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Mercier: Looking at this year’s Tour de France and predicting a race winner

Slovenia's Primoz Roglic, who lost the overall leader's yellow jersey to fellow countryman Tadej Pogacar, crosses the finish line of stage 20 of the 2020 Tour de France cycling race.
Marco Bertorello/Pool via AP

The 2021 Tour de France will cover 2,102 miles over 21 days of racing. This year’s route features six mountain stages, including three summit finishes, two flat individual time trials, eight flat road stages, and five rolling stages.

It also features one stage of more than 150 miles, which is the longest on the Tour in 20 years. Tadej Pogacar won the 2020 edition with an incredible stage 20 time trial win, where he handily beat the best time trialists in the world. At just 21 years old, he was the youngest Tour winner in a century.

The time trials could once again prove to be decisive. This year, there are nearly 36 miles of relatively flat time trials. The 2021 winner will need to have the support of a strong team, be a great climber, a strong time trialist, and be patient.

The fireworks kick off on Stage 1 with a 115-mile tough and punchy stage. The finish is a 2-mile climb with a 14% ramp at the base. The overall contenders will be near the front, but the first yellow jersey should be taken by Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Michael Matthews, Canadian Michael Woods, Julian Alaphilippe, or Richard Carapaz.

We’ll get a look at who the contenders and pretenders are on the Stage 5 time trial. Look for 2020 runner-up Primoz Roglic to win and be in yellow at the end of the stage. Roglic’s team, Jumbo-Visma, is one of the strongest in the peloton, but they’ll likely let a breakaway go on Stage 6 so they don’t have to defend the yellow jersey and burn matches they’ll need later in the race.

Our next big battle for the overall comes on Stage 9, a relatively short 90-mile day. However, the finish is the first big mountain test and the final climb is over 3,500 vertical feet in 13 miles. Just two days later, on Stage 11, the peloton climbs the famed Mont Ventoux — twice!

The final week of the Tour is where the race will be won. Stage 17 and Stage 18 are back-to-back mountain top finishes. Stage 17 finishes with a 10-mile climb at an average gradient of nearly 9%, while Stage 18 finishes with a steep climb, gaining 2,400 vertical feet in just 6 miles.

Britain's Chris Froome, left, and Britain's Geraint Thomas, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, climb Col d'Aspin pass during the 19th stage of the 2018 Tour de France.
Christophe Ena/AP

The final time trial, on Stage 20, at just over 19 miles, is the longest individual time trial since 2008. The time trial is nearly pancake flat and shouldn’t produce the big gaps we saw on the final time trial from 2020, but it could very well decide the winner of the 2021 Tour. Riders who are powerful and can recover well should do well on this stage.

There are four Americans racing this year: Durango native Sepp Kuss for Jumbo-Visma, and Californians Brandon McNulty for Team UAE, Sean Bennett for Team Qhubeka Assos, and Nielson Powless for Team EF Education. An interesting side note is that Kuss and McNulty will each be shepherding Tour favorites Roglic and Pogacar.

Here are my picks to win:

1. Primoz Roglic — Unless he crashes, I think Primoz has the legs to finish it off this year.

2. Anyone Ineos — Pick one! It’ll be interesting to see who they go with. They have four legitimate contenders with 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz, 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas, 2020 Giro winner Teo Geoghegan Hart, and 2020 third-place finisher in the Tour, Ritchie Porte. I think the longer time trials on this year’s route play into Thomas’ strengths and he finishes second for the third time in his career.

3. Julian Alaphilippe — The world champion is French and has worn the yellow jersey on several occasions. He finished a career high fifth in 2019 and will be foregoing the Olympic Games, so his focus is exclusively on the Tour. However, if he gets the yellow jersey on Stage 1, he and his team will burn a lot of matches early to defend it and it might cost him toward the end of the race. He is a fan favorite with his aggressive style of racing.

Another interesting aspect to the 2021 Tour is the return of four-time champion Chris Froome. Froome is recovering from a horrific accident that nearly ended his career two years ago. He’s now racing for the Israel Start-Up Nation team and won’t be a factor for the overall, but if he can stay with the lead group on the climbs near the end of the race, it will bode well for his 2022 ambition. Additionally, Mark Cavendish, one of the fastest men in the history of the sport and a winner of 30 Tour stages, will be racing the Tour for the first time since 2018. He was a late call up for the Belgian Quick-Step team.

Uae Team Emirates riders with Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar, right, pedal during a training ride, outside Brest, western France, Thursday, June 24, 2021, ahead of Saturday's start of the Tour de France.
AP Photo/Daniel Cole

While defending champion Tadej Pogacar has a much stronger support crew for the 2021 Tour than he did in 2020, I think the inexperience of the team will ultimately cost him the race. At some point there is bound to be a windy and/or wet day and if Pogacar gets caught out of position, expect the peloton to attack him to put him out of contention. He will be heavily marked and any mistakes will be pounded on by his opponents.

My dark horses for podium positions include Colombian and ultimate cool guy Rigoburto Uran, Australian Ben O’Connor, and Spaniard Enric Mas.

The 108th edition of the Tour promises to provide some exciting racing and is once again a generational battle between the young guns and the veterans of the peloton.

Good riding!

Scott Mercier

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at scottmercier24@gmail.com.

Aspen’s Keegan Swirbul inks two-year deal with Rally Cycling after strong fall races

Keegan Swirbul’s love for training might have saved his career. Again without a team and a future in the sport, the Aspen pro cyclist kept grinding this summer and his persistence paid off with a new two-year contract to ride for Rally Cycling.

