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.

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