Sunday, October 31, 2010

Next Race

[official results] [route map] [series description]

This week's entry in the Low Key Hillclimb Series was a hill that I had never ridden before. The road is East Dunne Ave near the town of Morgan Hill. It is about 35 miles from home and in an area that I rarely ride in. The forecast called for rain that day, so there was a good chance that the ride would be canceled.

It was dry when I left home, but 40 minutes later when I arrived at the registration, there was a light drizzle. Normally I would have skipped the risk of riding a slick hillside, but I had already invested in a long drive to get there. Plus, the allure of a new climb was too tempting.

We had a five mile ride to the actual start location. When the time came to start, the rain had stopped and blue sky was starting to appear on the horizon. This made all the riders happy. Because the road is narrow and we had close to 100 riders, everyone was started in batches of around 2o. People self-organized with the faster riders going first. I started with the fifth (the last) group.

Because the group was dispersed by the staggered start, there was less bunching that what happened last week. Still I passed a couple riders early while a few passed me.

The grade was fairly consistent and never exceptionally steep, but I felt I was not keeping as strong a pace as I normally would. I am guessing that the cool wet weather affected me, since I tend to thrive better than most in the heat.

The promise of clearing that we saw at the start disappeared as we rose in elevation. Pretty quickly, we entered thick mist. There was intermittent rain until the end. There was a downhill stretch in the middle of the climb, but I had to limit my speed there. My brakes were wet and had lost much of their effectiveness. I had to keep a speed at which I could still come to a stop if needed.

I passed one rider and stayed ahead of her for a while, but she passed me on the downhill section and stayed ahead until the finish. A half mile from the finish, a cyclist I passed just after the start passed me again. There was one last steep climb before the finish and I passed him there. But I used all my energy and he passed me again 20 yards from the end. We both put all our remaining strength into a sprint finish. But unlike last week, I did not have enough to win the sprint.

Photo by Thomas Preisler.

My final position was similar at 84 out of 86 men, and 94 out of 98 overall. Those numbers sound weak in print, but it was a fun, challenging ride. It was a slow, wet, cold descent back to the car. The long, hot shower at home was heavenly.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Low Key Again

[official results] [route map] [series description]

It has been two years since the last time I rode in the Low-Key Hillclimb series. These are the informal races done each fall, on some of the steepest Bay Area hills. I could not attend the first two of the series this year. Since they were roads I ride often, I did not miss much. The third one was a new route for me — Portola Redwoods State Park.

The road to the park is a small, remote, dead-end road. After registration at the summit (where Vaishali dropped me), all the riders descended down to the park entrance. Having a few minutes until the start, I rode further down the road into the park and back uphill to warm up my legs.

A mass of 116 cyclists lined up in a pack at the start. Fortunately not many cars came by needing to go through, because the road was fully blocked for a few minutes. The group lurched forward slowly upon "go" since the road was moderately steep right from the beginning. A couple riders had to stop because they were in too high a gear to pedal uphill. One stopped right in front of me. It was difficult to maneuver at slow speed to get around him with other cyclists just inches away from me, but I managed to keep pedaling and get past.

The mass of riders at the starting line. You cannot see me because I am too far in the back. Photo by Bill Bushnell.

The pack soon stretched out to a more narrow queue. From the beginning, I kept a strong pace (for me). I intentionally started at the back of the pack since I knew most of the riders are much stronger than I. Still, several people behind me passed me, but I was also passing a few.

The road never flattened, but fluctuated between moderately steep, steep, and significantly steep. I wondered whether I was keeping a sustainable pace because I was pedaling faster than I normally would on a road this hilly. My final average speed of 7.7 miles per hour probably does not sound too difficult, but considering the terrain, it surprised me to go that fast.

Around the halfway point of the 5 mile course, the pack positions stopped changing much. I had been pacing myself behind another rider for the past mile, but I felt I could pass him and sustain a slightly faster speed. By now we had left road to the park and we were on West Alpine Rode, which I had ridden several times was familiar with.

I did not rest on the flatter sections in order to keep up my pace.
Photo by Judy Colwell.

At a relatively flat section, I was quickly passed by another rider. However, the road pitched up again and I was able to close the distance between us. It felt like he was keeping a pace I could sustain. At a couple points, I thought I had the energy to pass him, but I decided against that because I did not know if I would be able to remain in front of him. I decided I would stay back until closer to the finish. It is nice knowing the road because I knew roughly how far away the finish was and generally which parts are steeper and flatter before reaching them.

As we neared the end, I breathed deep and readied myself for a final surge. When I saw that the finish was 20 yards away, I pedaled with all my energy. I picked up enough power that I shifted into a higher gear and zoomed past the rider that I had been following for the last mile. I actually gained enough speed that I sped past another rider further ahead of him just before crossing the finish line.

