Tour of Utah Ultimate Challenge Race Report — Part Duex

In the last entry, my little group and I had just rolled into Park City as part of the Ultimate Challenge. This race report just keeps going, and going, and going…

That road in the photo looks deceptively flat. Trust me, the road up Guardsman's Pass is sickening steep.

That road in the photo looks deceptively flat. Trust me, the road up Guardsman’s Pass is sickening steep.

Once you hit Park City, you turn up the climb that would qualify as one of the hardest in the state — Guardsman’s Pass. The climb is 6.9 miles long and averages 6.9% while climbing 2,657 feet. There are points where the climb points up north of 15.0%, and there is a half mile that averages over 10.0%. This climb can literally blow up your quads. I rode this climb with some friends four weeks before the Ultimate Challenge and was having a tough time wrapping my head around getting up this climb and then the final climb of the day. To put it in perspective, pros who tackled this same climb on race day like Ted King rode this climb in 40:00. My time was a 1:10:06, which I was very happy with. I think at some time in the next couple of years I would like to try and go under an hour.

The challenge with this climb is you know you have to climb Little Cottonwood Canyon down the road. While you do have a great descent down Big Cottonwood Canyon to rest your legs, there is no way you can get up Guardsman’s without burning a couple of matches. The effort it takes to get up some of the steep stuff takes the edge off your legs and will hurt your ability to accelerate in a meaningful way. But, because of the nature of the race, you have to put in the effort to make it to the top. Several times I had to tell myself, “Pain doesn’t matter — you have to make it to the top”. I don’t like to ignore pain because it tells me how my body is doing. But this is one of those cases where your mental game better be sharp or you will fold.

Once I crested, I pulled over and waited for my friends. I also started eating and drinking as much as I could to help me recover and get up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird. Here is where I will take the chance for the “airing of grievances”. Yes I know it isn’t Festivus, but this needs to be said. The Race Director, Dirk Cowley, happened to be at this aid station. I don’t think he got enough water donated by Swire Coca-Cola or something, because he was only allowing riders to take one bottle of Dasani water at this aid station. Remember we were about 86 miles into this ride and had climbed 9,395 feet so far. While there was a well-stocked aid station in Park City, personally I had drained both bottles on the Guardsman’s climb. I needed water. There was also an aid station down at the bottom of the Big Cottonwood Canyon descent, but once we got there the water was warm and the volunteers were out of ice. Mr. Cowley needs to reevaluate the packing list for the aid station on top of Guardsman’s. In my opinion, this was inexcusable and made him, the Tour of Utah, and Swire Coca-Cola all look bad.

One of my favorite parts of this ride was the descent down Big Cottonwood Canyon. The descent is about 17 miles long and drops you about 4,600 feet. With few exceptions, the turns are sweeping and safe. Most afternoons there is a headwind as you come down the canyon, but it is still a blast. I rode alone and passed a handful of people who were obviously trying to hang on during the descent. I averaged 29.1 mph on this descent, and it took me less than 36:00. With an equally motivated group, I think I could have done it in less than 30:00. Next time.

On top of Guardsman’s, the sun slipped behind the clouds. Coupled with a small wind, I actually got cold. But dropping down the canyon into the foothills of Salt Lake City, the heat really started to focus on our little race — it made me feel like an ant under the focus of a magnifying glass. There are only four miles from the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon to the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, but they were hot ones. The aid station wasn’t well stocked. It was like Mr. Cowley was more interested in giving his sponsors space at the final aid station instead of making sure there was enough ice to keep things cold. I was carrying my own Infinite and Honey Stingers, which I was extremely glad for.

This was the crowd on Tanner's Flats up Little Cottonwood Canyon. It was cool to ride through it.

This was the crowd on Tanner’s Flats up Little Cottonwood Canyon. It was cool to ride through it.

But the final challenge of the day was ahead of us. Juston, Moj, and I started climbing Little Cottonwood Canyon together. The course finished up at the second entrance to Snowbird, so that made this climb 7.6 miles with 2,821 feet of climbing. The climb averages 6.8%, which on any other day is tough, but to this point on the ride we had already climbed 8,789 feet in the previous 106 miles. As tough as Guardsman’s Pass was, climbing Little Cottonwood Canyon was a lesson in patience and pain. You knew where the finish line was, and you knew how much you had to climb and the best way to keep your wheels moving was to keep a positive attitude. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Because the pros from the Tour of Utah were coming through after us, there were good crowds up the canyon. Because we weren’t pro riders, I would say about half of the crowd ignored us. But the other half more than made up for that with their enthusiasm. We did see our buddy Parker Smith a couple of miles up the climb. He had Slurpees and Coke waiting for us. As much as I wanted to take them, I didn’t want anything to interrupt my cadence as I headed uphill.

As we started to get closer and closer to the finish line, Juston kept motivating me with threats that we were going to get caught by the pro peloton. This is a serious threat. If they catch you, you have to pull over to the side of the road and let them through. The entire process takes about 15 minutes, which you obviously have to add to your ride time. Luckily, Juston’s threats helped me continue up and we made it to the finish line together. My ride time was 7:05 for the Ultimate Challenge. My elapsed time was longer with stops at aid stations, but I was extremely happy with my ride time. My goal for this ride was to finish between 6:30 and 7:00, so I almost nailed it. For the entire ride, our distance was 114.1 miles with 11,610 feet of climbing.


For you data heads, here is my information from the race:

Distance: 114.1 miles
Ride Time: 7:05:07
Average Watts: 180 watts
Normative Power: 202 watts
Average Heart Rate: 148 bpm
Total Work: 4,586 kJ
Average Speed: 16.1 mph

Looking back, this was an epic ride. The reason I did this ride was because it was part of the Triple Crank Award. I am not sure I will do it again. I loved the route, but the aid station failures were a big deal to me. I counted on those stations being well stocked and ready. There is little excuse for this failure when everyone pre-registers. As a race director as experienced as Mr. Cowley, you should know how much water to plan for. Rationing water or other resources signals a failure to plan and it makes everyone involved look bad. Everyone but the volunteers that is. They get a free pass.

I was happy with my effort and appreciated Juston and Moj. Those two horses really helped me get through this ride. My other friends who were doing this ride all did well and I think for the most part were happy with their results. I would love to do this ride again, but it does fall one week after the Tour de Park City. In 2014 I will be doing the Tour de Park City because it seems that Ben Towery is much better organized. Not only that, but his race is a USAC sanctioned race, so I would prefer to spend my money there.

Related Topics:

Cycling Training Tips
Cycling Product Reviews
Cycling Race Reports

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...