Steamboat group soaks up the cycling life in France

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— It was to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip: A group of good friends, mostly based in Steamboat Springs, traveling across the globe to ride their bicycles through some of the world’s most famous bike-worthy terrain, the course of the Tour de France.

It didn’t disappoint, either, eight days of cycling that wowed and exhausted the entire group.

They can tell the story of their trip in half a dozen ways.

In the peloton

The story, for instance, could revolve the L’Etape du Tour, a race on the actual Tour de France course used this year.

The group consisted of Steamboat riders Darrin Fryer, Wes Fountain, Steve Dressen, Bob Stack, Lindsey Lambek and Robin Craigen, as well as Breckenridge cyclist James Shingles and British rider Tim Penny.

That race was one of the tent-poles of the trip, one of the reasons the group went and a chance for it to get on a closed course and get a taste of life in the peloton.

They were joined by about 11,470 others seeking the same privilege, but the crowd didn’t do anything to dampen what was one of the most adventurous days of the trip.

The race re-created Stage 20 of the Tour, a 130-kilometer course that took riders from the town of Annecy, in a large loop over several tough climbs and eventually to the ski station at Annecy-Semnoz.

The team found its spot in the huge field of riders and relished in using true Tour tactics to fight through the waves of people, taking turns leading the team as the group drafted together.

“It was great,” Dressen said. “We were all set up like a team, and it was fun pulling the train and passing tons of people. It was awesome on that closed road, where you could pick whatever way you wanted to go.”

The group only splintered later in the ride, but no riders collapsed. Each earned a finish in the top half of the field, and most of the Steamboat crew fought into the top 10 percent.

Up the Alps

That was only part of the trip, however, and only one of the team’s brushes with the famous course.

The story of the trip can be laid out in all of the riding, eight days of exploring the Alps in their very own Tour.

That telling can be a cold, statistically fascinating one — their riding added up to more than 400 miles and on the final day, after the Annecy ride, they went back out for 16 more miles to ensure they’d top a staggering 50,000 feet of climbing.

It can be a historic retelling, too, focused on the famous and diverse stretches of road the racers pedaled. They made it over the Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier, the highest paved pass in the Alps. They also roped in a climb to L’Alpe d’Huez, site of one of this year’s most exciting Tour stages and part of a 65-mile, 11,500-foot day.

They rode for seven hours and nearly 80 miles over the Col du Glandon for a day with 10,300 feet of climbing, then they climbed up and over the Col du Petit St. Bernard for a brief foray into Italy.

The roads were steep, at times as steep as a 12-percent grade — extreme compared to Rabbit Ears Pass' 7 percent. And they were beautiful.

“Here I often feel like I’m riding through a postcard and it’s difficult to take it all in,” said Craigen, one of the trip’s primary organizers, and, turning 50, one of its reasons. “It was the same sensation in France. You want to keep your eye on the road because you’re descending at 30 or 40 miles an hour and you’re realizing it’s an incredible view, winding down through farmland. It was a feast for the eyes.”

French benefits

It wasn’t all pedaling, of course, and a version of the story could even entirely omit bicycling.

One of the highlights was the cafes and restaurants always waiting atop the most grueling climbs. The quest for coffee was key, the group labeling their efforts the Tour de MoJo.

“All of these climbs, you get to the top and there’s always a place to get a coffee or a pastry, even a ham and cheese sandwich,” Dressen said. “That’s a great reward. You can take a break, take it all in and hang out for a few minutes.”

Working through Classic Cycling Tours, the group headquartered in a ski chalet at Meribel les Allues and soaked in the culture when it wasn’t riding through the countryside.

“We didn’t have to do much more than focus on riding and hanging out,” Dressen said.

It was eight days of riding, and there were enough eye-popping experiences to keep the friends trading stories for years to come, a once-in-a-lifetime trip, indeed.

Craigen said it left with him differing emotions. On one hand, he couldn’t help but envision riders enjoying the Steamboat terrain he so loves the way he enjoyed France’s.

“People are not aware how lucky we have it here in Steamboat,” he said.

At the same time, one of the funny quirks of a trip of a lifetime is that if they live up to the billing and it’s anything remotely re-doable — something this side of a mission to space — there’s almost no choice but to begin dreaming about how to do it again.

Craigen said the men of the Tour de MoJo already may be thinking about the best way to tell the next story.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

Tour de Mojo: By the numbers

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