I shouted out my number with what little breath I still had so they could record my time. I was panting mightily as I continued on past the finish. Having used all my energy in my final surge, I was hit with a sudden wave of nausea. I pulled over in a shady spot by the side of the road and stood over my bicycle to catch my breath. The rider who I had been tailing rode passed and shouted "Great finish!" I only had energy to smile and weakly wave back.

After just a couple minutes I recovered enough to continue further down the road to where there were snacks and water. I did not feel like eating anything, so I just nibbled on a couple crackers and filled my water bottle. My energy came back quickly and I set off for my ride home. I went down the other side of the hill that we raced up and covered a few flat miles to home.

When the results were posted the next day, I discovered that with all my efforts, I finished 97th out of 110 men (and 100 out of 116 including the women). I would have finished two slots further back without my sprint finish. Although this sounds decidedly unimpressive, it must be noted that I am a novice among veterans here. Many of the riders are former and current amateur racers. And most of them have many more years of cycling experience than I do.

I should be able to do a few more rides in the series this year.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 Winters 200KM Brevet

126 miles, 3100 feet total elevation, 10:10 total time (8:27 on the bicycle)

I had a chance to do another brevet this past weekend. It was organized by San Francisco Randonneurs, who also held the one I did three months ago. Most of the route was new to me, which was the main draw. The ride started in the town of Hercules and immediately crossed the Carquinez Bridge. It then continued on back roads to the town of Winters before looping back and returning to Hercules.

7:00am, 0 miles, 0 feet total

I left home at 5:30am and arrived at the start at 6:40, giving me just enough time to set up and register. After checking in, I proceeded to get my bicycle ready. I discovered that the box I packed with some of my gear was left at home. I needed to quickly assess if I was missing anything crucial that would require me to abandon the ride.

I had my helmet and prescription goggles. I had my shoes. I was already wearing my cycling clothes, so that was not a problem. I did not have my GPS unit. However, I had studied the route closely and I could simply navigate with the paper map (the organizers had extra copies) and my odometer. I definitely needed to carry water and I did not have my water bottles. One of the organizers had one on hand that he gave me. I filled it with the water I had in the car for the drive. I was missing my headlight, but we were starting after sunrise, and my normal pace should get me done before sunset. I did not have my gloves or ear covers. It was a chilly morning, but I could deal with the cold until the day warmed. My ride would not be unsafe without any of the items I forgot, so I was comfortable doing the ride. The whole group started at 7:00am.

The route started at the southernmost point, followed the loop counter-clockwise, and returned.

8:40am, 24 miles, 300 feet total

The first stop was at a store in Fairfield. Here I bought some bottled water, and made my selection based on which bottle would best be carried on my bicycle and could be refilled. Now I was back to carrying two water bottles and did not have to fear the heat. Through this part of the route, many of the cyclists were bunched together. There was very long line at the checkout. I was buying a small cake for a snack. Since I was just waiting in line, I ate the cake and by the time I reached the clerk, she just scanned the empty bag.

After this stop the cyclists became more spread out. I chatted with a couple other cyclists when we were keeping the same pace for a while. As we neared the next stop, we missed a turn because we were talking to each other. We reached an intersection that did not correspond to the route directions, and so realized we had missed a turn. We backtracked and found the correct branch to take. It was just a two mile diversion.

11:00am, 59 miles, 1000 feet total

Although brevets are unsupported rides, this one unusually had a staffed lunch stop where food was provided. Since this ride is one of the last in the group's calendar year, they do it as more of a social event, and so provide lunch. It was the halfway point distance-wise, but none of the significant climbing had yet started.

The next stretch of the route was the most scenic. It was the middle of the day and hot in the direct sun. There were a couple big hills. The climbs were relatively long, but not as steep as what I usually train on. I had no problem keeping a strong pace.

1:30pm, 80 miles, 2900 feet total

The next stop was convenience store in the middle of nowhere. I only took a short break here and continued. I almost missed a turn again at a junction without road signs. There was a crew of firemen on the side of the road and they were able to confirm for me that the road I needed to take was indeed the one at the junction. The riders were all spread out at this point so I was seeing few of my fellow cyclists by this point.

The remainder of the loop was flat again and not particularly interesting. This section was through Napa Valley, and consisted of vineyard after vineyard. Eventually the route returned to the convenience store which was also the first stop. The loop part of the route was finished. Since it was near a highway, I was able to call Vaishali and update her about my status. I did not have phone reception earlier because the roads were so remote.

3:30pm, 100 miles, 3000 feet total

There was only one other cyclist at the store when I arrived, but several came in while I was there. One of the guys I was riding with earlier suggested we ride together, so I waited an extra five minutes for him. The remainder of the route was the same as the morning. I returned back the the start at the time I expected to.

5:10pm, 126 miles, 3100 feet total

This group is holding their final ride of the year next month. It is also a 200KM brevet, and I will probably attempt that one too.