“I lucked out. It finally kind of came together. A lot of guys are losing their jobs this year, a lot of pro guys, so I’m super happy this worked out for me,” Swirbul said Wednesday. “There were a lot of teams folding this year and I was turning 25 in September and kind of was at that point where I need to start making some money for myself. So I’m honestly not sure what I was going to do if I didn’t get this opportunity to go to a real team.”

Swirbul has become somewhat of a journeyman in recent years, as U.S.-based Rally Cycling will be his sixth team since he started his professional cycling journey in 2014. He most recently rode for Floyd’s Pro Cycling, a short-lived team put together by the infamous Floyd Landis, in 2019 before it folded after a single season.

Then, earlier this year, Swirbul latched onto Ljubljana Gusto Santic, a team based out of Slovenia, but never actually rode a mile for them. The coronavirus pandemic made a mess out of the cycling season and crippled many teams financially, so back in August Swirbul was told it just wasn’t going to work out with the Slovenian squad.

“I kind of checked out of the idea of going to do races, so me and my buddy went on an RV trip, had a blast. I was still riding my bike a ton,” Swirbul said. “It kind of caught the attention of the boss of the Rally team. He called me up and said it’s cool to see I was still training throughout all the uncertainties and that he wanted to give me a shot.”

What caught Rally Cycling’s eyes were some Strava King of the Mountain rides Swirbul did near Boulder late in the summer. He’s long established himself as one of the country’s top climbers and proved he still has the goods when Rally brought him over to Europe for a total of 12 days of racing in September and October as part of a trial period with the team.

The highlight was the Volta a Portugal stage race, where Swirbul finished 15th in the general classification. He also finished ninth in the two-day GP Vedras, also held in Portugal.

“I was in good shape. Thankfully I worked hard the whole summer. I love training, so that was no problem for me. And all that work paid off,” Swirbul said. “The race we actually did, the Volta a Portugal, is a renowned race. It’s a very difficult race and I didn’t really know what to expect after over a year without racing. So overall I was definitely pleased. Definitely have some things I would have done differently in hindsight, but super happy to get those race days in the legs.”

Swirbul impressed Rally Cycling enough that earlier this month they signed him to a two-year deal where he’ll join their pro team. It’s a massive step for Swirbul, who’s mostly only competed at the lower Continental level. By joining Rally, he’ll have the opportunity to compete in some of Europe’s bigger races — along with a hopeful return to the Tour of Utah — a bit of a must for any aspiring professional cyclist.

“Now I can say I’m a real pro,” Swirbul said. “It’s pretty big for me. The sport is over there and you can’t really have a career unless you’re in Europe. I’ve wanted to go for years and years, but with all the injuries and stuff, it just didn’t work out.”

A lot of hurdles still remain, most surrounding the pandemic. With Europe again implementing lockdowns as COVID-19 cases rise, what becomes of the 2021 cycling season is anyone’s guess.

With Rally’s 2020 season in the bag, Swirbul is back home working on his visas for next year.

The team hopes to start training as early as December in Spain and Swirbul is obligated to take up residency somewhere in Europe while with Rally, all things that are dependent on getting into countries still in the midst of a pandemic.

But, when the doors do open back up for Swirbul, he’ll step onto the biggest stage of his turbulent career. The first races of 2021 are tentatively slated for late January or early February.

“It feels great to be locked down for two years. Every year it’s a big stress finding a new team,” Swirbul said. “It’s going to be a huge step. Assuming there are bike races and all that next year, we are going to be doing some really big bike races and hopefully I can stay healthy and finally have a chance to show myself on these big climbs in Europe that I’ve been working toward for years. I’m just waiting for something to go wrong, to be honest. But I hope it finally goes right.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

“You can do anything”: Local women talk mountain biking, work to inspire more of their peers to participate

Shayna Yellon was 8-years-old when she started mountain biking. Her dad was an old school hard tail bike, single-track rider, and encouraged Yellon and her brother to give the sport a try.

So they did. Yellon and her brother mountain biked through the rest of their childhood and into adulthood. She felt “un-gendered support” to continue the sport she describes as a full sensory experience and way to connect in a deep way with the surrounding environment.

“It’s a place where you’re seeing the sights, feeling the wind, the dirt, hearing the sounds of your tires against the rocks, the rustling of the trees,” Yellon said. “I think mountain bikers do have a deep appreciation for the spaces that they get to bike in, and it’s not just about biking and sending off big jumps but it’s literally being out in nature and maneuvering through nature in different ways.”

Now as a mountain biking instructor at the Snowmass Bike Park, Yellon is one of a handful of women teaching downhill skills and clinics — working to help more people experience mountain biking and to be a role model specifically for women interested in joining the sport as riders, competitors and coaches.

“I love to support young women especially in this sport,” Yellon said. “I want to create an environment where they’re not being overstressed, over pushed. I’m meeting them at their level yet they’re achieving and progressing to a point where they build confidence in their abilities and see (mountain biking) in their future.”

According to a thesis written by University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Education in Recreation and Sport Management master’s student Rebecca Irvin last year, quantitative data on mountain biking participation separated by gender is difficult to find.

In her thesis, Irvin writes that she reached out to the International Mountain Biking Association, USA Cycling, National Interscholastic Cycling Association and PeopleForBikes organizations about this specific data, and all said they did not have it.

Irvin went on to explore the question: What are females’ perception of learning to mountain bike? She found that many of the perceived barriers expressed by women were intrapersonal, like “when I think of mountain biking, I picture men” and “people who ride mountain bikes are super athletic.”

