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Cognoscenti Day 1

Cognoscenti Boulder Downtown

Day 1 of my Cognoscenti adventure started with Karl Maier, one of the founders of Cognoscenti, picking me up from the Airbnb house where I was staying in Denver, and transporting my bike and I to the St. Julien Hotel in Boulder.  My home for the next six days.

Andrew Knowles, the other founder of Cognoscenti, met us in the lobby of the hotel, where I was given my rain bag, stuffed with goodies.  Bottles, Townie Syndicate tire levers and tools, Skratch Labs hydration and nutrition products, chamois cream, sun block, moisturizer, waterproof pouch, cap, and some bedtime reading.  Note the name tag.  A nice touch.

Cognoscenti Day 1 Goodies

Cognoscenti provided everything I needed to ride, apart from a bicycle, shoes and helmet.  We all received a pair of Panache Cyclewear bibshorts and a jersey.  Cognoscenti styled.

Photograph courtesy of Kevin Batchelor

Photograph courtesy of Kevin Batchelor

I had a few minutes to check in to my room and change into riding gear before heading out to the back patio of the hotel to meet the other participants and the Cognoscenti support crew.

Photograph courtesy of

Photograph courtesy of

We took over the grassy area along the back wall nearest the road.  That is where I was reunited with my bike, now sporting a name label on the top tube.

Cognoscenti Day 1 Bike Rack

Unsurprisingly, I had come from the furthest away.   Richard and his wife had flown in from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Matt and his wife had driven from Eu Claire, Wisconsin.  Brothers Scott and Steve had driven together from Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska.  And Mindy and Pam had come from just up the road in Aspen, Colorado.

Our professional guest cyclist for the day was Sarah Lukas, who rides for the Amy D. Foundation team.  Having one or more current or ex-professional riders with us on every ride was both a highlight and a challenge.  A highlight because to a person they were always willing to chat, and to provide a pull.  A challenge because they made real the gulf in cycling ability between we mortals and the professional peloton.

We were also joined each day by at least one editor from VeloNews.  Names familiar to me from the VeloNews website appeared before me in the flesh:  Chris Case (Managing Editor), Spencer Powlison ( Editor), Brad Kaminski ( Photography Editor), Dan Cavallari (Technology Editor), and Neal Rodgers (Editor at Large).

While the cast of professional riders and VeloNews editors changed daily, the Cognoscenti guides were a constant.  The full support we received all week was thanks to Jon Robichaud, Russ Folger, Tristan Brown and Patrick Walker.  These guys meant it when they said they would provide full support.  Our bikes were washed and tuned after each ride.  When we took our bikes off the rack to start a ride, bottles full of Skratch Labs hydration were already in the cages.  A support van and at least one other vehicle were always nearby.  Fresh chilled bottles were always available.  As was an endless supply of those now famous Skratch Labs rice cakes and cookie bars.

Fully prepped, we headed out on what was described as an “acclimatization spin.”  A 57.5km / 36mi ride along the flats of Boulder County to St. Vrain Road and back.  There was about 475m / 1,560ft of climbing.  Which was a lot for me, but as I was to discover, was just a hint of what was to come.

Cognoscenti Day 1 Route

The ride was relatively fast for me.  Which signalled trouble, because I could already see that my new friends were all stronger riders than I was.  I was struggling with the lower air pressure and oxygen levels.  Boulder is 1,655m / 5,430ft above sea level.  Which translates to 17% less oxygen by volume than is available at sea level.

It was also hot at 32.8°C / 91.0°F.  With a 24kph / 15mph westerly wind.  Not the time to have only an apple and three coffees in the fuel tank.

Despite my panting in the hot and dry air, I did enjoy the ride.  Especially the gravel sections.  Riding unpaved roads like those was new to me.  It took a while to get comfortable riding on the loose surface.  Oddly enough I felt more comfortable on the rutted sections, which felt like the cobbles of South Holland and Belgium.

