by Gary Harty
Colorado has no shortage of climbing challenges. The racing calendar offers Lookout Mountain, Sunshine Canyon, Mike Horgan race up Magnolia or Sugarloaf, Guanella Pass, and Pikes Peak. Non-racers can also challenge themselves with Ride the Rockies, the Triple Bypass, and the Courage Classic to just name a few. Hill climbing and mountain riding have become staples of the Colorado racing and riding scene. Where did it all begin? I think it can be argued that Mt. Evans started the movement when sanctioned races began in 1962. Twenty-eight miles, almost 7,000 feet of climbing, and a finishing altitude over 14,000 feet, that is the Mt. Evan Hill Climb. Today it is more popular than ever.
We have several races in Colorado that are memorial races in honor of someone who loved racing but is no longer with us. I began my first tentative steps into racing in 1976 and I am ashamed to say that I didn’t know who it was that we were racing to honor in my first memorial races. Bob Cook is a little different for me. I watched him race as a young senior and marveled at what he could do, especially in the mountains. He dominated on the local scene and more than held his own against national caliber riders. He became the hope for Colorado race fans as we thought he might actually win the Coors Classic overall title. Twice in successive years, a broken collarbone prevented that dream from coming true.
I can’t say I knew Bob, but I did meet him once. What I didn’t know when I first joined Columbine Cycle Club was that Bob had been a member of Columbine as a young junior. That was before his enormous talent was recognized and one of the first significant team sponsors in Colorado was able to sign Bob. He raced most of his senior career with Life Force Foods, popularly referred to as the Sprouts. He also rode for the National Team and qualified for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, the Olympics that the U.S. boycotted. Many of my friends and colleagues in racing knew Bob well. The things that impressed everyone, beyond his cycling ability, were his kindness and his humility.
One day when headed out on a training ride while riding south on Lowell Blvd. as it heads through Ft. Logan Hospital, I was passed by Bob as he was presumably finishing a training ride and returning to his home in Englewood. As he approached me from behind he must have recognized that he was overtaking a lowly Cat 4 rider. As he passed, I recognized him instantly and before I could speak he flashed me a winning smile and offered a friendly hello. He was a national caliber rider and I was at the other end of the spectrum. That didn’t matter to Bob. He treated me the same way he treated everyone else, with respect and dignity. Not a single trace of arrogance existed in him; I was just a fellow rider enjoying a ride.
He retired from racing at the end of the 1980 season. A Coors Classic victory, an Olympic medal, another record time up Mt. Evans were not to be. There would be no professional contract in Europe, which I am sure he could have pursued if he had wanted. It was rumored that Jonathon Boyer, the first American to ride the Tour de France, was actively recruiting him to join him in Europe on a European team. But Bob had other ideas. He had blazed a trail with highest honors through the University of Arizona in Aerospace Engineering and had already accepted a job offer from Martin Marietta. And he wanted to give back to Colorado Racing. That provided the opportunity for me to actually meet Bob. He came to one of our club meetings when I was in my first year as president of Columbine Cycle Club. He was returning to his roots and wanted to know how he could help our club in a volunteer capacity. He was willing to do anything to help from stacking hay bales at a race to lending expertise and mentoring to our young racers. Clearly the latter would have been the more appropriate task. But he was not too proud to offer assistance in other areas.
Sadly, his life would not last another year. An inoperable brain tumor tragically ended his life at the age of 23. Colorado was richer for his contributions during his life and it was poorer for having lost this fine gentleman so soon. I wrote a brief note of encouragement to Bob towards the end of his life. And then he was gone. Shortly after that I received a hand written note from Ellen Cook, Bob’s mother, thanking me for my note. She relayed how much he looked forward to mail, visits, and phone calls each day. I don’t know where a parent finds the strength to bury a child. And I don’t know where she found the strength to write letters to strangers during a period of grief. I still have that letter kept with my other other race memorabilia. It is one of my most prized possessions. As you climb Mt. Evans, as you soar toward the clouds, as you ride to where only eagles dare go, feel his courage and his spirit to help you conquer his mountain.