“The top five statements regarding participant constraints and motivation give professionals a starting point to start changing the female perspective to a more accurate perception of what it takes to learn this sport,” Irvin’s thesis states. “This sport is very accessible for females of all ages, fitness levels, financial levels, and hopefully this study helps professionals better communicate that message to females.”

In recent years, many biking organizations across the country have worked to be more inclusive toward women, hosting clinics and special events aimed at introducing them to the sport.

One of the local organizations working to break down the perceived barriers to mountain biking for women is VIDA, a Colorado-based organization that works to provide high quality mountain biking education and skills clinics for women and to create an inclusive community of female riders across the state.

Rachel Gottfried, who heads the VIDA MTB Series clinics, said she’s seen and felt the intimidation that comes with mountain biking as a hard, scary sport, and feels creating a positive, growth-minded learning environment can help overcome that.

“When we start the weekend and you look at all of our participants’ faces they are all timid and all afraid,” Gottfried said of a typical VIDA MTB Series clinic. “But then you see this transformation little by little. … Something happens with mountain biking and you realize that you can do it, and depending on where you are in the sport that may be getting up a technical climb, hitting the gap drop, whatever it is. But once that switch flips and you realize that you can do it, then c’mon, you can do anything.”

Gottfried went on to emphasize that she knows mountain biking isn’t for all people, but that it is something all people are capable of doing when given the right learning environment and skills education.

And for more than four years, VIDA has hosted a summer mountain biking skills clinic for women in Snowmass, working to create that positive learning environment and build camaraderie among local and visiting participants.

Gottfried said this year’s clinic—which was postponed to the end of this month due to the Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon—is sold out at 36 participants.

However, although the organization is known mainly for its skills education, it’s also working to be inclusive to all women, including women of color and a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“If we’re finding that we are only attracting a certain type of woman, then we’re not doing our job,” Gottfried said. “We really want everyone to feel at home and safe.”

Yellon and Cami Nogueira, a local professional mountain biker, expressed similar desires to create safe, instructive environments for Roaring Fork locals to hone their mountain biking skills, especially for women.

“I know for some women it can be hard because there aren’t many of us in this world, there aren’t many girls riding, but for me I started with my brother and my father and I had really good friends to ride with so I always felt comfortable,” Nogueira said of her experience in mountain biking, noting that there have been many times when she’s the only girl riding with a group of her friends.

“But when I moved here a few years ago I was really happy because there are a lot of girls here who ride bikes in general. I didn’t expect that and it’s great. When you go to the bike park you can see girls riding which is really nice.”

Like Yellon, Nogueira, who is from Argentina, started mountain biking at a very young age. She said she began competing professionally in college and has raced all over the United States and Europe, including in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup races.

But this summer because of the COVID-19 crisis, most of Nogueira’s races were canceled or postponed, leading her to shift gears and spend more of her time helping out with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s summer mountain biking program and taking part in the Snowmass Bike Park’s downhill race series.

“I think this sport can really inspire them a lot,” Nogueira said, referring to young adults and kids who give mountain biking a try.

She went on to say she hopes to continue to work with young mountain bike enthusiasts in the Roaring Fork Valley moving forward, and wants to serve as a resource for women mountain bikers especially — continuing to support and strengthen the already strong group of women mountain bikers she feels exists in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Yellon expressed similar thoughts, emphasizing that she feels there are good women mountain biking role models instructing at the Snowmass Bike Park and riding there for fun—and that she hopes to be one of them.

She said she didn’t really notice any sort of gender divide in mountain biking until she got into coaching, where Yellon said she’s noticed a decrease in women involved at the instructor level for a multitude of reasons, and has generally started to notice trends in how women prefer to learn the sport and thrive in it versus men.

“If I can create a situation for women that has as many options as possible, I find that women tend to do better when they’re given the easiest option, then the next hardest option and there’s some choice there,” Yellon said. “It’s more of a suggestion based coaching style and developmental rather than command, which men tend to lean toward. It’s generally a different conversation and a different tone.”

Overall, Yellon said moving forward as a local mountain biking coach, she hopes to inspire young women to pursue mountain biking as a sport and as a career option, ideally seeing some of the young women she works with now follow in her and the other Snowmass Bike Park women coaches’ footsteps.

“I tend to think there is something special about women working with women that allows for a different kind of learning experience,” Yellon said.

“I want to be one of the options of what you can be. … I’m invested in coaching so that I don’t have to coach forever. I’d like to see my little footsteps build at some point and be followed by the awesome kids we get to work with every day.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Aspen Cycling Club: Results from the Lower River Road Time Trial on Sept. 9

ASPEN CYCLING CLUB: WEEKLY RACE RESULTS

LOWER RIVER ROAD TIME TRIAL

FROM WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 9, 2020

Mens A (Open)

1 0:19:58 KOSTER, Ryan Culver’s Glenwood Springs

2 0:20:00 CALLAHAN, John Limelight Hotel

3 0:20:02 PETERSON, Butch RFMBA Trail Agents

4 0:20:07 DENNY, Steve

5 0:20:19 LOEFFLER, Alexander FastG8

6 0:20:22 STROKES, Greg STRAFE / RESQWATER

7 0:20:49 NEWTON, Tyler Hub of Aspen

Womens A (Advanced)

1 0:22:32 KNOTT, Courtney

2 0:24:39 COULTER, Beryl

3 0:25:01 PIHL, Tracy

4 0:26:09 HEATH, Megan RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

Mens B (Advanced)

