Rapha Continental 2011 Colorado ride
The group splintered on the 14-mile dirt climb of Cottonwood Pass. The solitude of dirt road riding is like no other. Knowing that the others are ahead, waiting, is good motivation. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha

Editor’s Note: Last month VeloNews partnered with the Rapha Continental squad to ride the stages of the upcoming USA Cycling Pro Cycling Challenge and produce video previews of the stages. Tech editor Nick Legan rode with the team. We’ll be sharing the videos over the next few days. Today’s video, below, focuses on the USAPCC’s prologue in Colorado Springs.

I moved to Colorado ten years ago, but it took five guys from Portland (OK, one of them lives in New York City, but he’s originally from PDX) riding black and pink bikes to get me out to explore my adopted home state by bicycle.

I have what many describe as a dream job, and most of the time I agree. But there are times when riding seems like a chore, seems like work. I stopped racing seven years ago because (I wasn’t very good and … ) I started to dread getting on my bicycle. Then I spent time working as a pro mechanic where I touched bikes every day, but rarely had a chance to ride one. During that period I dreamt of long rides in the mountains, even in the cold and rain. So, now that’s what I do. I ride as often and as long as my schedule permits.

Instead of viewing myself as a bike racer, I am now a bike rider, an adventurer on two wheels. This take on cycling has changed my world for the better. Not to bag on racing and racers, but there’s a time and a place for all things. And right now I’m singularly focused on enjoying my time on bicycles, not just going faster than those around me.

The Rapha Continental team shares a similar set of values when it comes to pedaling a bicycle. The personalities on the crew change with the locale, but the spirit is the same. In June I joined them to ride the USA Pro Cycling Challenge route.

I couldn’t be happier about my time with the Rapha Continental. I came into the ride a bit cooked after a big 200-mile gravel ride in Kansas. And I paid for that effort in spades once I suited up with my new cycling brethren. There was no taking it easy on the new guy (and I respect that).

The Continental is not a race, but it certainly isn’t a relaxed tour either. It was a constant struggle, but a struggle that came with a smile on my face. The mountains of Colorado are breathtaking in more ways than one.

Days started early. We would kit up and roll out in the direction of a coffee shop most mornings. The early light in Colorado is beautiful and long miles ridden slowly (especially in my case) require time. In Salida, the need for caffeine and carbs brought me to Café Dawn. There I bumped into a man, Phillip Benningfield, who had routinely pulled shots of espresso for me in Boulder long before I was a pro mechanic. Seeing him again was a happy reward for getting out and exploring Colorado.

As the days progressed and the accumulated miles took their toll, the playing field leveled a bit. I recovered from my efforts and the altitude started to wear on the sea-level residents of the Rapha crew.

Don’t misconstrue this statement. I was no miraculous Superman. In fact, the guys still kicked my ass, but I was able to hang a little longer, especially on the day from Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge.

But it is shared suffering that breeds camaraderie. And when one of our comrades, Ryan, fell descending Independence Pass, time stopped.

Rapha Continental 2011 Colorado ride
County Road 742 from Almont to Taylor Park Reservoir acts as a nice warm up for Cottonwood Pass. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha

After help arrived, I sat in silence for some time staring at the road. The sound of the stream running next to the road stands out for some reason. My eyes could pick out the individual stones in the pavement but my brain couldn’t focus on what had just happened. I was exhausted from the ride and emotionally drained by the unexpected drama.

Once Ryan was taken away in the ambulance, Jeremy by his side, we packed up the van and drove into Aspen. We found food and soon word came that Ryan would be OK. His scapula (and much of his bike) was broken but he would heal. The plan evolved and we skipped two stages of the race route, heading straight to Steamboat Springs the next day.

I tuned out a bit once we arrived at our accommodation, the Moots factory. I did some work, performed some bike maintenance. I took a short ride into town to clear my head while the rest of the crew explored some local dirt roads. After washing out some clothes, I headed into town for dinner with the crew. Ryan was with us, though he ordered soft foods and drank through a straw thanks to his busted lip.

After a few beers, my good humor returned and it struck me that soon the trip would be over. It felt like we had just begun. My thoughts turned to the guys seated around me.

Jeremy, Ryan, James, Sam and Greg are exceptional riders, not just because they tackle massive routes, but because they ride with wonder in their eyes. They constantly point out beauty along the road. They revel in the journey. (Article continues below video)


Not to steer this article towards rant, but I do think that they are helped in this by a lack of power meters and heart rate monitors. They de-clutter their bikes and open their minds as vessels of exploration.

I know that I’ve seen a new spur before and instead of taking the turn, I continued on my merry way, thinking that I have to be back for a previous engagement. What a shame that we so often head out the door thinking, “I have to cram in this workout.”

As I’ve aged, moved beyond the need to race, my rides are more therapy than “workout.” And the funny thing is that I’m stronger and happier than I have been in years. I’ve challenged myself to explore, to get in over my head (and I was most certainly in over my head with the Rapha crew). But once I emerge from the other side of those trials, I am renewed in my love of the bicycle and the world around me, both paved and unpaved.

Thank you to Jeremy Dunn, Sam Richardson, James Selman, Greg Johnson, Ryan Thomson, Gerben Gerritsen, Jon Cariveau, Jake Stengel, Caleb “Cable” Booth, Cory Standridge and Matt Miadich.

Where the going gets tough
The left turn at the far left of this photo is where the steeper pitches of Independence Pass begin. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
Free to fly (or crawl) on Independence Pass
Independence Pass is a sight to behold in the early part of its open season. Greg and Sam make their way to the rarified air of its summit. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
Bundle up
Even in June, there is plenty of snow in the mountains of Colorado. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
Man down
After my Dirty Kanza efforts and climbing Monarch Pass, I was exhausted and reluctantly climbed in the van. Sam, Jeremy, Ryan, James and Greg soldiered on, into a brutal headwind, to Gunnison for lunch and then on to Mt. Crested Butte. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
Morning light
County Road 742 from Almont to Taylor Park Reservoir acts as a nice warm up for Cottonwood Pass. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
Topping out
Jeremy Dunn and Sam Richardson near the top of Cottonwood Pass. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
Just the dirt and the incline
The group splintered on the 14-mile dirt climb of Cottonwood Pass. The solitude of dirt road riding is like no other. Knowing that the others are ahead, waiting, is good motivation. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
One down, one to go
After the turn at Twin Lakes, the road to Independence Pass undulates for miles before starting the climb in earnest. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
The long and winding road
The stage from Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge was a “put your head down and get on with it” affair. We were all tired, but the five of us rolled along pretty well. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha
Leaving Salida
A full crew: no one dropped, no one injured. Photo: Jake Stengel/Rapha