The Grand Valley: an endurance athlete’s mecca?
By Brent Steinberg
The Grand Valley is known for providing cyclists with world-class mountain bike trails. However, there’s much more than just great trail riding.
The Grand Valley is one of the most overlooked places for cyclists and endurance athletes to live and train. While places such as Bend, Ore., and Boulder have been called the endurance capitals of the world, the Grand Valley could be ranked on a list with them. Here is why:
The Grand Valley does not have a big city feel or population. For athletes, this means roads, trails, and other training grounds are hardly ever crowded. With little traffic and open roads, cyclists have safe options to ride. The Grand Valley also has very affordable cost of living, which is often an important component to most financially weak endurance athletes.
Yes, the mountain bike trails are great, but roads are just as good. They are smooth and safe; from the famous Colorado National Monument to the low traffic and open roads through the farm lands, vineyards and wineries. Unlike many regions, we have access to training on flat roads, rolling hills, long climbs, and dirt roads within miles of each town. Not to mention hundreds of miles of trail to hone in your technical skills and refresh your mind!
At just 4,600 feet, the Grand Valley is not terribly high in elevation, but is just about low enough to not affect top-end power. Elite athletes looking for altitude training, can easily sleep or train amid the aspen trees above 8,000 feet with a 30-45 minute drive.
The more serious endurance athletes become about their fitness, the more scientific training becomes. The Monfort Human Performance Lab (HPL) at Colorado Mesa University is a state-of-the-art testing center that can monitor everything from VO2 and body fat tests, to gait analysis and more. For local cyclists, the HPL is an incredible resource that can test fitness and performance goals during a season to numerically measure if an athlete’s training plan is working.
Local competitive cycling events are also growing. When I moved here in 2008, there were minimal competitive events. Since then, LTR Sports and Livetrainrace.com Cycling team have brought cycling events to the forefront. Road criteriums, mountain bike races, and cyclocross races are growing and back on the expanding schedule for 2012. Local races not only provide great competition in a fun atmosphere, but help athletes gauge their fitness level and training before other large regional or national events.
Mild winters, sunny, low moisture. Warm in the spring, summer, and fall. If 90-degree temperatures are too much, the higher elevations of the Pinyon and Grand Mesas provide cooler air, beautiful flowers and greenery, and a comfortable training ground close to town. Training in bad conditions is minimal; snow and rain are often a rarity. However, there are great opportunities close by if the weather is bad. An hour and a half and you’re in Moab where it could be dry and warmer. Looking to mix it up in the winter or cross train? In 45 minutes to an hour you can ski, back country ski, or Nordic ski on groomed trails on the Grand Mesa.
While the Grand Valley is not currently known as a hot-ticket training ground, it is certainly has what it takes, except for hordes of endurance geeks. There are many good reasons to see that it works. Previous “Ride” cover cyclists, Ross Schnell and Cat Morrison have reached the top of their respective disciplines via training in the Grand Valley. Ex-roomates and teammates of mine, Conor and Kevin Mullervy spent the last five years training in the Grand Valley. They went from amateur junior cyclists to collegiate national champions and now have contracts with one of the biggest professional road teams in the domestic peloton, Team Exergy. Mike Driver of LTR Sports has used the area to his advantage to become multiple time mountain bike state champion.
As for me, I’ve taken advantage of these resources to work my way to a top-20 placing at the 2011 U.S. Professional National Mountain Bike Championships. I’ve covered everything from training on roads and trails, to altitude training and testing at the Monfort Human Performance Lab. All I can say is the Grand Valley has what it takes to support a much larger, stronger, and fitter core of endurance athletes than it currently has. Maybe in five years we will be on the map. If not, I’ll still be happy using the best training grounds to myself to achieve bigger goals!