Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Masters District Track Championship, Hellyer Park Velodrome, 7/11-7/12/2015

By Dennis Pedersen

Last year was a bit of a breakout season for me, as it was the first one in which I focused completely on track sprints. This year I fully expected that my continuing specific training would result in further improvement, though not likely as dramatic as last year's improvements.

My main focus for 2015 was this race weekend in which our NCNCA district Master (State) track champions would be crowned, and I also wanted to compete at the Elite States three weeks before it. So my coach, Jeff Solt, made sure that I did a proper "peak" and "taper" for this. That is, I trained increasingly harder for a time, then backed off in the weeks before this.

Elite Districts, 6/20-6/21

The Elite races were mostly just training for me, but I truly wanted to podium, at least, as I did last year... this was not to be.

Match sprints: I was seeded (qualified) at seventh out of 11 riders with my flying-200 m time of 12.1 seconds (37.8 mph max). My first round was against Victor Tort, who I dispatched by half-wheeling him around the track. My second round was against Lee Povey... given that he teaches our sprint clinics, I knew beating him would be tough. I rode pretty well nonetheless, but made the mistake of going too slow out of turn 2 in the last of our 2 laps, and he was able to pass above me and take the lead even though I really tried to get him (we hit 38.1 mph!). Finally, I was in a four-up match (my first such) to determine 5th through 8th place. I took second to Stelios McDonald and thus ended up 6th.

Keirin: I was able to grab sixth place behind the motorcycle, did OK, but when the motor pulled off, Bill Nighan, two riders ahead of me, kept looking back and a gap formed ahead of him. That left me stranded because I wasn't able to pass, close the gap, and then still outsprint the fast guys ahead of me. I think I finished 6th out of 7, hitting 37.1 mph.

Team sprints: My team dissolved so I didn't even get a chance to try to improve on my bronze from last year.

Masters Districts, 7/11-7/12

Match sprints: 

This was my only event on Saturday. I was seeded tied-for-first (out of just 3 riders) with my flying-200 m time of 12.2 seconds (37.7 mph max). I had tied with Bill Nighan, but lost the coin toss, so I had to race while he rested. Even though I was now at a disadvantage I felt pretty good and confident and had trained a lot for this. Jeff, my coach, was kind enough to attend and be my holder for the starts. Each race would be just two laps (770 m total).

I won my first round (semifinals), against Mark Gomes, starting from second position. Swooping up and down right from the start to avoid being pinned against the rail, I dropped below him and seized the lead. He had no gap to run, and when I jumped out of turn 2, he tried to pass in 3 but I held him off, hitting 36.1 mph max.

Since I was now in the finals, against Bill, it was to be best two out of three races. In my first finals round I started from second. I stayed up by the rail, while he rode slowly in the sprinter's lane below me. I rode even with him out out of turn 2. This allowed me to jump past above him and keep the lead for over a lap, even as he tried to pass, until he gave up out of turn 4 (36.7 mph max).

In my second finals round against Bill, I started second again. We went rather slow, almost stopping, then I seized the lead out of 1 by dropping below him. He tried to pass on the back straight, but I half-wheeled him into turn 3, then stayed fast throughout the last lap-and-a-quarter... I really thought I had him in this long sprint, I even had visions of my States jersey, but in the last few seconds he got next to me and won by about 8 inches (36.9 mph max).

Now we were tied (again) and had to race a tie-breaker, yet I was still confident as Jeff gave me some tips (avoid long sprints!). We were both tired, but I had one more race in my legs than Bill did. At the start Lee Povey, who was holding Bill, held him back as I rolled ahead. Very slow start! I tried to pin him against the rail but he held back. Rather than engage in track stands I simply went a bit faster into turn 3, then backed off a bit for the last lap unlike the previous round, I thought. Then, I went hard out of turn 2 into 3and 4 (36.0 mph max), but he pipped me by 2 inches... argh!

So close, but my States hopes faded away... I had started my sprint too early again, in spite of Jeff's advice, and my attempt to heed it. I was done for the day, and really bummed as I drove home. I tried hard to focus instead on my next events, on Sunday, but I was depressed. 

