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