1 0:18:39 INKINEN, Sami

2 0:19:38 ADAMS, Casey Basalt Bike & Ski

3 0:20:11 TUDDENHAM, Luke Basalt Bike & Ski

4 0:21:15 KLUG, Chris Hub of Aspen / Chris Klug Foundation

5 0:21:24 PRATT, John

6 0:21:33 SMITH, Larry Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork

6 0:21:33 PERNA, Lew Great Divide Brewing

8 0:22:12 ETTLINGER, Jared

9 0:22:28 BRITTINGHAM, John

10 0:22:34 CIBULSKY, John Roaring Fork Cycling

11 0:22:35 WALMSLEY, Sean

12 0:22:41 SIRIANNI, Phil Basalt Bike & Ski

13 0:22:47 KIERNAN, Ryan

DNS SULLIVAN, Danny Basalt Bike & Ski

Mens C (Sport)

1 0:25:48 MURPHY, Mark Basalt Bike & Ski

DNS KELLOFF, Alex

Womens C (Sport)

1 0:23:09 BRENDAMOUR, Bryn

2 0:25:23 SHAW, Sara Limelight Hotel

3 0:28:55 BOWLES, Judy Aspen Sports Performance

Mens 50+

1 0:23:25 CHILSON, Chip Aspen Sports Performance

2 0:23:47 DUBE, Matt

3 0:24:24 DIMARIA, Danny Hub of Aspen

DNS LANE, Chris ACES

Women 50+

1 0:23:44 MELLIN, Heidi Limelight Hotel

Men 60+

1 0:21:35 LYONS, Steve Basalt Bike & Ski

2 0:23:11 HANDWERK, Jeff

3 0:23:42 GIBANS, Jon RFMBA Trail Agents

4 0:24:15 BLANK, Tony

5 0:26:35 DIETHER, Fritz Frostbusters

6 0:27:31 KIERNAN, Marc

Women 60+

1 0:25:28 CALLAHAN, Kathleen Limelight Hotel

Men 70+

1 0:22:48 IRELAND, Michael Register. Vote 2020

2 0:24:44 OLENICK, Bob

3 0:25:59 OVEREYNDER, Phil

4 0:26:23 CROSS, Ed Limelight Hotel

5 0:28:17 JONES, Larry

Men 80+

1 0:29:19 HARRISON, Jim

2 0:36:44 HOUOT, Jacques Frenchy No Problem

High School Boys

DNS TRANTOW, Tristan CRMS

— Race Marshals: Jonathan Hershberger, David Chernosky, Scott Mellin, Rich Burkley, Glenn Sliva

— Results may also be viewed at www.aspencyclingclub.org. Questions about results should be directed to results@aspencyclingclub.org.

Steamboat’s Bob Enever is still cycling Routt County roads at 92, no plans to stop

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On the back of the Erikson bicycle Bob Enever rides is a custom license plate that reads, “92 Power Bob.” The number doesn’t describe the horsepower of the bike but instead indicates Enever’s age.

The 92-year-old has been biking for decades and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“My knees and nothing works as well as it used to, but I can still bike,” he said. “I suppose one of these days my balance will go or a knee will go. I don’t know what. I don’t know when the end is.”

Enever has a few passions that run deep in his soul, including the Yampa River Botanic Park, birds and biking. He was the creator of the Botanic Park in the 1990s and still works there daily. He’s a self-taught birder and photographer, having published a pair of books about the birds of Northwest Colorado. When he’s not enjoying the chirps of birds from the park or his patio at home, he’s pedaling down the back roads of Routt County.

Enever’s love affair with cycling began in 1997. He loved aerobic exercises that demanded endurance. He started running, then competing in marathons, then triathlons, which introduced him to cycling. Before he even knew what endorphins were, they were dictating his life as he grew addicted to the feeling of flying down the road.

“I used to get up at 5 in the morning and run before I went to the office at 20 below zero in deep snow, just because I was driven. I was hooked, you might say,” he said. “They don’t talk about withdrawal from endorphins, but there is a withdrawal that sends you out at 5 o’clock in the morning if it’s the only way you can get your running in.”

Thankfully, Enever and his wife, Audrey, spend the winters in California, so there’s no more snowy outings for Enever. They drive west each fall to dodge the cold, packing his bike so he can ride year round.

When he was a bit younger, Enever opted to cross-country ski in the winter but has since stopped strapping on the skinny skis.

Enever used to go out every day to seek his endorphin high, participating in tours and races like Ride the Rockies. These days, his pedaling is far more casual. He goes out a couple of times a week, training for goal rides. Right now, he is training to ride one of his favorite routes, Willow Creek Pass in North Routt County, just south of Hahns Peak Village.

“I’m sort of training right now, getting enough miles in to be able to do Willow Creek Pass,” Enever said. “I like hills, and I got my bike geared right so I can do hills.”

Enever moves slowly but methodically up the hills, knowing he can still balance when chugging along at 3 ½ miles per hour.

He might run into people he’s met over his 30 years in Steamboat Springs when biking down Routt County roads 131 or 18, but he rides alone.

“Many people don’t like to exercise alone, but I enjoy it and I think my best thoughts,” he said. “Usually it’s solving problems that I didn’t solve, and they’re in the back of my head. The solutions come when I’m not trying.”

sreardon@steamboatpilot.com

Scott Mercier: Looking at the stages and challenges of this year’s Tour de France

Saturday is the start of the 107th Grande Boucle, also known to us Americans as the Tour de France. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the race was pushed from July to late August and is scheduled to run from Aug. 29 to Sept. 21. There will be 21 stages and two rest days. This year’s race is on the shorter side, at 2,165 miles. However, there are eight mountain top finishes, and one uphill time trial on the penultimate stage.

