Colin Strickland Pushes His Body To The Limit On Infamous Road To Nowhere
Colin Strickland rides the Road to Nowhere, a 100-mile test ride on one of the most treacherous roads in his home state of Texas.
One of the world’s top gravel cyclists, Colin Strickland, teamed up with Red Bull to tell the story about the rise in gravel cycling, why it’s continuing to grow and how he is training his body to defend his title at this year’s prestigious 200-mile Unbound Gravel racing competition. Following an evaluation by the team at Red Bull’s Athletic Performance Center, Strickland put his body through the ultimate physical stress test on West Texas’ “Road To Nowhere.” With gravel bike in tow, he hit the road for over 100 miles in 98-degree heat, against 25mph winds and above 8,000 feet of elevation to optimize his athletic performance in preparation for the upcoming competition.
Journalist and former Unbound 200 competitor, James Stout, caught up with Colin over coffee and double helpings of breakfast tacos the day after he finished the Road to Nowhere to talk about gravel, training, and returning to racing.
Road to Nowhere
Q. How was the ride yesterday?
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike. The format of it, essentially a time trial, makes it incredibly painful. In a race, I have someone else to key off of and draft behind for respite from the driving wind. In a ride like this I just have to keep pedaling. At times I was almost full body cramping. I got ‘the claw’ hand when even my hands and fingers cramped up!
Q. Can you explain a bit about why this route was selected?
I scouted a few routes with Red Bull, even out in the panhandle of Texas, but I really like the solace of West Texas. Marfa is always my first stop when I drive from Austin to California. I like to stay at this campground [Colin sleeps in a truck top tent when he’s on the road] where they have great amenities and great coffee! The ride itself is the hardest road in Texas in my opinion, and I have ridden a lot of roads in Texas! It’s called by the locals the “Road to Nowhere” and it goes from Marfa, down Pinto Canyon road to Ruidosa – it sits right on the Rio Grande and the border with Mexico. Right there at the turn around is one of the oldest bars in Texas. The terrain is very rugged, and I found the descent really punishing. There’s really nowhere to rest on the whole course.
Q. What was the goal?
I think that what you saw was the goal, really. Just to find my breaking point and then hold myself together and keep putting out a respectable power output all the way to the finish. I think I went too deep on a training ride on the Saturday prior, so yesterday was a respectable power for me but there were some pacing issues. I tested out an all liquid fueling strategy as well, and that didn’t agree with me. It was one of the first times I’ve experienced real gastric distress on the bike.
Q. Talk us through your bike set up
This bike is designed to be extremely light. It’s based on an Allied Able frame with a Shimano GRX/ XTR groupset and Enve handlebars, stem, seatpost, and wheels. I use a specialized Romin Evo saddle which is very light. The tires are Specialized Pathfinder 42mm filled with Orange Seal to protect against any punctures. I run 45 PSI in the rear and 40 in the front. The gearing is what I used for Unbound in 2019, 46 up front and 11-40 on the rear. In hindsight, I needed more climbing gears to stay on the bike yesterday up the steepest, loosest pitches of the climb.
Before the Road to Nowhere, Colin traveled to Red Bull U.S. in Santa Monica in January 2021 to undergo performance evaluation and testing. The sports science team at their Athlete Performance Center (or APC) identified three areas to focus on in his training – heat absorption, climbing and oxygen utilization. Since then, he’s been training specifically to improve those areas and hopefully widen the gap between him and his competition before Unbound 200 on June 5.
Q What are the areas you’ve been focusing on?
When I went to the APC in Santa Monica, they came up with these three areas for me to focus my training. They were climbing, heat adaption, and oxygen consumption.
Q. And how do you improve each of those?
I’ve always trained on feel and listening to my body. They did mention I could try using a sauna for heat adaption, but I ride in the heat in Austin – I often ride through the heat of the day, which gives me my edge. I also think my Chihuahuan bloodline helps. When I look at my mother, she’s like me, her veins run on the outside of her muscles which is great for shedding heat. I am terrible in the cold - my body is optimized for shedding heat in the hot or the cold!
This seems to be working, Colin described the 98-degree high on the Road to Nowhere as “moderately hot”!
Q. How about the other two, oxygen consumption and climbing?
Well, the best way to get those is just to ride your bike a lot. I’ve always been someone who does a lot of volume. On Saturday [before the Road to Nowhere effort the following Tuesday] I did 112 miles at 24 mph average. I try to get those big rides in. Even if my FTP (the power a rider can sustain for about an hour of maximal effort) has gone down, that’s ok, what I am really good at is going hard for long distances. I can keep riding hard for eight to ten hours.
Q. That’s a perfect ability for gravel! Is that what gives you the edge?
Yeah, I came along at just the right time! I think there are a few things that help me in gravel. One is trying not to waste energy on the bike, staying off the brakes in corners etc. I also seem to do better the faster a race is, which is something I train for. I practice doing long hard rides and staying in that aerodynamic position.
Because Colin LOVES talking about his truck
Q: Can you tell us about your truck? It looks pretty special.
Yeah! I spent a lot of time learning about diesel mechanics last year. There were some weeks when I spent more time doing that than riding! It’s a Dodge 2500 Cummins Turbo diesel, and then I modified that quite a bit. On the back it’s an aluminum bed that I designed and had built locally. There are a couple of these 1 up contactless racks for my bikes, my YETI cooler and the tent up top is a GoFastCamper, which is also made in the USA out of aluminum. I pulled out the back seats as well so I can store more gear there. I’m thinking of taking the transmission and putting it in another car I just got and upgrading this one. The goal is to be able to finish up the renovation on my 35-foot Spartan trailer and go out on the road.