Starting from the mouth of Provo Canyon’s South Fork, you race up 3,000 vertical feet on a road bike towards Sundance Resort before the pitch mellows slightly heading up the road near Mt. Timpanogos. Your heart is pounding, your muscles are on fire and you’re wondering why you decided to participate in the first place. That is Sufferfest, and it’s as brutal as it sounds. But the views are unbeatable and the award is a full year of bragging rights.
This year, U.S. Ski Team member Ryan Cochran-Siegle was fastest in the 8.8-mile annual climb, reclaiming the title for alpine and “smashing all expectations,” according to Mike Bahn, USSA’s strength and conditioning coordinator.
“All of us are competitive people. … I think it’s just cool to be able to take that into something that doesn’t really affect us, but at the same time, winning it is fun,” Cocharn-Siegle shared. “I don’t have a road jersey to wear, and then when I heard that the winner got a road jersey, I said, ‘Oh, that would be really cool to win.’ So, I was pretty excited about that.”
The race is used as a capstone goal at the end of the U.S. Ski Team athletes’ summer conditioning block. According to USSA, each racer is tested prior to competing to determine a handicap. Start times are assigned based on two tests: a lactate threshold test on a stationary bike and a time trial bike ride. Theoretically, the athletes should all finish around the same time because of the handicaps. Cochran-Siegle started 24 minutes after the first starter, speed skier Breezy Johnson, and 16 minutes before his cousin-in-law, Adam Cole.
“The climb is an amazing test of physical endurance,” said Bahn. “You have to be able to withstand a near-maximal effort for between 45 and 60 minutes with no flats or downhills for breaks.”
Former winners include U.S. Ski Team Head Men’s Coach Sasha Rearick and retired World Cup athlete Will Brandenburg. Last year, retired freestyle skier, Eliza Outtrim, took the win. The 2016 winner thinks his victory was due to a combination of improved fitness, more comfort with road biking and also greater familiarity with the route, which he had ridden once before five years ago.
“You have retired athletes, Olympic-caliber endurance athletes, recreationally athletic staff members, all competing on a level playing field,” Bahn explained. “First one to the top wins, doesn’t matter your gender, age, discipline or position. Anybody and everybody has a chance to to win it.”
Do you have a workout that deserves the title “Sufferfest?” Tell us in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of the T2 Foundation