The pandemic could also affect the outcome of the race. Paris-Nice was forced to end the race a day early this spring, and Bora Hansgrohe’s Max Schachman was declared the overall winner. If France sees a surge in cases and goes into another lockdown, the Tour will have to end early, as well.

Hopefully, this doesn’t happen and the race can make it to Paris.

However, the threat of an early ending to the race could have a meaningful impact on tactics. The final week of the Tour in the Alps is brutal, and typically any contender would be content to bide his time and conserve as much energy as possible to be fresh for a final assault to win the overall. One would imagine that if the race has to be truncated that some notice would be given so that teams and riders could adapt, but that is not a guarantee. Being in yellow early could be a winning tactic this year.

Another potential impact is the inclusion of time bonuses at both the finish of each stage and at the top of several key climbs. First, second and third on each stage are awarded time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds, respectively. Additionally, seven of the mountain stages have time bonuses of 8, 5 and 2 seconds to the first rider to the top of a select climb. These climbs are strategically placed near the finish of the race.

While every stage can lead to disaster if a rider isn’t paying attention, there are really just a handful of stages that could have a meaningful impact on the final yellow jersey.

Stage 2 is the first mountain stage of the Tour. The final climb comes just 5.5 miles from the finish and has time bonuses to the first rider over the top. The finish is at the bottom of a technical descent, so it’s conceivable that the stage winner could pick up an early 18 seconds from time bonuses alone. Look for Julian Alaphilippe to be in yellow at the end of this stage.

The next significant test comes on Stage 4, which provides us with our first mountain top finish. The stage is just under 100 miles and is hilly until the final climb. The main contenders should all be together until the fireworks start. The final climb is 4.4 miles long at an average gradient of 6.7%. This will be the first real test for the contenders.

Stage 8 is another difficult stage. The final climb is 6 miles long at an average gradient of 7.8% and offers time bonuses at the top. The finish is about 7 miles from the top of the climb with a fast and technical descent. Stage 9 is right before the rest day and also has time bonusses on offer at the top of the final climb. The finish is just 11 miles from the top of the last climb, so expect most of the favorites to finish together and the stage winner to come out of a breakaway.

Stage 10 looks relatively easy on paper; it’s almost pancake-flat and 106 miles long. However, this coastal region of France is frequently windy, which could cause the peloton to split. There aren’t many opportunities for the pure sprinters in the 2020 Tour though, so I expect this to come down to a field sprint.

Stages 13 and 15 will be absolutely brutal. Stage 13 has six categorized climbs with two climbs in the last 10 miles. The penultimate climb averages 9.1% and has bonus seconds at the top and is almost immediately followed by a 3.5 mile, 8.1% climb to the finish.

Stage 15 comes right before the final rest day. The final 45 miles feature 9,400 feet of climbing. The final climb to the finish line is 11 miles and 4,050 vertical feet at an average gradient of 7.1%.

Stages 16-18 offer three consecutive days in the Alps with back-to-back mountain top finishes on Stages 16 and 17. Stage 17 features two Hors Categorie climbs and the final climb to the finish at Meribel is 13.5 miles long and 5,400 vertical feet at an average gradient of 7.8%. There are several pitches over 20% in the final few miles.

If anyone is still standing after these three stages, they’ll have to prove their mettle one final time on the penultimate stage. Stage 20 is the lone individual time trial. It’s 22.5 miles with 3.5 miles of climbing to the finish. The overall race could very well be decided in those last few miles.

This could be one of the most exciting and unpredictable Tours in recent memory. Let’s hope the peloton can make it all the way to Paris.

Happy watching. My wife can’t wait!

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at scottmercier24@gmail.com.

Scott Mercier: Predicting the contenders, podium for this year’s Tour de France

Rare is it that we get a dark horse winner of the Tour de France, and I don’t expect this year to be any different.

Of the 176 riders on 22 teams, there are realistically only three who can be considered favorites for the overall. It takes experience and a deep team to shepherd a winning rider over 21 stages to emerge in Paris with the yellow jersey. Fan favorite Juliane Alaphilippe came close last year, but the final few stages in the mountains proved to be too much and pre-race favorite Egan Bernal from Colombia emerged victorious.

This year, however, should provide more drama and unpredictability than we’ve seen at the Tour de France in quite some time. The spring racing campaign was scrapped due to COVID-19, so there just hasn’t been much head-to-head racing and it’s more difficult than usual to gauge the fitness of the riders. That said, two riders stand out as clear favorites, although they both have question marks: Slovenian Primoz Roglic of Team Lotto Jumbo, and Bernal of Team Ineos.

Bernal was the youngest winner of the Tour in nearly 100 years last year. He really never looked in difficulty and stamped his authority on the race with his climbing prowess. His team and management are the most well financed and have had more success in grand tours than anyone in decades. Ineos/Sky have produced four separate Tour winners in the past eight years, starting with Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012, to four victories for Chris Froome, to 2018 winner Geraint Thomas, and, of course, Bernal himself in 2019. Ineos is so focussed on winning the Tour that neither Froome nor Thomas made the cut. Both men had shown poor form in the Dauphine (the final tune-up race for the Tour) and were cut from the team as a result. Bernal’s form is also a bit of a mystery, as he was forced to abandon the Dauphine with back pain and had been handily beaten by Roglic in their head-to-head duels.

Roglic was a late comer to cycling after a successful career as a ski jumper. He placed third in last year’s Giro d’Italia, and only lost it due to his inexperience and the inexperience of his team director. Both redeemed themselves with a classy victory in the Vuelta Espana at the end of 2019. Roglic has emerged from the pandemic seemingly unstoppable. However, a crash on the penultimate day of the Dauphine two weeks ago raises questions. He was forced to abandon the race while in the lead, and his recovery from the accident remains a mystery.

His team has loaded up with talent and experience and has been the only team to go head-to-head with Ineos this year. Jumbo Visma have proven that they won’t be bullied and have dictated the terms of the past few races.

The only other five-star contender would be France’s Thibaut Pinot. Pinot didn’t quite have the legs to finish off the Dauphine this year and finished second. He was a legitimate contender at the Tour in 2019 until a torn leg muscle with two stages to go forced him to abandon the race while just out of the lead. He will certainly be a fan favorite.

The Dark Horses

Four dark horse contenders stand out for me this year. The last real dark horse to win was probably Spain’s Carlos Sastre in 2008. However, with so few racing days on the 2020 campaign, this could be the year a dark horse emerges in yellow.

Colombian Daniel Martinez, 24, of Team EF First: He won the Dauphine this year on the final stage with a brilliant combination of grit and tactical smarts. He’s supported by a strong contingent but will have to be wily to repeat that success over a three-week race. He won when both Bernal and Roglic abandoned, but staying on your bike and in the race is no small feat.

Colombian veteran Nairo Quintana, of Team Arkea Samsic: He has won both the Vuelta Espana and the Giro d’Italia and finished on the podium at the Tour three times. His team does not have the firepower to control the race for three weeks, so he’ll have to rely on others. But with the heavy dose of climbing at the end of the race, this is probably his last and best shot at overall victory.

Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz, 27: He moved to Team Ineos from Movistar this year. He was originally slated to defend his Giro d’Italia crown, but with both Froome and Thomas not showing form, he was called up to help Bernal in the high mountains. If Bernal struggles, look for Carapaz to attack.

Frenchman Guillaume Martin, 27, of Team Cofidis: He is my final dark horse. He’s a spright climber at 5-foot-8 and 121 pounds. He finished third at this year’s Dauphine, but will be flying under the radar. He has a master’s degree in philosophy and is a published author. His book is appropriately titled, ‘Socrates by Bike.’

Only three Americans made the cut for this year’s race: veteran and Aspen frequenter Tejay van Garderen will be starting his ninth Tour, while 23-year old Nielson Powless and Durango’s Sepp Kuss will be making their Tour debuts. Sepp will be riding in support of Roglic and shepherded him in the high mountains of both the Dauphine and last year’s Vuelta. Sepp was given one day in each of those races to race for himself, and on both occasions, he won the day. If Roglic falters, expect Sepp to be on the attack when the road kicks up.

Look for the first yellow jersey to be won by NTT’s Giacomo Nizzolo. He has won both the Italian and European road race championships in the past week with perfectly timed sprints. His team is 100% focused on getting him to the line first.

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at scottmercier24@gmail.com.

Aspen Cycling Club: Results from the Spring Gulch Hill Climb on Aug. 26

ASPEN CYCLING CLUB — WEEKLY RACE RESULTS

SPRING GULCH HILL CLIMB TIME TRIAL

FROM WEDNESDAY, AUG. 26, 2020

Mens A (Open)

1 0:25:04 WACHTENDORF, Brett

2 0:26:49 KOSTER, Ryan Culver’s Glenwood Springs

3 0:27:24 PETERSON, Butch RFMBA Trail Agents

4 0:27:46 NEWTON, Tyler Hub of Aspen

5 0:28:27 DENNY, Steve

6 0:28:33 SILBERMAN, Sebastian Kelly Benefit Strategies Elite-devo

7 0:28:53 LOGAN, Levi RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

8 0:29:31 LOEFFLER, Alexander FastG8

9 0:29:55 CALLAHAN, John Limelight Hotel

DNS STROKES, Greg STRAFE/RESQWATER

Womens A (Advanced)

1 0:34:05 KNOTT, Courtney

2 0:39:18 PIHL, Tracy

3 0:43:01 URFRIG, Ellie CRMS

Mens B (Advanced)

1 0:27:55 INKINEN, Sami

2 0:30:20 ADAMS, Casey Basalt Bike & Ski

3 0:30:27 PRATT, John

4 0:30:34 PERNA, Lew Great Divide Brewing

5 0:30:37 ELLIOT, Simon Basalt Bike & Ski

6 0:30:57 TUDDENHAM, Luke Basalt Bike & Ski

7 0:31:20 SMITH, Larry Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork

8 0:31:31 SULLIVAN, Danny Basalt Bike & Ski

9 0:31:50 MAPLE, Michael Hub of Aspen

10 0:32:02 WILLIAMS, Brian

11 0:32:31 CIBULSKY, John Roaring Fork Cycling

12 0:33:46 HERSHBERGER, Jonathan Hub of Aspen

13 0:34:45 CHERNOSKY, David Groove Subaru

14 0:35:29 KIERNAN, Ryan

DNS MORAN, Kevin team faqualia

Mens C (Sport)

1 0:35:30 KELLOFF, Alex

2 0:40:57 MURPHY, Mark Basalt Bike & Ski

Womens C (Sport)

