a Snowbird finish.   Stage podium: Guilio Ciccone (Bardiani); Simone Sterbini (Bardiani); Neilson Powless (Axeon).

Note those climbs

The stage winner did it in 2:45:38.  This is notable because Stage 6 is also the route of the Ultimate Challenge, where citizens are allowed to test themselves on the same course as the pros.  H, apparently because he hadn't tormented challenged himself enough with the Crusher, signed up for the Ultimate Challenge as well.  And then spent the week prior looking at the course profile and shaking his head mournfully.

Ready to go

We had to organize carefully because we would be gone all day, so that involved (a) H's ride gear, (b) my hiking gear, (c) H's post-ride gear, (d) my post-hike gear and (e) beer.  We left the house at 7:15 a.m., driving south to Orem, through Provo Canyon and up to Soldier Hollow, parking in a big field with all the other citizen riders.  After collecting H's hospitality tent wristband, he got himself ready to go and headed for the start.  I left at that point - since there were somewhere between 600-700 riders, I did not want to get tangled up with them on that road around the reservoir.  And it was a bit of a tangle, H reported later.  Even though this was merely a ride and not an actual race, there was an awful lot of aggressive passing and jostling for position during the first miles.

Heading to the start

This faded away as soon as the climbing started and H, who is in pretty good shape right now, managed to distance himself from the hordes, passing lots of people.  The climb up to the top of American Fork Canyon from the Sundance side - a steep, narrow, twisty road that we've driven many times - wasn't actually too bad.  There weren't many cars (the course was not closed for the Ultimate Challenge although it would be for the Tour of Utah riders) and it was largely shaded.  H had been anxious about the descent - again steep, narrow, twisty - but said that it wasn't bad at all.  He's been practicing his descending skills; he was able to ride most of it alone, without having to dodge other riders; and signs were on hand to warn of the biggest corners where speed needed to be reduced.

Lining up for the start

Once out of American Fork Canyon, things started to heat up.  Literally - since the rest of the ride would be entirely exposed with no shade.  The riders had a whole stretch of road to themselves through the Alpine area, came around into Draper and started up Highland Drive/Wasatch Boulevard to the Little Cottonwood Canyon Road.  As the climb started, H again passed a ton of people.  He said he was feeling good right up until gate B in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  At that point, the heat started getting to him and even though he needed fuel to sustain himself for the climb, he just didn't feel like eating.  The last four miles of the climb were absolutely miserable - and not just for H: people who could keep riding were wobbling all over the place and lots of riders were walking - but he pushed on through.  By the time he hit the final 200 m. stretch (downhill into the finish), he said he was barely pedaling.  But he made it, finishing in 4 hours and 15 minutes, with the last climb up LCC taking an hour.  H's results:  123 overall; 19 out of 99 age group; 116 out of 544 men.

Approaching the finish

While H was on his bike, I had booked it up to Snowbird, nabbing a prime parking spot along the creek.  Wanting to get a little exercise, I did a short hike up Peruvian Gulch to the top of the Peruvian Chair [Note: the Peruvian Ridge trail we did at the Wildflower Festival is much prettier than just trudging up the gulch trail.].  I made it up in 1 hour and 10 minutes, then got chilled on the chairlift ride down because I had worked up such a sweat.  Back at the car, I got texts from H at the Highland Drive feed station and at the mouth of LCC, so I knew approximately how much time I had.  I changed clothes, packed H's stuff in my backpack, grabbed the cooler and went back up to the finish line.  The crowd was growing and each Ultimate Challenge rider got a lot of applause as they came through the chute.


After H finished, I managed to find him in the crowd.  He was a little shaky at first, from the exertion and heat and lack of nutrition and hydration.  But after a half hour of sitting in the shade drinking water, we moved over to the hospitality tent where he got some food.  As I wasn't a rider, I had to stand outside the fence, so after he ate, H joined me, continuing to work his way through a series of diet Cokes and Powerades, and we watched the Stage 6 finish on the Jumbotron.  Lots of other UC riders opted to do that as well, despite the finish line being just behind us in person; I overheard a lot of conversations where riders said, "I felt really good until we started climbing LCC!"

As the Stage 6 podiums were being announced, we collected H's bike from the bike valet and made our way back to the car.  It looked to be slow going getting out of the parking lot, as the race vehicles and viewing public were all trying to leave at once.  H had fully bounced back by now, so we sat in the shade and had a beer, recapping the day while the crowd dispersed.  Contrary to what we would have thought, H thinks that if he had to choose, he would rather do the Crusher again instead of the Ultimate Challenge (although we wonder if that would have been the case had the weather not cooled off so drastically for the Crusher).  Luckily, he doesn't have to decide any such thing any time soon ... and can just be glad that both rides are over for this year.

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