500 m time trial (sprints): 

This is a standing-start individual time-trial, for 500 m, just over 1.5 laps.There were six riders entered, so I warmed up well. Yet when I lined up for my start I felt a bit out-of-body. But I pushed hard from the start and focused ahead of me, rather than looking down (a tip from Jeff), and I think I had good power though the turns, even some oomph left for the finish. That made me worry I hadn't given it 100%; I cruised around, totally unsure, but I'd soon know. When I read the official results I was stoked: 36.2 seconds, a new personal best, by a full second! I reached 37.1 mph max, nearly as high as my flying-200 m! Yet Martin Harris was just behind, at 36.3... also a personal best for him! Just the previous weekend, he'd surpassed my best time, so I'd been skeptical I could do it. But now I was 1st out of 6, barely, but the many people congratulating me confirmed I finally got a States jersey I could be proud of! 

Team sprint: 

This is the three-man sprint, where only the third rider's time counts; the first and second riders are merely lead-outs. Tim Montagne was our #1, me #2, Bill Nighan #3. Tim's lap #1was 29.02 seconds, my lap #2 was 22.75 seconds (51.77 ET, at 34.0 mph max), and Bill's 22.75-seconds lap #3 stopped the timer at 1:14.47 (ignoring some minor discrepancy in the splits). We took 1st in 45-54, but unopposed, so not much glory. But Tim and I are joining Bobby Walthour, the builder of my Dixie Flyer, at Elite Nationals for team sprints, so we used this for training. 

So my States this year were a mixed bag, as sports always seem to be, but I really feel my 500 m ride was a new high, for sure, maybe even competitive at Nationals. A real State Champion, at last!

On the top step of the podium! With Martin Harris and Ross Tinline.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

LAVRA Sprint Open Powered by Momentum, 9/14/2014

By Dennis Pedersen

Gorgeous bikes, down HWY 5.
This was my second visit to Carson, near Los Angeles, to race on the intimidating 250-meter wooden velodrome at the StubHub Center. I had a blast on my previous visit, but wanted to improve on my performance there.

My friend Rich Rozzi invited me to carpool with him, so that made the decision easier, and we drove down Saturday morning. That afternoon we got to ride in their open-track training session. I rode my new Dixie Flyer BTB that I had built up just after Track States (it arrived too late for that). It handled superbly, and it allowed me to focus on my form instead of worrying about the bike.

On Sunday morning we got up at 5:30 a.m. so we could have plenty of time to eat breakfast and schlep all of our gear to the velodrome for the LAVRA races. The track opened up for warmup at 9:00 and we were soon prepping our bikes and doing some efforts on the track; I started in a low gear for warmup (49x16; 82.7"), then switched to my race gears (49x14; 94.5") and Zipp wheels.

The Velo Sports Center lobby.
At 10:00 they announced our start order for the flying 200-meter time trials, used to "seed" us for the actual sprints tournament where we usually race two-man races of three laps. Only the top-18 riders (out of about 35) would get into the tournament, so I felt some pressure to go fast, and my 200-meter time of 12.312 seconds was just enough for 17th! Rich also qualified, but had some speed wobble... something I've often had too, but not this time thanks in part to my new bike.

So the standard tournament format matched me, the second-slowest seed, against second-fastest seed Ethan Boyes (who qualified with 10.99), and Rich against the first-seed rider, Nate Koch, a candidate for the Olympic 2016 games (who qualified in 10.92 seconds).

Rich tried his best against Nate, but not too surprisingly couldn't beat him; it's very hard to overcome a speed differential of 1.5 seconds!

I didn't feel too much pressure racing against Ethan; I just wanted to do my best and learn the differences of riding on such a track; the biggest one being that we can't just roll through the steeply-banked turns without slipping down! I wanted to make Ethan earn his win too, even though I drew the second spot, giving him the 'pole' (lead) from the start. But I feel I did well, as I seized the lead from him immediately, and ramped up the speed to make passing harder. But while I still had some reserve he passed out of turn 4 just before the last lap and held me off.

