Bob Cook Memorial Mt Evans Hill Climb on a Fat Bike!?!?!

By Erin Trail

303 Cycling Ambassador Erin Trail caught up with Sandra Marticio on her experience on Saturday’s Bob Cook Memorial Mt Evans Hill Climb. Sandra is the President of the Colorado Mountain Bike Association and her ONLY bike is a fat bike. She rides and races year round and on all terrain, including up the highest paved road in the country.

1. So, the obvious question – why would you want to climb Mt Evans on a fat bike?

The Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill climb has been on my “bucket list” for years. I wanted to do the race because on race day, the road to Mt. Evans is closed to cars and I thought it would be more fun on a closed road. I LOVE to climb and the fat bike is my favorite bike. A lot of people have asked me this question and I think the answer is actually really simple. I wanted to do it for the same reason anyone wants to do it: to challenge myself. I also love the fat bike and want to see how flexible it can be–how I can configure it to do lots of different things, including one of Colorado’s most famous road races.

2. What modifications were needed to make your bike “Race Ready”?

The bike is a 2015 Salsa Beargrease Carbon 1. As it’s my only rig to speak of, I usually ride with a Rockshox Bluto suspension fork. In the summer, my tire of choice is 45North Dillinger 4s. For my last month of training, I switched out the Bluto in favor of the stock carbon fork because it’s stiffer, lighter, and more responsive. I also switched out the tires for Surly Black Floyd 3.8s. I was surprised to learn that Surly makes slicks for fat bikes–there must be others out there like me because I’m pretty sure they aren’t making them just for me! For race day, I added a Slapbag with my key nutrition and a Velcro mount for my inhaler. (I started riding with an inhaler last year and often forget to use it. I knew I’d need it on this ride!)

3. What did you do for training? Did you approach it any differently from other long events that you’ve done?

I was so lucky to be funemployed for much of my training and was able to use what I call an “adaptive” training process. My training essentially consisted of three phases:
– General cycling fitness (mostly early season mountain biking and a few trips up Lookout Mountain)
– Climbing (mostly on the Cityview/Turkey Creek/Deer Creek/Highgrade loop from my house; standard loop is 20 miles with 2500 feet of climbing)
– Altitude training (I live at 8700 feet, so that helps; rode Independence Pass, the summit of which is over 12,000 feet; lots of trips up Squaw and Juniper Passes to over 10,000 feet)

Because I wasn’t working, I had a lot of flexibility, so I didn’t have to do all my rides on the weekend or after work. If I wasn’t feeling it or the weather didn’t cooperate, I could ride a different day. Being able to employ the adaptive process was a unique opportunity.

4. How did your race go? What were some of the challenges and what were some of the highlights?

For me, the biggest highlight of this ride are the views. Many of our 14ers are surrounded by other 14ers but because Mt. Evans is so far East, relatively speaking, I could see all the way to Kansas, literally. Just amazing 360º views that I really can’t describe. The other highlight came when the pro men’s peloton passed me. They start later than the Gran Fondo riders and when they passed me, just for about 10 seconds, I was IN the peloton. Not looking at aerial or GoPro footage. I was IN the peloton!

The biggest challenge on this ride was the altitude and that surprised me. There is a big difference between 12,000 feet and 14,000 feet–2,000 feet, to be exact. In advance, a friend told me “Everything is slower at that altitude.” I had no idea what he meant until I experienced it. The last three miles of the ride (which include 11 swtichbacks) I felt like I was riding with two huge flat tires and an anchor tied to my bike. I was still riding at a decent pace, but it was LABORIOUS. Legs and lungs were great, but I had more neck, shoulder, arm, and hand pain than ever before and I believe that, too, is due to the altitude. With considerably less oxygen, our blood doesn’t circulate as well and I could feel my muscles getting congested and tight. Ow.

I knew I was going to have to ride the descent, which even some of the pros describe as “terrifying”. I was not looking forward to it. Many, many riders jokingly asked if I’d trade bikes with them for the descent. I knew I’d feel safer on the fatty, for sure. I also knew the descent would challenge me and it did–but not for the reasons I thought it would. I knew it was a narrow road with no guardrail and many steep drop offs. Surprisingly, that didn’t trouble me much. The condition of the road, however, challenged me a lot. As the highest paved road in America, the road to Mt. Evans is under permafrost. The last 10 miles are all above tree line. The road is buckled and uneven. It includes lots of small, deep potholes that are like windows into a glacier. There is even an off-camber section the likes of which I’ve never seen on a road. Then, of course, there is some overflow, where water seeps up through the pavement and makes large puddles. Add to that an assortment of furry mountain creatures–deer, marmots, and mountain goats–and it becomes quite an obstacle course! As one of the last riders to descend, I had the road mostly to myself, so it was easier. And by “easier”, I mean slightly less terrifying.

5. Tips for anyone seeking to do something…different:

Do your research–understand the endeavor, the gear required, and what makes it different from what you’ve done in the past. Take it seriously and talk with others who have done that or something similar.

Trust your hermeneutical sense–your gut feeling. If not many people have done what you seek to do, you’ll likely find yourself having to make decisions based on your gut feelings. Go with that and don’t look back. You know you, your gear, your abilities.

Have fun! If it’s not fun, there is no reason to be out there, doing whatever it is you’re doing. Let other people be there for you. Let them cheer you on, let them help you. If THEY think they are helping and you disagree–like the folks at the summit who wanted to tell me how much psi I should run on the descent–shake it off and let it go. Have a laugh about it with your friends over your celebratory beer. And before you move on to the next big thing, make sure you take the time to celebrate the accomplishment with those who love you and made sacrifices for your quest to be successful.


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