Winter Road Cycling in Mammoth Lakes with Sara Bergen

Jul 14, 2021

“The cold doesn’t bother me, says Canadian cyclist Sara Bergen, who’s based in Vancouver, British Columbia. “It’s sunny here! You just gotta be careful of that northern side of the road. And the giant snow berms.”

In the two weeks that Bergen stayed at the Mammoth Lakes Crib, she rode in Mammoth Lakes almost exclusively… in March… after the biggest February on record (24 feet of snow in a month). Bergen was not remotely fazed.

“I tried to bike up Old Mammoth Road,” she said with a laugh. “It’s closed. I found the end of it.” Yeah, it’s backcountry skiing access this time of year.

“I just kind of wait until the temperature is above freezing, and I stay out of the shade,” she says of her high country rides. “I cannot be falling on ice—that’s high-consequence.” Her best method for staying on dry asphalt? “I just ride in the middle of the road. People have been super cool.”

Most days, Bergen stuck to the same route: She’d cruise down Meridian Boulevard from The Crib’s location on Manzanita Street. Then she’d hit Highway 203 by Mammoth Community Water District and bank east. Then head south on 395, taking a detour up to Convict Lake. Then back down to Tom’s Place, where Bergen swung a U-turn to go back up the 395. She hit Convict again. Then the Mammoth Scenic Loop. It’s just shy of 100 kilometers (62 miles), Bergen says, and “it’s majestic.”

How do you fuel on long, cold rides?

Sara Bergen: “Pancakes!” says Bergen, who slathers them with peanut butter, then sprinkles them with nuts. She’s also a Clif-sponsored athlete, so “the Luna bars are deadly: Chocolate cupcake and chocolate brownie” are Bergen’s go-tos.

Sara also appeared on an episode of Cooking at The Crib. Get a peek at what Sara cooks for herself when she’s winding down at The Crib when she’s done training for the day.

What’s your approach to altitude training?

SB: “I’ve done altitude [training] before, but this approach has been a lot more scientific.” Bergen and her coach, Premier Performance’s Chris Rozdilsky, who is based out of Montreal, “pretty much talk every single day. He monitors my O2 saturation, heart rate variability…I just put the numbers in the spreadsheet.” While a lot of athletes strive to “live high, train low,” Bergen stuck to a schedule that kept her heart pumping at high altitude. “The whole idea is not to overcook you,” but to gain the benefits of training in a low oxygen environment.

What do you wear when training at 8,000 feet?

Bergen takes this opportunity to shout out to her sponsor, Borah Teamwear. She then launches into a five-minute explanation of her layering process.

SB: “I have a fear of getting cold, and if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go out and do this! I’m not turning around.”

So here goes the upper body:

  1. Wicking tank top
  2. Long sleeve base layer
  3. A “Gaba” (wind-resistant zip-up jersey)
  4. Long sleeve thermal jersey
  5. Thermal vest

She also carries a lightweight windbreaker shell. “My vest has three pockets. I’ll roll up the windbreaker in one pocket. In another, I have my tool roll. My third pocket has all my ride food. All my pancakes go in there.” She also wears a lightweight merino wool buff, as well as a merino toque (that’s Canadian for “beanie”). “Don’t forget gloves.”

Now for the lower body:

  1. Padded cycling shorts
  2. Thermal tights with suspenders (think ski gear)
  3. Gore-Tex booties.

“I’m thinking of making a time lapse video of all of these magical layers because it’s kind of comical,” said Bergen. Spoiler alert: She did, and it’s awesome.

Sorry if this is too personal, but what if you have to pee and there’s a giant snow berm on the side of the road?

Bergen laughs.

SB: “Well, our jerseys are bright neon orange, which is great for safety, but not great for peeing.” That’s where her layer system comes in. “I try and be as discreet as possible but I’m always just like, hey, it’s just a side profile of a bum.”

How do you choose your routes?

Bergen uses the app “Ride with GPS,” to plan a lot of her adventures. The app features ride profiles and reports from other users.

SB: “I’ve been doing this long enough now, sometimes you get some duds… but I usually just do Ride with GPS and hope for the best.” And she’s got her fellow cyclists, many of whom have also trained in Mammoth Lakes. “Lara [Kaylor, who manages The Crib], just put a Katie Hall jersey up” in The Crib, said Bergen. Hall gave Bergen some advice on riding in the Eastern Sierra. So did cyclists Leah Thompson and Amanda Knaumann. “Amanda sent me a bunch of her Strava routes, which was great,” says Bergen, but mostly she susses her rides out herself. “Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve done the travel-and-bike thing a fair bit now, so once I’ve got the basic beta, I like to explore on my own.”

How do you train when it’s really nasty outside?

SB: “The major limiter [in Mammoth Lakes] is if the roads are clear of snow, but I’ve been really lucky because Mammoth Lakes has those bluebird days,” says Bergen. There was a snowstorm at the tail end of Bergen’s trip, though. “I woke up at the crack of dawn and said, ‘Oh! There’s a foot of snow outside. So I just popped down to Bishop and rode there.”

Do you think you have an advantage in the crappy weather due to being a Canadian?

SB: “That’s so funny. My teammate is from Canmore, Alberta,” which is on the southern edge of Banff National Park. “And she always says, “Toughen up, you’re Canadian!” The weather can be an obstacle, Bergen says, but “if I wasn’t riding a bike, I’d be out there doing something else. If you don’t deal with the weather, you’re not going to be able to train.”

Sarah Rea

Sarah Rea has lived in the Sierra for 20 years (eight in Yosemite and seven so far in Mammoth Lakes), but has been eating cast iron skillet pancakes for most of her life. She learned how to make soap from bacon grease when she was four and has always loved picking wild berries. She thinks…

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