TAKE AN INTIMATE LOOK AT THE GRUELING WORLD OF THOSE WHO PEDAL IN THE SHADOW OF LANCE ARMSTRONG
Imagine a place of untoward beauty, serpentine roads rising up into space through corridors of dancing aspen and shining lodgepole pine, offering craggy mountaintop vistas and cheery blue skies. Attendant with this rise, an ascension into rarefied air - 9,000, 10,000, 11,000 feet. Under the right conditions - say, exiting a struggling car to stand in respectful silence - the air at such heights enters the lungs in a thin, but exquisitely cool, draft, hard-fought sips from the sweetest fountain.

Now imagine - and it's not hard to do, all you need is a single, visceral day with the Prime Alliance Cycling Team - racing up these steeps on a bicycle, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, seven Rocky Mountain passes, 140 miles in all, from Boulder to Breckenridge, Colorado, as fast as humanly possible. It's a day at the office few can imagine.

"What does it feel like?" says Michael Creed, the night before the 2002 Saturn Classic race. "Well, for about the first 30 miles it won't be so bad. I mean it will suck, but it won't be real bad. It's all relative. Say somebody doused you in gasoline and set your whole body on fire. OK, that sucks, that's horrible. Then, they put you out, and only your arm is on fire. And you're like, 'Well yeah, it's not as bad,' but it still sucks, eh? It's kind of like that."