Rich, Ethan and Dana (on rollers).
I was still in the competition, but only in the "repechage;" it's a sort of 'second-chance' round. I was up against Aron Seiken who had lost to a faster qualifier just as I had done. But Aron qualified with 11.86 so it wouldn't be easy for me. I drew the pole and led from the start and held him off with varied pacing and swinging. I attacked in turn 4 just before the last lap and held him on my hip (just to my right, slightly behind me), but he passed at the end, beating me by about 4 inches. Oh well. I feel that the steeper banking and the extra height of the outside rider make it easier for them to pass there than at Hellyer. I'm learning.

Lunch , complements of Ethan! 
Ethan ended up in the final rounds, and got to contest for the overall win ... against favorite Nate Koch. It was fun to watch, but while Ethan settled for second he still took home $500! And bought us lunch!

So in the end I had a blast, and was so happy with how my bike handled and my own riding that I drove home in a great mood. I'll definitely be going down there again!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Masters District Track Championships, Hellyer Park Velodrome, 8/9-10/2014

By Dennis Pedersen

This season has been all about track sprinting for me. The only priority cycling races I had were the California state Masters championship track races (NCNCA District) at Hellyer Park's banked velodrome. I wanted to improve on my results from last year's state championships, hopefully with a gold, for that elusive state champion's jersey.

Dreams are nice, but to make them real requires action. I hired Jeff Solt (a nationally-known sprinter and record-holder) as my coach, and completely restructured my training to mostly include only short rides with all-out efforts, and heavier weight lifting at the gym (Capitola Fitness, owned by our teammate Mike Bodge). It also affected the races I have entered, so I skipped many races that I would have done in the past.

During the run-up to States I had the misfortune of losing my Serenity Marvel track bike from my car's roof rack; it was totally destroyed. While I was able to get AAA insurance to compensate me, the replacement bike I ordered didn't arrive in time for States. Fortunately teammate Nils loaned me his Giant Omnium to use... now that's what I call a teammate!

Lap split times from the Elite team sprints.
Since the Elite Track States were the weekend before Masters Track States, I entered the match sprints, team sprints and keirin race for practice and fun (read descriptions of the race types here). While I did fine, it's hard to compete against guys 20 years younger than me. Still, I ended up with a bronze in team sprints, racing with Tim Montagne and David Broekma. Since there were only three teams that wasn't very awesome, and I was riding as the third guy and thus had to ride the full three laps (1 km)... not my forte! But my lap-3 time was faster than fast-guy Larry Nolan's... a nice indicator of my fitness and something that makes me think I should try the individual "kilo" too, next time.

For the Masters States I entered the match sprints, 500-meter individual time-trial, and team sprints.

Match sprints: 
This is the Olympic one-on-one race, for two laps. We first "seed" the riders with a flying-200 m time trial (see race descriptions above, or extremely detailed info here), and I could only manage a 12.3-second run; 0.21 slower than my best. My first match was against Bill Nighan, who tied my 200 m time, while defending champion Rich Rozzi (12.0 seconds) raced against slowest-seed Martin Harris (12.6 seconds). I had the "pole" position at the start (we drew lots) and my coach, Jeff, was my holder. I was able to keep Bill behind me while I watched carefully for any attacks. Bill tried to pass me a couple of times, but I was able to fend him off while keeping a gap behind me that was hopefully the right size. On the last of our two laps I was able to move him up-track a bit in turn 1 and then attack down into turn 2. I held him off in turns 3 and 4 and won. This moved me up to the final against Rich. I drew "2" so he started in the pole. I tried to get past Rich at the start, but he was alert and accelerated to keep me behind him. I rode up-track to gain the advantage of height, and made a few feints to keep him down-track so I'd have more room, but he did ride smart. Even so I caught him off-guard in turn 4 and was able to quickly drop down from the banking and pass him before turn 1. That was cool, but since we'd been going fairly fast I was worried I'd be too tired to hold him off at the finish, so I backed off a bit. Exiting turn 2 I knew I had to be careful, because that would be the perfect place for Rich to attack, and so he did; he blew by me and into the lead; darn, I must have slowed too much! I couldn't pass him again and he won. Usually we'd compete for the best two out of three matches, but this year it was just that one match so he got gold and I got silver.

Masters match sprints podium.