Cognoscenti Day 1 Dirt Road 1

The last 6km / 3.5mi were along the Boulder Creek bike path.  Where I was at last able to catch my breath.

Photograph courtesy of Dan Hugo

Photograph courtesy of Dan Hugo

We were greeted back at the St. Julien by slices of iced and salted watermelon, and iced towels to drape over the backs of our necks.  Our bikes were taken from us to be washed.  We were given mesh bags for our used kit, which would be laundered overnight.  See what I mean about first-class support?

We had an hour or so to shower and freshen up before meeting in the St. Julien lobby for a drink with our pro rider and VeloNews guests.  Then we walked the short distance to PMG for dinner.

Cognoscenti believes that Boulder is one of the best intersections of cycling and food and wine in the world.  We had just had some fabulous cycling, and PMG did not disappoint on the food front.  Shared plates of fried eggplant, crostini with English peas and ricotta, Tuscan kale salad, Burrata with heirloom tomatoes and bagna cauda, tortellini with butter and sage, swordfish, and roast chicken came one after the other out of the kitchen.  Luckily I still had room for the chocolate pot de crème and fresh peaches for dessert.

Cognoscenti Day 1 PMG Food

Bring on Day 2.

The Cognoscenti Adventure

Cognoscenti Logo

Ever since my riding buddy Keat embarked on Silk Route 2014 with Tour d’Afrique, I have been taken with the idea of a cycling vacation. Perhaps not as long as Keat’s Shanghai to Istanbul ride. And perhaps with accommodation a bit less spartan than a tent. I do like my comfort.

I came across Rapha Travel. Their rides take in some spectacular countryside, but I wondered if the riding might be a little harder than I would like.

Trek Travel is another well established cycling vacation provider. Trek appears to cater to a wider spectrum of rider types.

Some ex-professional bike racers have gone into the cycling vacation business.  Andy Hampsten, the 1988 Giro d’Italia winner, founded Cinghiale Cycling Tours, which offers cycling experiences in Italy.  There are of course a host of other cycling tour companies to choose from.

The cycling vacation idea got pushed to the back of my mind as work and other distractions took precedence. Instead I took the occasional cycling weekend trip to participate in century rides in Ipoh, Kota Bahru and Manjung.

Then in June 2015 I saw a short article about a cycling vacation in the online edition of VeloNews. It was titled “Climb All Day, Eat All Night, and Get Up Close and Personal With the Pros.”

I watched the embedded video about Cognoscenti and I took the bait. I clicked through to the Cognoscenti website and read the details for their “Tours for the cycling and food aficionado.” Including the following description for all six of the Cognoscenti trips for 2015:

  • Luxury accommodations at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa – Mountain View Room
  • Professionally led, fully supported rides with pro-cyclists as guides and coaches
  • Gourmet dinners, including beer & wine at the best restaurants in Boulder
  • All breakfasts & lunches
  • Education sessions with Boulder sports luminaries
  • Professional Trainer led stretching and core building sessions
  • Access to daily massage therapy
  • Support vehicle for each ride staffed by a pro bike mechanic
  • Fresh gourmet on bike nutrition supplied by Cured & Skratch Labs
  • Custom bib shorts, jersey & socks by Panache Cyclewear
  • Custom Cognoscenti Rain Bag, t-shirt & cap
  • Professional photographer providing photographs of your experience

The unique elements of the trip I was interested in was the opportunity to ride with the editors of VeloNews and Velo Magazine, to visit the start of Stage 6 and to watch a portion of Stage 7 of the USA Pro Challenge.

I was hooked! Especially as the August 21st to 26th dates worked for me.

There was one more thing to do before sending in my reservation and booking flights. Find out if Alchemy Bicycle Company could build me a new bicycle in time for the Cognoscenti ride.

The answer is in my next post.

Photograph courtesy of Cognoscenti

Photograph courtesy of Cognoscenti