Interview with Cyclist Owen Gue: The World’s Best Cycling Routes

Owen Gue is the founder and own­er of The Cycling House, a  series of win­ter train­ing camps for cyclists in Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, and a num­ber of Euro­pean coun­tries. Owen is a pro­fes­sion­al cyclist who has been rac­ing since he was 14. By 18, he start­ed rac­ing the U.S. Nation­al Rac­ing Cal­en­dar and by 19 he was trav­el­ing and rac­ing non-stop from March through Sep­tem­ber. We talked to Owen to find out more about train­ing camps, win­ter rac­ing, and what he con­sid­ers the ulti­mate cycling route.

THE CLYMB: If you had to pick the best hill climb across the globe for cyclists, which one do you think wins first place and why?

OWEN GUE: In the U.S., Mount Lem­mon in Tuc­son, AZ takes the cake for me. It’s spe­cial because you can climb to over 8,000 feet in ele­va­tion in the mid­dle of win­ter, which is pret­ty hard to find. The climb starts in the Sono­ra desert, so you’re sur­round­ed by big saguaro cac­tus and prick­ly pear. You’ll climb through mul­ti­ple micro-cli­mates, pass by these incred­i­ble hoodoo rock for­ma­tions and when you get to the top you’re sur­round­ed by big pon­derosa pine trees and feel like Col­orado or Montana.

In Europe, I feel like the Col de Gal­i­bier via the Tele­graph in the French Alps is one of the best climbs I’ve ever done. It’s very chal­leng­ing but super reward­ing. It’s also spe­cial because you get to climb the exact same road that all of these epic Tour de France bat­tles have hap­pened and which you’ve prob­a­bly watched on TV. That’s pret­ty cool.

THE CLYMB: Can you tell us a bit about The Mon­tana Hell Ride and what makes it so spe­cial for cyclists search­ing for the ulti­mate chal­lenge? 

OG: It’s the ulti­mate test for the all-around rid­er. The route is 126 miles: 78 miles on pave­ment and 48 miles on dirt, with four major climbs total­ing over 8,200 feet. It’s not just a show-up-and-ride type of thing. You need to think about your equip­ment, appar­el, and over­all strategy.

Skalka­ho High­way has been described as one of the most scenic dirt road pass­es in the low­er 48 states.  At 21 miles it’s also one of the longest and most chal­leng­ing climbs you’ll ever face—and you do it twice.

THE CLYMB: Win­ter bik­ing is such a for­eign con­cept for many rid­ers. Can you talk about where to go to find the weath­er and routes a cyclist wants dur­ing the win­ter season?

OG: Rid­ing out­side in the win­ter can be near­ly impos­si­ble in many parts of the coun­try. You can still ride a train­er indoors but that gets pret­ty mind numb­ing after about an hour. What we’ve found is a week-long win­ter get­away is the per­fect way to break up the long, cold win­ters and get a jump start on your fit­ness for the spring and sum­mer. Tuc­son, AZ is one of the top win­ter des­ti­na­tions in the US. The weath­er is awe­some and the ter­rain is pret­ty tough to beat with flat, rolling hills and huge climbs to choose from. Cal­i­for­nia is anoth­er place many cyclists ven­ture dur­ing the win­ter. We like rid­ing in the Solvang area. There’s lit­tle to no traf­fic, beau­ti­ful routes and awe­some climbing.

THE CLYMB: You offer a win­ter train­ing camp for cyclists… Can you tell the read­ers what the camp is all about and what cyclists can get out of it?

OG: Basi­cal­ly we want­ed to offer an expe­ri­ence to rid­ers that is nor­mal­ly only reserved for pro rid­ers. Our camps are for men and women who have real jobs but who are also pas­sion­ate about rid­ing bikes. Most of our rid­ers are peo­ple with pro­fes­sion­al jobs but still find time to ride 2–4 days a week because it’s what they love to do.

We pro­vide accom­mo­da­tion, Sag sup­port, ride guides and mechan­i­cal sup­port. We’re based in one loca­tion which allows us to get out on 3–5 hour rides but then return to a home base every day to recharge, hang­out and recov­er. The main focus of every day is the ride but we also do bike handling/skills clin­ics, descend­ing and corn­ing clin­ics, bike main­te­nance and a nutri­tion talk. We aren’t a coach­ing com­pa­ny so we don’t push coach­ing plans on peo­ple but if you have ques­tions about train­ing and fuel­ing, we love talk­ing about that stuff. I think what makes our camps spe­cial is our staff.

I think the biggest appre­hen­sion for some folks with com­ing to camp is that they don’t want to hold every­body up because they think they’re too slow. I think we’re real­ly good at man­ag­ing dif­fer­ent abil­i­ty lev­els and we help steer rid­ers into the best week for them based off of what they tell us about they’re cur­rent fit­ness lev­el. Ulti­mate­ly, as long as the rid­er wants to be on the bike every­day and is look­ing for a week of sun­shine and good com­pa­ny, they’re going to suc­ceed at our camp.

THE CLYMB: What’s the hard­est route you’ve tak­en and why?

OG: When we were scop­ing out routes for the Mon­tana Hell Ride my friend and col­league Shaun Radley mapped out a route he thought was going to be per­fect.  It also hap­pened to be just before my wed­ding so we turned it into my “bach­e­lor par­ty” ride. We talked 10 of our friends and Cycling House staff to do the ride with us to see if it would make the cut for turn­ing it into the offi­cial Hell Ride. It was the tough­est day I’ve ever had on the bike.

The mileage was­n’t huge but it was a nasty mix of Mon­tana log­ging roads, sin­gle track, dirt roads and high­ways with so much up and down that we nev­er had a flat sec­tion of road all day. It was bru­tal. By the end of the day we had 16 flat tires, we were out of food and water and had logged over 10 hours in the saddle.

I had a hang­over but it was­n’t the kind you’d expect from a bach­e­lor par­ty. We end­ed up find­ing a much bet­ter route for the Mon­tana Hell Ride but we would have nev­er known if we did­n’t go and do it.

THE CLYMB: If you could cycle any route in the world tomor­row, where would you go?

OG: If I could ride any route tomor­row it would be to ride from Glac­i­er Nation­al Park to Yel­low­stone Park. We just devel­oped this route ear­li­er this year and will be run­ning a trip on it next sum­mer but I’ve nev­er done the whole thing yet. A few of the oth­er staffers here have done it and they rave about this thing.

It goes along the front range of the Rocky Moun­tains through rur­al Mon­tana so it’s beau­ti­ful, des­o­late and big. I could­n’t do it in one day but as a mul­ti-day trip it’d be sweet. I’d also bring a friend along because it could get a lit­tle lone­ly out there on the range.

By Diana Bocco