The Tour of Utah has been called "America's toughest stage race." Taking place this year from Aug. 6 to Aug. 12, it's one week of riding up and down hills that are more properly called mountains and riding past resort lifts on narrow mountain roads, handlebar to handlebar, wheel to wheel in the peloton, which this year numbers over 120 riders, both men and women.
The altitude and the steepness of the routes are always a factor, but this year also offers extreme temperatures throughout the state.
One of the competing athletes is Nigel Ellsay from British Columbia. It's his third year in the race, and at the time of this writing, he was happy with his efforts — and also with the success of ongoing efforts to keep the heat at bay.
Ellsay has good advice to offer about staying cool while riding in hot weather. "One of the things riders do is drink cold drinks, even a slushy. Cooling off the inside of the body helps when you're trying to stay cool on the outside."
He says riders also use ice packs. "The team makes them up," he says. "They are made of pantyhose. Ice is put in the bottom of the pantyhose leg, and a knot is tied in the leg to hold the ice in and also make the ice pack the size the rider wants. We put them around our necks. That's one of the most efficient places. A lot of racers also put ice packs in their armpits. No matter where the ice is, as it melts, it drips down and wets our clothing and skin, which also adds a cooling factor.
"The team staff makes up about four or five ice packs for each rider for each race. The pantyhose ice packs mold exactly to whatever part of the body they are placed."
These ad hoc ice packs also work well for hikers and others exposed to scorching temperatures. A family-sized bundle of them can be put in a large cooler, which will prevent any melting while getting to your destination.
Of course, no rider will pull over and stop to replace a melted ice pack. Ellsay explains that team support personnel will hand packs to riders, and the rider will guide the bike with one hand while placing the pack with the other. "Some riders will let go of the handle bars and use both hands to place the ice packs because that's quicker," he says.
While recreational riders are concerned about getting high speeds while going down a hill, Ellsay says that downhill speed is not as risky as some civilian riders may think. The momentum helps stabilize the bike. On some downhills, he and the other athletes hit speeds of over 50 miles per hour.
While there are a few hopeful contenders who also have a day job, there are not many. "It's very difficult to have a job and also train to race well," Ellsay says. "I train an average of 20 hours a week. If you're working 30-40 hours a week, it doesn't leave you very much time to train."
Training time aside, there's one problem that affects both pro riders and bike commuters: riding on a wet surface. Ellsay says one thing helps with stability: having good tires. He gets new tires for every race from Kanga, his bike tire sponsor.
If it's a rainy day, Ellsay suggests lowering the tire pressure slightly, "so it's only 70 or 80 PSI. Also, if you live in an area where it rains a lot, get wider tires. Most people use 25 millimeter wide tires, but for rainy areas, a 28 millimeter wide tire offers a lot more stability. Though it's just a few millimeters wider, that with the lower pressure will help keep you upright," he says.
Good advice from a hard rider.