500 m individual time trial: 
This is one racer at a time against the clock, from a standing start as we are held up, fully clipped into the pedals. I took a few deep breaths and focused on my form. I channeled my inner Incredible Hulk and pulled off a personal best of 37.2 seconds! Cool! And something I credit to the training Jeff has prescribed. But that only gave me silver as Rich beat me by 0.4 seconds.

Team sprints: 
Masters team sprint splits.
We have the track to ourselves and only the last rider's time after three laps is counted; the other two riders merely help him get up to speed. For the Masters States my team was with Rich Rozzi as the second and Martin Harris as the third rider (funny how we're suddenly friends again!). We were the only team in the 45+ age group; even less compelling than Elites, but there was still some coolness to be had from it as we of course compared ourselves against the other age-groups' teams. I led our team for the first lap, and my lap-1 time was the second-fastest of the teams. Only the youngest team beat my #1 lap (by 0.37). So while I finally earned gold, and a California State Champion's jersey, it's not one I can brag about... except that my lap was pretty fast and one I'm proud of.

USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships are at Marymoor velodrome, just south of Seattle, starting next week. And while I did consider going I think that will have to wait until I can justify the expense. Maybe next year!

A humble Masters gold medal.

Monday, June 2, 2014

LAVRA South Bay Wheelmen TT Cup, 6/1/2014

By Dennis Pedersen

I have long wanted to ride on a steeply-banked, wooden cycling track, as used for most Olympic and World Cup track races. I was told these tracks are an amazing adrenaline rush to ride on, especially after you've circled a relatively moderate concrete track like our local Hellyer Park velodrome a few thousand times. I finally had my wish granted this weekend when my friend and competitor Rich Rozzi invited me!

45-degree banking;
it's impossible to walk on it!
Wooden cycling tracks are usually 250m ovals with banking up to 45 degrees, vs. the 335m oval with 23-degree banking at Hellyer. The nearest one is in the Los Angeles area, on the California State University, Dominguez Hills campus in Carson, and is part of a huge sporting complex called the StubHub Center; pretty impressive and very nicely appointed with vast numbers of tennis courts, soccer fields, etc. It was built as an upscale replacement for the 333m outdoor concrete track used in the 1984 Olympic Games (that was similar to Hellyer's velodrome) that had become somewhat rundown. Rich and I drove down there on Friday as did several other "Hellyerites," which added to the fun as they are a fun-loving bunch who aren't afraid of a beer the night before a race! Oh, and Rich, like most sprinters, shares a passion of mine: eating!

The indoor velodrome is called VELO Sports Center and is run by former pro and Olympian Adam Duvendeck, a really nice guy who has made big improvements to the track. The VELO Sports Center is also an Official U.S. Olympic Training Site and is the home track to USA Cycling's national track cycling program, and we got to meet several women who are candidates for our 2016 Olympic team. The infield of the VELO Sports Center velodrome is used for basketball and volleyball, but there's enough room there for a changing room and bike racks, plus a very nice weights area that's used by Olympic team candidates. They have a full electronic timing system unlike Hellyer (where we rely on handheld stopwatches). One glaring omission is a convenient restroom, as you have to take a bit of a hike to get to the nearest one.

Following Alissa for a "ribbon ride."
To ride this track you must first attend a certification class, with the option of either a four-session class for those with no track experience, or a one-session accelerated class for those with sufficient prior experience in track racing. I was able to complete a Saturday-morning accelerated class, with Andrew Mirzaoff as the instructor (with help from Allissa Maglaty, an Olympic team hopeful), and then hop on the track that afternoon for an open training session. By the end of the day I had 1:25 hours and 27 miles of experience there. That track is a blast to ride! The feel of riding along the top rail then dropping down what looks like a vertical two-story drop to the sprinter's lane takes a bit of guts... but what a rush! But the very different nature of this track also requires a very different approach to riding it.

One thing I was told is that I should maintain at least 17 mph to avoid slipping down the banking. That also affects everything from your warmup (it's best to warm up on rollers first) to race tactics (you can't do a track stand or even ride slow in the turns during match sprints, e.g.). They also recommend using soft-compound tires and wiping them down with isopropyl alcohol beforehand. Another thing to do is make sure printed-on tire labels are either removed or facing downtrack as they can be a bit slippery.

