Skip to content

1,000 cyclists ride in the tracks of Bob Cook at the Mt. Evans Hill Climb named for him

July 30, 2014
Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb finish at over 14,000 feet elevation

Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb finish at over 14,000 feet elevation

[updated 7/31/2014]

In this day when bike races are more likely to be shortened or canceled than extended,* the Mt. Evans Hill Climb endures. Close to 1,000 Gran Fondo and competitive cyclists aiming for the state hill climb championship prize took on the 14,265 foot summit in the 49th edition last Saturday, July 26.

The event has been called the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb since 1981 in recognition of Bob Cook who died from cancer at age 23. Cook was an amateur cyclist who could tangle with the best professional uphill specialists; he won the ascent five times and made the 1980 US Olympic team.

Mara Abbott wins her third Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb

Mara Abbott wins her third Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb

Past winners of the men’s elite race include Alexi Grewal, Ned Overend, Jonathan Vaughters, Scott Moninger, Peter Stetina, Tom Danielson, and Todd Gogulski. Tammy Jacques-Grewal, Kimberly Bruckner, Jeannie Longo, and Mara Abbott have claimed first for the elite women.

Days after Cook’s death the New York Times published a biographical story about him. It describes a humble man whose dedication to training and a top athlete’s nutrition plan kept the scale tipped at 140 pounds while he stood 6’1” tall.

From the start in Idaho Springs cyclists would cover 27 miles and climb 6,915 feet to reach to top of Mt. Evans. Riders in each class, including the Gran Fondo with 400 participants, soon spread out along the road as they found the rhythm that suited their fitness and ambition.

Marmot on the edge of the world at Mount Evans

Marmot on the edge of the world at Mount Evans

With twelve uphill miles remaining the trees disappear and riders face a landscape of rock-strewn slopes dotted with green under a wide open sky. If they’re lucky, a chipmunk or marmot might skitter across the road ahead or a breeze might ripple a clutch of low lying yellow wildflowers and remind them that yes, despite the barren vistas, life does exist there. It’s a small but important consolation during a challenge they must face alone.

In the New York Times story about Cook, Steve Tesich, the screenplay writer for the movie Breaking Away, describes that challenge well.

”When you become as good as Bob was,” Tesich said, ”it’s that ability to do things alone, to suffer alone, to come through alone, that stands out. You get formed by it or you drop off. It’s so much easier to go on a football field with 40 guys and get a group feeling to pump you up. There’s something very fitting about the West, the mountains and being alone. It’s a quiet form of heroism, and Bob symbolized that.”

The 2014 heroes

On Saturday the thermometer registered 45 degrees Fahrenheit at the top. While storm clouds gathered in gray clumps to the west, by some miracle the wind didn’t howl. Riders of different ages and sizes arrived in a steady stream.

The fastest Gran Fondo rider, Gregory Dobbin, crossed the line after 2 hours 12 minutes. Men who hauled ten or even twenty extra pounds into the thin air hung over their bikes, breathing rapidly. Some rolled in on knobbies. Several shared the journey with a partner on a tandem. Lean super-fit masters riders stood on the pedals into the final stretch to the finish line. Many hooted and hollered as they reached the summit. Older juniors appeared, one curious to know if she had bested the record in her 17-18 age category.

Everyone seemed happy to be there, even those who had walked bikes around the final bend on the highest paved road in the US. Elite riders crossed the finish line next.

Fortunato Ferrara wins the 2014 Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb men's elite race

Fortunato Ferrara wins the 2014 Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb men’s elite race

Fortunato Ferrara from New Mexico, 10 minutes off the record still held by Tom Danielson of 1 hour 41 minutes, escaped early from the men’s pack and stayed away until the end. Ferrara, second overall at this year’s Tour of the Gila in the cat 1-2 group, celebrated his first win on Mt. Evans. In a sprint to the line Howard Grotts (Specialized) edged out Bissell Development Team’s Keegan Swirbul for second, leaving the young rider with third.

Abbott, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team member and former Giro Donne winner, took the women’s race after speeding away from her partner on the road, last year’s champion Annie Toth (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports), in the final kilometer. This was Abbott’s third victory on the peak. Toth came in second and Lindsey Knast (Primal/Audi Denver Women’s Racing) third.

As the elite riders descended they passed the last Gran Fondo rider. He finished after 6 hours 37 minutes and likely more alone than anyone else. By the time he reached the top race staff were packing up early due to the proximity of the storms.

Like Cook, he needed to finish what he’d begun.

*One notable exception is the Redlands Bicycle Classic which expanded from four to five days with the 2014 edition.

Robin Eckmann begins his descent from the top of Mt. Evans

Robin Eckmann begins his descent from the top of Mt. Evans

Gallery

Advertisements

From → Essays, Road Racing

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: