Mercier: Finding sanity in uphilling while waiting for cycling season

Scott Mercier
Special to The Aspen Times

Scott Mercier
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Wow. Winter just won’t give up!

That’s great for skiing, but I’m ready for some outdoor riding. There are only so many hours I can sanely ride on an indoor trainer — 72 and sunny is sounding pretty nice right about now.

Once again, I’ll have to delay my column on some training ideas to increase power. It’s just too cold for me to put in the anaerobic efforts to get a baseline test. For that matter, it’s just too cold to ride outside. Period.

Fortunately, there are other ways to burn calories and maintain a semblance of fitness. Aspen has a great uphill skiing tradition and I’ve jumped in with enthusiasm.

Every Tuesday at 7 a.m. a group of us meet at the gondola. It’s typically Dr. Kaz, Karim, Neal and myself. Although, last week, most of the summer 7 a.m. riding crew showed up, which meant it was harder than usual. It was 73 minutes to the lodge — and I was dead last by a significant margin. There’s nothing like one of the Gaston boys literally doing pirouettes around you to make you feel old, slow and out of shape.

I have a quiver of excuses to explain why I’m slow going uphill. One of my favorites is the old man card — except that Neal is pretty close to pulling the trigger on his social security. But let’s be honest, Neal’s a bit of a freak. Who climbs Everest in three weeks? Freaks do.

I also whine about how heavy my backcountry equipment is — except that this past week I borrowed Karim’s lighter gear and still got crushed. Another card I play is that I’m too heavy — except that Klug outweighs me by a good stone and was already warming by the fire when I staggered into the lodge.

My final whine card is that, since I live about 1,500 feet lower than all these guys, it’s the altitude. That’s the one I’m going with — I’m good until about 10,000 feet and then just can’t push it anymore. It has to be that. There’s no way I just suck that badly! A doc buddy suggested Viagra to help with the altitude. But let’s be honest, I’m already a stiff.

Regardless of my whining, I’ve fallen in love with uphilling. It’s not a direct replacement for putting miles in the saddle, but it’s great cross training none the less. An hour-plus of grinding uphill burns a ton of calories. I’m not able to push myself anywhere near my max heart rate, but I’m slogging away at zone 3 and building a solid base for the start of the cycling season.

The social and psychological benefits can’t be overstated, either. For many, myself included, the short days and cold temperatures can induce the winter blues and mild depression. Forcing yourself to get out — even when it’s freezing — can help to improve your mood.

Plus, there’s nothing like peer pressure to get you out. I tried to back out one morning because it was way too cold to be outside. The ridicule from my friends was swift and severe, both the night before and the morning of when I met them at the base of the gondi.

Every Tuesday evening when I get home my wife asks me how the “race” was. And every Tuesday I tell her that I got my ticket punched. Luckily, I’m not competitive, so I don’t really care!

I am, however, plotting some sweet revenge for when the days do warm up and we can put the rubber on the road. And if for some reason my revenge blows up in my face, well, I’ll just recycle my quiver of excuses.

Summer is coming — but we can enjoy the snow while it’s here.

Good riding.

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 teams. He currently works as a private wealth adviser in Aspen and can be reached at


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