The track also requires a very different and more critical approach to riding flying 200m time trials. They have marked the optimum line for the flying-200m with small orange "X" markings on the track, as it's just too easy for people to get in trouble if they don't follow this. I didn't know about them at first and tried my usual line around the track, at max speed dropping down from the top rail out of turn 4; it was rather scary as my bike was pushed uptrack in turn 2 by the G-forces! After Rich explained the orange Xs to me I tried again; what a vast improvement! Rich has front and rear disk wheels, which is great for indoors, but I only have a rear disk wheel so would want a front disk too if I ride here regularly.

Winding up for my flying 200m.
On Sunday Rich and I were registered to race in a LAVRA Track Racing event, the South Bay Wheelmen TT Cup. We were just entered in the individual flying 200m and standing-start 500m races, but they also had other timed events and a Madison race. I was trying to learn how to ride flying 200m from watching local racers, but I must admit I still messed up badly; I spent too much energy getting up to the rail during the windup laps, then dropped down too soon into turn 1, and then stopped pushing at the home-straight's mid-point line rather than the actual finish line. Argh! My 12.972-second time was much slower than my best at Hellyer (12.09). And Rich also was disappointed with his 12.334. Yet surprisingly nobody else even broke into the 11s... something we usually see at Hellyer's races.

For the standing-start 500m races they have sweet starting stands with a pneumatic clamp connected to the timers, just like at World-class races (at Hellyer we have human holders). So we just clamp the bike in, hop on, and wait for the timer's countdown to release the bike. I managed a nice 37.802-second run, almost equal to my personal best 37.74 (hand-timed at Hellyer), while Rich ran a nice 36.809. This made me feel much better about my weekend's racing.

So I have a lot to work on if I want to do well at 250m tracks, but man, I sure had fun!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

World Championship Prep Races, Hellyer Park Velodrome, 2/16/2014

By Dennis Pedersen

Nils and I went to these low-key timed events for practice and fun. I won the standing-start 500m time trial in 38.3 seconds, Nils won the standing-start 1k time trial in 1:16.5 (known as "killers" because they are very painful!).

It's always an open question what equipment to use, and Nils swapped his bars and stem between some of the events to test his setup. I mostly used my training equipment, including my heavy "faux" disk rear wheel with a PowerTap hub (reads my power output in Watts), so I can provide data to my coach, Jeff Solt ( track sprinter extraordinaire). I used a 48x14 (also known as a 92.6-inch gear) for my flying 200m, but a lower 50x15 (90-inch gear) for my standing-starts. In retrospect, after Jeff checked my data, it seems I should be using taller gears. I may go with a 94.5-inch gear for all events next time.

Here are a few photos:

Dennis in his flying 200m time trial (12.4 seconds, 37.27 MPH, 2nd place). Notice the tongue.

Nils in his flying 200m time trial (12.5 seconds, 3rd place). The guy is super-aero!

Dennis as #2 in a team sprint (1:17.1, first place)

Nils during his 1k time trial (1:16.5, 1st place). These are aptly-named "killers" ...I don't think he's smiling!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The final Low Key Hill Climb, and concluding thoughts on the LKHC series

Somebody said that in time of peace men satisfy their impulse to go to war by racing bicycles. I agree. In this particular instance, my own personal battle was to get to the top of Mt Hamilton faster than the guy who was going to end up winning the General Classification, David Collet. Actually, I wanted to get up there much faster than Dave. (Incidentally, Dave is a really great guy, and I was really happy I got to meet and ride with him during this series; we follow each other on Strava and plan on going out on training rides together next season).

I got into the race quite depressed ("heartbroken", in the words of Eddie) by the amazing amount of points that a certainly very strong mountain bike ride had given Dave on Saturday, which had cost me my several-weeks-old GC lead. I had beaten Dave at Bohlman-On-Orbit, in a close sprint finish. I had beaten him at Patterson Pass. I had beaten him at Lomas Contadas. I thought I had him. But no, thanks to the black magic of Low Key points calculation, the mix of low attendance and huge time dispersion on the one mountain bike hill climb gave him enough points to put me out of contention for the GC. Especially with Hamilton only left, a race with just the opposite features: large attendance and small time dispersion.