1 0:40:31 SHAW, Sara Limelight Hotel

Mens 50+

1 0:34:09 BURKLEY, Rich Limelight Hotel

2 0:37:01 COOK, Miles Modern Market Racing p/b GP capital partners

3 0:37:25 TRANTOW, George

4 0:39:04 CHILSON, Chip Aspen Sports Performance

DNS ARMSTRONG, Mike Basalt Bike & Ski

Men 60+

1 0:31:45 KREUZ, Kevin

2 0:33:37 LYONS, Steve Basalt Bike & Ski

3 0:34:52 GIBANS, Jon RFMBA Trail Agents

4 0:35:08 HANDWERK, Jeff

5 0:39:17 SLIVA, Glenn Ruedi

6 0:44:51 DIETHER, Fritz Frostbusters

7 0:46:01 KIERNAN, Marc

DNS MURTAGH, Patrick

Women 60+

1 0:39:01 CALLAHAN, Kathleen Limelight Hotel

Men 70+

1 0:36:51 OLENICK, Bob

2 0:38:25 IRELAND, Michael Register. Vote 2020

3 0:41:31 ADAMSON, John Twisted Spokes Racing

4 0:42:41 CROSS, Ed Limelight Hotel

5 0:45:35 OVEREYNDER, Phil

6 0:49:25 JONES, Larry

Men 80+

1 0:52:39 HARRISON, Jim

High School Boys

1 0:32:18 TRANTOW, Tristan CRMS

— Race Marshals: Jacques Frenchy Houot, Susan Handwerk, Butch Peterson, Jamie, Scott Leonard, Andrew Ralston

— Results may also be viewed at www.aspencyclingclub.org. Questions about results should be directed to results@aspencyclingclub.org.

Aspen Cycling Club: Results from Sky Mountain MTB time trial on Aug. 19

ASPEN CYCLING CLUB — WEEKLY RACE RESULTS

SKY MOUNTAIN MTB TIME TRIAL (COZYLINE-DEADLINE)

FROM WEDNESDAY, AUG. 19, 2020

Mens A (Open)

1 0:33:57 LEONARD, Scott Basalt Bike & Ski

2 0:34:18 KOSTER, Ryan Culver’s Glenwood Springs

3 0:34:50 STROKES, Greg STRAFE/RESQWATER

4 0:35:21 LOGAN, Levi RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

5 0:35:29 WACHTENDORF, Brett

6 0:35:39 CARPENTER, Corbin RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

7 0:36:50 LOEFFLER, Alexander FastG8

8 0:37:52 LOGAN, Mark Basalt Bike & Ski

9 0:38:37 CALLAHAN, John Limelight Hotel

10 0:38:44 SANTINI, Peter Limelight Hotel

11 0:39:36 NEWTON, Tyler Hub of Aspen

DNS KELLY, Christian RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

DNS WEISS, Anders RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

DNS DENNY, Steve

Womens A (Advanced)

1 0:44:57 BORCHERS, Emma RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

2 0:45:35 KNOTT, Courtney

Mens B (Advanced)

1 0:35:59 INKINEN, Sami

2 0:37:16 KLUG, Chris Hub of Aspen/Chris Klug Foundation

3 0:37:52 ADAMS, Casey Basalt Bike & Ski

4 0:38:00 TUDDENHAM, Luke Basalt Bike & Ski

5 0:39:08 BORCHERS, David Basalt Bike & Ski

6 0:39:34 MAPLE, Michael Hub of Aspen

7 0:40:11 ELLIOT, Simon Basalt Bike & Ski

8 0:41:19 WILLIAMS, Brian

9 0:41:40 THOMPSON, Nigel

10 0:41:54 HERSHBERGER, Jonathan Hub of Aspen

11 0:41:59 BRITTINGHAM, John

12 0:42:03 CHERNOSKY, David Groove Subaru

13 0:42:05 KIERNAN, Ryan

14 0:42:08 CALLE, Juan Basalt Bike & Ski

15 0:42:13 CIBULSKY, John Roaring Fork Cycling

16 0:43:40 RIBOUD, Douglas

17 0:48:11 GOTTLIEB, Benjamin Roaring Fork Cycling

Mens C (Sport)

1 0:49:09 SOHN, Paul Roaring Fork Cycling

DNS KELLOFF, Alex

Womens C (Sport)

1 0:54:33 SHAW, Sara Limelight Hotel

Mens 50+

1 0:43:13 BURKLEY, Rich Limelight Hotel

2 0:44:48 ARMSTRONG, Mike Basalt Bike & Ski

3 0:45:35 TRANTOW, George

Men 60+

1 0:44:49 GIBANS, Jon RFMBA Trail Agents

2 0:51:13 SLIVA, Glenn Ruedi

3 0:52:15 LYONS, Steve Basalt Bike & Ski

4 1:01:16 KIERNAN, Marc

DNS DIETHER, Fritz Frostbusters

Men 70+

1 0:56:07 JONES, Larry

DNS OVEREYNDER, Phil

High School Boys

1 0:39:23 KELLY, Chase Limelight Hotel

2 0:41:01 TRANTOW, Tristan CRMS

DNS FRIDAY, Sam

Middle School Girls

1 0:55:45 KENNY, Darienne Boo Bun Racing

— Race Marshals: John Grice, Chris Kelly, Jeffrey Cole, Steve Kelly, John Pratt, Jacques Frenchy Houot

— Results may also be viewed at www.aspencyclingclub.org. Questions about results should be directed to results@aspencyclingclub.org.

E-bike boom during the pandemic keeping Aspen area bike shops super busy

While facets of the economy are struggling because of the surging COVID-19 pandemic, Aspen bike shops are not one of them.

