28 August 2012

Old, Gold and Hope

Stormy Twin Lakes

Storm clouds built quickly over Cottonwood Pass early Wednesday morning, the day of the Queen's Stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Last year, we'd pedaled up Cottonwood Pass to watch the pro cyclists summit the only dirt road portion of the entire week-long race, only to be chased back down the mountain by lightning before the peloton arrived.

We decided not to chance a repeat performance this year, particularly since I wasn't sure how far up the Pass I could even get. The Lizard drove us and our bikes to Independence Pass, hoping we could find a parking spot and that I could pedal up to anywhere I could obtain a primo view of the cyclists during their second monstrous climb of the day.

the valley

the climb

way down there

The weather on Indy looked much more promising, and we lucked into a great parking spot before the Pass was closed to motorized traffic. I successfully pedaled the mountain bike 1.2 miles up the steepest portion of the Pass and found a great lookout without big crowds where we would be able to watch the race for a mile below us before watching the riders climb a mile up to us. I couldn't have asked for a better photography perch!

the valley below

the climb

About half an hour before the breakaway riders, Tommy D and Francesco Colorado (yes, that's really his name!!!), came into view, the official mobile race announcer vehicle crossed the valley below us and then climbed up to where we were waiting, sharing awesome news that Tommy D had a three-minute lead on the peloton!


I had hoped George Hincapie could repeat last year's fete and win the Queen's Stage again, but Tom Danielson is a talented young rider from Colorado, and we rode with him last year in and chatted with him after the Durango Fall Blaze. He's a very down-to-earth guy, and we were excited to see him making his way up a difficult climb and making it look fun.

How can you go wrong when you have all of Colorado on your wheel!!!

Are we having fun yet?

Wednesday's race leader Tejay van Garteren (in the yellow jersey) was next up the climb, leading the first fragment of the altitude-splintered peloton. He not only looked as if he was having the time of his life, he made steep climbing in thin air look easy!

Tommy D went on to win the stage, as well as the Day's King of the Mountain, which means top climber of the day, an honor he held onto for three more days. (In the end, Tommy D took home the Most Aggressive Rider's jersey and sixth place overall.)

Tejay and Tommy D

That night we camped at Twin Lakes, at the base of Independence Pass. The next day's route would send the riders back up the Pass from the opposite direction, the very same way we had crossed the Pass in June during Ride the Rockies.

I like to take pictures of cyclists climbing because they aren't moving as fast, plus it's easier to focus the camera. Twin Lakes is such a picturesque venue, I decided I wanted to capture the riders with Colorado's beautiful scenery this time around. If weather conditions didn't deteriorate, we would have a spectacular view of Mount Hope reflecting in Twin Lakes as the riders sped by.

When Hope gets clouded over...

Mount Hope will shine again.

I practiced with the less-predictable iPhone shutter while The Lizard pedaled up Independence Pass prior to the start of the race. Clouds set in, and soon drizzle did wonderful things to my hair and skin. We hoped Mount Hope would shine again in time for our photos.

Golden Lizard

Hopeful Lizard

We were alone at this photo perch when the announcer silently approached. He had no one to announce to until he reached us. He delighted us with news of 39-year-old veteran Jens Voigt, another personal favorite, in a solo breakaway with a five-minute lead!!! ("Jens Voigt doesn't get road rash, the road gets Jens Rash.") Voigt went on to win the stage, proving age is no handicap! This guy can ride! And get this: he and his wife have SIX kids!!! And he has a sense of humor to boot.

Go, Jens!!!

the Boys beneath Mount Elbert

We opted to ride Waterton Canyon rather than fight the crowds Saturday during Stage 6 from Golden to Boulder via the Peak to Peak Highway and an uphill finish on steep Flagstaff Mountain.

gold everywhere

Upon our return from yet another photogenic tour of one of our favorite rides any time of year, we learned 39-year-old Levi Leipheimer, yes, you guessed it, another personal favorite, winner of last year's race and one of the best time trialists in the country, had smoked the rest of the competition and moved from fourth place to first place on the steepest climb of the day. (Oh, and Jens was in the breakaway yet again. Can you say, "Woohoo!") The final stage of the race would be a time trial through my work stomping grounds in downtown Denver. Levi won the time trial stage last year, and I hoped he could do it again this year. (He ended up taking eighth in the time trial and third overall.)

Levi in race-leading yellow.

Not only is Levi another of our favorite riders, but earlier this year he was hit from behind by a car while on a solo training ride. His fibula was broken, and his bike was destroyed. Complicating matters in both the Tour of Utah and Colorado's race, Levi's Omega Pharma- QuickStep team did not send a full team to support him. Nevertheless, Stage 6 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is Levi's first win of the year! He came back from what could have been so tragic, proving not only does age not matter, but pain, suffering, recovery, rehab and determination can take you higher than you ever thought possible.

In that respect, this man has inspired me in ways I hope will take me to new heights. Literally. Here's to climbing again one day. I'll never give up Hope.

downtown Denver, Stage 7 USA Pro Cycling Challenge


  1. So exiciting and what a beautiful setting!

  2. Nice tee shirt! :)

    Okay, I realize this is totally frivolous, but I do love that turquoise helmet in the midst of the orange ones.

    Go Jens! What a trooper. A great generation of cyclists is winding down. (What will the next generation bring?) And poor Levi - seems he's always getting something broken - and always coming back from it. Another trooper. Awesome TT shot, by the way!

    Thanks so much for this wonderful post - how lucky you are to be able to see these riders in person. (And how lucky we are to see them on your blog.)

    P.S. Yes, here's to climbing. You will do it. Happy heights to you. :)

  3. What a day. These riders are inspiring indeed. Here is to Hope

  4. Hope is so important. Levi is an inspiration, just as Lance has been for so many people.

    Don't give up hope. I know that I can still ride despite have two large sections of my spine fused. Of course, I had to take long periods off the bike. But, there was always hope, as I pray that there is for you.


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