Mark Edwards had warned me of the presence of three-time olympian and 7- or 8-time Canadian TT champion, ex-pro Eric Wohlberg in the race, so the overall win was almost surely out of reach. However, I had a very clear objective to shoot for, and I decided I was going to be as aggressive as possible from the gun.

Have I managed to clip in my pedals yet?!
After struggling again with clipping in my pedals (alas, one year of biking and I'm still there!) I sprinted up to Nils to the front of the race, and started attacking probably not even 5' from the gun. It was me and GC #3 Bill Laddish, and it was clear that we both wanted to put some time over our direct competitors. We immediately agreed to work together and started pushing it. Our breakaway didn't last long (perhaps half of the first climb), but I continued to stay at the front, either pushing against the wind or riding on the wheel of the guy in front.

I could hear Mark telling me to be smart and to save energy, but I just wanted the race to have a fast pace and to tire Dave out as quickly as possible. But Dave, smartly, was riding in 5th-6th position, well sheltered in the lead group. Through the end of the first climb, the descent and the first half way of the second climb it was Chris Evans taking most of the air out front. Kudos to him. I did my share, but had started to realize how foolish my initial strategy had been.

Half-way through the second climb it was a great "Rich Brown" attacking generously. I decided to let him take a few lengths. I really like and respect Rich, and I know he likes and respects me as well. We understand each other at many levels (for one, we both have two kids each, the exact same age!). Dave was getting antsy, and he actually decided to get to the lead of the chase group, which pleased me, and I happily rested on his wheel. He was 10" on and 15" off the saddle. I could hear Mark telling me that that's a sign that a biker is close to pop. But I knew that Dave is actually a mountain biker, used to long stretches off the saddle. Still, he was clearly struggling to keep Rich in sight.

I knew Rich was ultimately not a factor, but at the end of the second climb I saw the actual factor jump. And jump like a pro. It was Eric. I found myself boxed 3-4 positions from the lead of the group, but knew that that was the winning breakaway, and put a ton of power to catch up to the Canadian before we'd get to the downhill. Unlike Eddie, I suck at downhill (Eddie knows this and chastises me every time on our long rides). But what was I to do? I braced myself and stuck to Eric's wheel all the way down and then up the last incline. Pace was all right. At some point, actually pretty soon in the incline, Eric turns to me and is like "they're right there, let's go" and invites me to take the lead. Honored, I put in a very honest 1-1.5 miles pull, which I believe managed to put some ground between us and the chasers.

At that point I had the pleasure to enjoy the second pro-move of the day: instead of nicely taking the next pull, Eric sprinted past me and left me in the dust. In great style: body low to the handlebars (see the picture), effortless, one thing with his machine etc. And more importantly, not even leaving me a grain of hope to stay on his wheel easily.

Eric Wohlberg powering to the finish line

So he was gone, and there were a good 3-4 miles to go. The TT champion in front of me and the chasing group, including my friend Dave, chasing me. I could see them at every hairpin turn. And so, evidently, the could see me… Well, I decided that I was not going to be caught for that day, and pushed my pace the best I could, hitting myself in the head for all the energy spent early in the race. I was getting increasingly nervous when the wind picked up towards the top, but I was also feeling good, managing to stay in the saddle, and to summon good power. I could still see Eric up
at almost every turn as well.
The last turn before the finish. The chase group is not in sight.

At the end the chasing group didn't catch me; I was less than one minute back from Eric, and the chasers about half a minute back from me. Dave did eventually pop, and I ended up giving him 1:22. Enough.

I think there definitely are a few shortcomings in the LKHC points system. For example, no rewards for the final rankings: when I out-sprinted Dave at Bohlman-On-Orbit, we both put in a good effort, and I beat him, but we got the same time and the same points! Also, the disproportionate reward for the MB climb is quite frustrating. Take triathlons: the swim always has a huge dispersion, but that is accounted for by having swims be much shorter than the other two events. Or take grand tours: the TT are much shorter than the other stages, to avoid making TTers the only contenders.

The LKHC organizers argue that dirt climbs "mix things up [and] reward versatility". Well, then why not adding some running? Or rock climbing? Or speed chess? I'd be game for all! Also, there are other ways to mix things up. Random number generators work quite well…

I had a lot of fun during the series. It brought me a good amount of fitness and some racing strategy skills. I am so grateful to my wife, who understood how important this was to me, especially during an amazingly busy time at work, both from a fitness and from a mental standpoint…

I am grateful for the support of all the team, from my fellow low key-ers Nils, Eddie, Dan, Matt, Mike, Scott, and Matt S, to Mark and Jim for their advise. It meant a lot to me when today, at the Felton-Empire repeats, Scott told me that it made no sense that I had gotten second in the GC and that I clearly deserved first. I look forward to a solid 2014 season, hopefully quickly upgrading to cat 3 and being able to play some team work with trippers Morgan, Dan and perhaps also Mark!

LKHC #9: Mt. Hamilton

By Eddie Santos

For most, Thanksgiving is a holiday synonymous with a large meal centered around turkey. For the rest of us, it's a heavy dosage of pain centered around Mt. Hamilton. As tradition has it, the culmination of the Low-Key Hillclimb series brought a race up Mt. Hamilton on an absolutely picture perfect morning, despite forecasts of rain showers in the week leading up to the race. To thank the Gods for their providing blessed weather, Bike Trip put forth a solid Thanksgiving day team (likely annoying family members at home left to do all the cooking) of Dan, Nils, Scott, Stefano, and myself.

For those who have never experienced Hamilton, it's an 18.4 mile trip up to the observatory accumulating 4,399 ft feet of climbing along the way. In essence, the course consists of three climbs of starting with 5.9 miles (4.7%), a technical descent into the second climb of 3.2 miles (4.5%), and then a fast descent leading into the longest, steepest climb of 6.3 miles (5.9%).  This was the fourth time I'd done Hamilton (third time racing) and thus had started to get a sense of how to best slay the beast. The previous times I'd raced up the twisty mountain, I'd gone out too hard on the first two climbs, blew up, and bled time up the final, hardest climb. These experiences however, allowed me formulate a plan of attack: error on the side of slow on the first climb, find a group of riders to work with on the flatter top part of the first climb and on the descents, and save some energy to punch the third climb square in the face.

Staging on Alum Rock Ave / Mt. Hamilton Rd
The riders staged at Alum Rock Ave in different groups, according to ability. Group one was those who had scored above a 117 in the series, group two above 105, so on and so forth. This put Dan, Nils and Stefano in group one, with Scott and I waiting behind. The grouping did not appear strict however, as I spotted some rather heftier fellas hands on hoods staring at Stefano's back wheel, with dreams of glory sparkling in their eyes beneath their sunglasses. The lead car sounded the horn and the race was on. As usual, Nils was charging ahead of the field already halfway up the climb.

Nils sprinting while it's still flat

Group 1 already had a good lead up the road as I turned onto the course. I immediately reminded myself to be cool, and start the climb at a manageable pace. After a few minutes I realized I felt great, my body was responding well, and so I decided to catch up to the first group that was just slightly ahead. I knew I couldn't hold them to the top, so the goal was to hang out at the back, catch the over anxious, and form a second group of strong, but not quite top riders who I could work with. I was hanging on pretty well and feeling great. I was careful not to overexert myself, and eventually started slipping back slightly. I was still hitting a solid pace and found myself riding next to Rob Easley, who would prove to be a valuable ally for the rest of the climb. At one point, he shot up the road and caught a few other riders. I didn't panic and kept my rhythm. Knowing the flatter, faster portion portion of the first climb was just ahead, I accelerated to catch them so I could sit on the back and save energy, and executed this perfectly. We caught others, formed a group of about 8-10, one of which I noticed was Dan Connelly, and thus knew I was in good company.

