Inspiring story of strength and good will. Thanks Nico and Kevin for being apart of this great Colorado Cycling Community!
by Nico Toutenhoofd
Nico Toutenhoofd and Kevin Nicol near the top
of Mt. Evans. Photo courtesy
of Dejan Smaic of SPORTIFIMAGES.COM.
I started racing the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb over 30 years ago, at the age of 14, shortly after Bob Cook passed away, and it's one of my "don't miss" events. My wife, who's the planning maestro in our family, puts the hill climb date on our calendar as soon as it's officially announced, knowing that she can't plan anything for that weekend that involves me; I love the event and hate missing it. In 2011 that changed. Laird KrodelSmith, the then 4-year-old son of my business partner Beth and her husband Bryan, was diagnosed with one of the world's most aggressive forms of cancer, Burkitt's lymphoma. People like the "conquer a mountain" cliché, but after watching what Laird went through in his battle with cancer, Mt. Evans, Mt. Ventoux and L'Alpe d'Huez are tiny bumps on the pavement compared to a child undergoing major chemotherapy. In 2012, after Laird successfully kicked cancer's butt (that's the KrodelSmith's language there) I happily missed the Mt. Evans Hill Climb to ride the Courage Classic, a three day non-competitive cycling event, to help raise money for Children's Hospital Colorado, and for all of the young heroes out there like Laird.
Beth, Laird, Sofi and Bryan KrodelSmith in 2011
Fast-forward to early 2013 when Laird is a strong and healthy 6-year-old boy, my planning maestro wife is busy entering events on the (now digital) family calendar, and I'm faced with the race Mt. Evans or ride the Courage Classic dilemma. That's when it hit me - just because the events are on the same day, and start at the same time, doesn't mean it's an either/or decision; I'll do them both. Yeah, combine the two and you've got 108 mile day with 13,000 feet of climbing, but compared to chemotherapy, this should be a walk in the park. Kevin Nicol, who is my early morning training buddy, and whose daughter also spent time at Children's Hospital, suggested that we do the hill climb on a tandem rather than racing with the Pro1/2s, as it would allow us to start the race 2 hours earlier and it would be something new. At first I thought he was joking as I've never known Kevin to race anything but the Pro1/2, and he's a former winner of that prestigious race, but the look in his eye showed no sign of irony, and I knew he was serious.
I won't bore you with the race details because -- there's no other way to put it -- climbing Mt. Evans on a tandem is boring. We pedaled, we shifted, we sweated, we passed a bunch of people, poor Kevin stared at my butt for over two hours, and we finished. We were officially racing the Granfondo, and we had the fastest time for both the tandems and for the individuals in the Granfondo division. Our time was 2:07:59, the slowest time I can remember going up that climb, and about 15 minutes slower than Kevin's fastest time. For full disclosure, we were the only male-male tandem team (the other three tandems had male-female teams). We were also the only Cat 1 riders in the Granfondo so it's not exactly like we should be bragging.
Nico Toutenhoofd and Laird riding day two of the Courage Classic.
(Kevin and I started at the right time this day.)
We then loaded up my truck, drove down the mountain as quickly (and safely) as we could, jammed sausage breakfast sandwiches in our mouths at the Dumont Starbucks and finished our drive to Copper Mountain for the first stage of the Courage Classic. Cyclists were supposed to start the 80-mile Copper Triangle by 6:30 AM, and here we were, two tired 45+ year-old-guys, starting at 1:00 PM while the parking lot was bustling with people packing up their cars after having just finished the day's event.
We rode to the top of Fremont Pass, and of course the aid station was nothing but a line of empty porta potties. What luxury! Two guys and 20 empty johns to pick from. Then, as we headed down Highway 24 toward Minturn, Kevin suggested that we each pull (break the wind) for 15 minutes, and then switch, rather than riding side-by-side as we had been, so that we could perhaps finish the ride before dinner time. When Kevin Nicol suggests that you do the last 60 miles of an 80 mile ride as a two man TTT, you know your day is going to be hard. Kevin did a sub 50 minute 40k at the State Time Trial Championships and time trialing is sort of his thing. About 5 miles before we got to Minturn we passed a small group of 6 cyclists. "Hey, are you guys with the Courage Classic?" we asked, excitedly. "Nope. We're just out for a Saturday ride." they answered. Crap - we're still the last guys on the road today.
We ate cheap junk food in Minturn, made the eastward turn toward Vail, and chugged in virtual silence up Vail Pass. At the top, with only the bike path descent to Copper Mountain ahead of us, I realized that there was no way we were going to catch any Courage Classic riders that day, and we were certainly the last riders on the road. Ask me which felt better, being first to the top of Mt. Evans or last to finish the Courage Classic, and I think you'll know the answer.
Oh wait, there's a little bit more... I'm a competitive guy and I do like to win, or at least be associated with a winner. Laird was the 4th highest fund raiser in 2012 for the Courage Classic, having raised over $26,000. This year he's in 2nd place at a little over $30k raised. (I'm off the back in this race, but I'm okay with that.) If you'd be willing to click on this link and donate whatever you can, you'll be helping Laird in his fundraising, but more importantly you'll be helping children in Colorado kick cancer's butt.
Kevin Nicol and Nico Toutenhoofd atop Vail Pass. And yes, we made it back to the condo in time to enjoy Beth KrodelSmith's awesome spaghetti :-)