And much of the bike boom is thanks to e-bikes, though pedal-powered bikes also are making a comeback because they fit so well into social-distancing parameters.

“E-bikes brought the bike industry back,” said Patrick Dietz, owner of Aspen Bicycles on Hyman Street across from the Wheeler Opera House.

E-bikes are especially good for Aspen, he said. Unlike mopeds or motorcycles where a rider has to follow the rules of the road, e-bike riders can go on bike trails as well as paved and dirt roads. To top it all off, they’re environmentally friendly.

“It’s the best vehicle I’ve ever found for this town,” Dietz said, who’s been selling, renting and fixing bikes in Aspen for 45 years.

Dietz said he’s sold 200 e-bikes during the last four years, mainly to locals and second-home owners.

“Two hundred e-bikes in four years is a lot of e-bikes,” he said. “E-bikes sell more than regular bikes ever did — incredibly so.”

He also rents town-style e-bikes, as well as road and mountain-style e-bikes that can suit any rider.

Toni Sears, assistant manager at Basalt Bike and Ski, said the volume of e-bike sales at his shop this year is up probably 1,000% over last year.

“We had more bikes sold in eight weeks this spring than in the two years before,” he said. “We have people out there that otherwise wouldn’t be on a bicycle.”

But it’s not just e-bikes.

Bike shops in Aspen can’t keep lower-end, regular pedal-power bikes in stock. And if you’re looking for kids’ bikes, forget about it.

“If it’s below $4,000, it’s pretty much not available,” said Tim Emling, owner of The Hub of Aspen, located on Hyman Avenue near Aspen Art Museum. “If you’d have told me this would happen when they turned off the lifts (in March), I’d have said you were dreaming.

“It’s been crazy.”

The Hub, which mainly focuses on bike sales over rentals, has even taken over the next-door office of a realty company that moved out as a storage space just to keep up with demand. He said he recently somehow got a hold of six kids bikes, which haven’t even arrived yet and are already sold.

In addition, his service department is slammed with people digging bikes out of garages that haven’t been ridden in years because of the pandemic.

“We’ve had 40 bikes in for service for months,” Emling said.

Dietz said he’s particularly fond of his e-mountain bike, which is not allowed on area single-tracks but is ideal for double-track dirt roads and forest roads.

“I haven’t been up Aspen Mountain in 35 years (on a bike),” he said, “and I’ve been up it 10 times this year already.”

E-mountain bikes are perfect for riding up or down Midnight Mine or Little Annie roads, while touring or road e-bikes are popular for rides up to the Maroon Bells on Maroon Creek Road or to Ashcroft and the Pine Creek Cookhouse up Castle Creek Road, said Dietz and Sears.

“You don’t need to get in a car,” Dietz said. “It will take you wherever you want to go.”

Pryce Hadley, ranger supervisor for Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program, said that when he started in the summer of 2015 virtually all the bikes on area trails were pedal-powered. But since 2018, e-bikes are taking over a greater portion of the use every year, he said.

“We see a lot of e-bike traffic on the paved trails,” he said. “We call it the Woody Creek lunch bunch.”

Many Aspen tourists like to take the Rio Grande Trail down to the Woody Creek Tavern for lunch and, in pre-e-bike years, often would face a daunting uphill slog on pedal-powered bikes. Now, with e-bikes, the trip back to Aspen is much easier and the excursion has become even more popular, Hadley said.

And while the number of e-bikes has increased exponentially, the number of e-bike accidents on popular trails like the Rio Grande or Owl Creek have not, Hadley said. So far this summer, rangers have responded to 13 bike accidents on Open Space program trails and just three have involved e-bikes, he said.

“Definitely it’s a minority of accidents that involve e-bikes,” Hadley said, “which frankly is a little bit surprising.”

E-bikes are not allowed on single-track trails. While some riders do disregard the rules, the numbers are not high, he said. Still, if you’re caught on a single track with an e-bike, you will receive a ticket, Hadley said.

Gary Tennenbaum, director of the Open Space and Trails program, also said e-bike use is up “significantly” this year over last, though he agreed that overall bike use also has increased because of the COVID-19 epidemic.

“More people have more time to get outside,” Tennenbaum said.

He said he’s all for the trend.

“I have no issue with people on e-bikes,” Tennenbaum said. “Our biggest issue” is etiquette and people who don’t know how to pass and other rules of the trails.

E-bikers, as well as regular bikers, must announce themselves when passing other bikes or pedestrians, he said. In addition, they need to slow down around hikers and runners, be aware of who and what is around them and refrain from riding two and three abreast on trails and roads, he said.

“We need people to do that,” Tennenbaum said. “That has to happen. The education of people riding (e-bikes) needs to increase.”

Bike traffic has significantly increased on Maroon Creek Road and Castle Creek Road this year, he said. And while he’s less concerned about traffic on Maroon Creek because it is limited thanks to the bus shuttle service, Castle Creek is another story.

“Castle Creek is a free-flowing road,” Tennenbaum said. “I am worried that somebody’s gonna get hit. And I don’t want to blame it all on bikes. This year, motorists have been pretty bad too.”

Another problem area road popular with bikers is Fryingpan Road, which heads out of Basalt to Ruedi Reservoir.

“Fryingpan Road is a dangerous road,” he said, adding that he’s talked to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office about the issues.

The bottom line is bikers and drivers need to learn to be tolerant of one another.

“The use is not going to go away,” Tennenbaum said. “We all have to do our part. Everyone needs to play nice in the sandbox.”

jauslander@aspentimes.com