Rob was pushing a really good pace heading towards the first descent, and I was still in the big ring churning the pedals hanging onto his wheel. Rob was all over the road, but he was proving to be a really strong and motivated rider. I knew descending was a relative strength of mine, and if I could hang on, I'd be in a good position. Once we crested and started the descent, Mark Johnson of Pen Velo attacked hard and shot down the road. I was still on Rob's wheel and noticed he didn't have the firepower to follow Mark. Immediately, I took the reins, came around Rob, and started pushing the pace, with Dan and Rob on my wheel. Once we reached the flatter part near Grant Park, I flicked my elbow and Rob came around to help me out and keep the pace up. We caught Mark at the base of the second climb, with Dan and Alex Komlik bridging up to join us. Rob and Alex were doing a great job at setting the speed, and realizing I was in the presence of better climbers, I mostly held wheel, though I made sure to occasionally take the front to let them know I was there to help out. This was a race against the clock after all, and solidly behind the leaders, there was no point to not working together. We must've shed Dan somewhere along the second climb before a fast descent towards the last climb. 

The last climb was now upon us, and though I was tiring, I still felt great, and was very motivated by the low time I was seeing on my Garmin. I knew the final climb would be just over 30 minutes, and thus knew I was well ahead of my very optimistic goal of 1:20:00 (honestly, I was just hoping to beat 1:22:00 to improve on my 1:28:XX time from the Mt. Hamilton Classic in May). Rob was dishing pain and I was matching him quite well. Alex and I helped out when we could, and occasionally Mark, though he seemed more apt to sit on. Near the top, the wind picked up and we slowed down ever so slightly. I decided to up the tempo to see if the guys had it in them to hold on, and grinded away at the pedals. The guys were digging deep and were matching me, proving that they were in it until the end. With about a mile or so to go, they came around on a big left hander before the straight away to the gate.

Stefano solos near the top with David Collet on the brain

The last mile was pretty fast and I was at the back of our group of four hanging on for dear life. We powered past the gate before taking a right hand turn leading up to the final ascent to the observatory. Rob and Mark shot up the road in a strong effort, and though I punched it, I decided not to contest the finish, partly because I was tired and we were racing the clock (not each other), but mostly because I was grateful for having had them to help me push myself to a fantastic time of 1:18:54 (113.28), over one minute faster than my most optimistic goal! This was by far my best score of the series, having scored consistently in the 107-108 range.

Overall Bike Trip had a fantastic day, led by Stefano who took 2nd with a time of 1:12:42 (125.55), 58 seconds behind winner Erik Wohlberg, Dan in 10th at 1:14:26 (120.50), Nils in 13th at 1:16:14 (117.49), myself, and Scott in 59th at 1:30:53 (97.52). This was good for 2nd place in the team division, behind The Brown Zone who had recruited a ringer in 3-time Canadian olympic athlete and current men's performance manager for Optum Pro Cycling, Erik Wohlberg.

With that, the 2013 Low-Key Hillclimb series concludes with great performances from various members of the Bike Trip team. Nils, Stefano, and I were the only amongst us to register the five necessary races to place highly in the overall classification. Stefano barely missed out on first behind David Collet, who stole first in heartbreaking fashion on last weekend's dirt climb up Montara. Nevertheless, second place is an all-time Bike Trip record and I'm sure an even more improved Stefano will be back next year for blood. Nils and I placed in 9th and 18th, respectively, as I managed a last minute shot up the rankings with my final performance. As a team, we finished third behind winners Sisters and Misters of No Mercy, and The Brown Zone, both of which scored highly based on the strength of their women and weekly recruits. We'd like to think we'd of won if it came down to just the men!

(l to r): Eddie (most fashionable), Dan, Stefano, Nils, Scott.

I managed to secure the Most Improved Rider category in a landslide, having improved my median score in this years series by 23.17 points (84.41 to 107.55), well ahead of the next rider, Joe Sullivan, at 12.12. This is in no small part thanks to you guys, and particularly our coach Mark Edwards, for providing fantastic training opportunities, solid race advice, and excellent camaraderie. With no more races until 2014, it's time to get back to training in an effort to secure Most Improved Rider next year as well. Let's get to it Gents, looking forward to seeing you all there.

2012: Eddie "Beefcake" Santos

2013: Eddie "Lesscake" Santos

For results and pictures, click below:
Week 9, Mt. Hamilton
Overall, 2013 Low-Key Hillclimbs