You Have: Regularly ridden 30 miles three days a week, mostly on rolling terrain.
You Want: To tackle some professional-grade climbs.
The Trip: The USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a seven-day stage race billed as the American Tour de France, is based in Colorado for a reason: it’s the only place in the States that can rival the climbs in the Alps. Your goal is Independence Pass, just outside Aspen, a 12,095-foot switchbacked monster where Lance Armstrong occasionally rides. If you’re on a recession-proof budget, drop your bags at the Little Nell (doubles from $565), which offers cyclists complimentary GPS units and helmet cams. Or save cash at the Hearthstone House (doubles from $149). Warm up on these three rides. Day one: Ease in. Acclimatize on the mostly flat, 42-mile Rio Grande Trail, which runs the length of the Roaring Fork Valley. Feeling strong? Connect the ride with the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Trail for another 16 miles through a spectacular canyon along the Colorado River. Day two: Ramp up. Spin from Basalt to Ruedi Reservoir, a 16-mile route along the Frying Pan River, including a steep mile-long ascent just outside the town of Basalt. Extra credit: once you get to the reservoir, extend the ride another 14 miles to where the pavement ends at Hagerman Pass for a 60-mile out-and-back. Day three: Short climb. Aspen to Ashcroft, a 15-mile moderate climb (with a couple of steep sections) up Castle Creek Road to the ghost town of Ashcroft, will build strength. To extend the ride, descend back to the Aspen roundabout, then climb a 5 percent grade for seven miles up to the Maroon Bells. Day four: Tackle Independence Pass, a 20-mile climb that starts just outside of town and gains 4,200 feet while passing snowfields. Pack a good shell—your sweat will freeze as you zip down.
Essential Gear: Riding in the mountains, where afternoon showers and temperature fluctuations of 30 degrees or more are normal, is all about micro-adjustments. Midweight arm warmers like Pearl Izumi’s Thermal Lite Arm Warmers ($20) are great because you can roll them down on the fly when you start heating up. Even if the forecast is good, you’ll want an ultralight wind-and-rain-resistant shell like Hincapie’s Pocket Shell ($90).