Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mt. Tam Hillclimb

I’m very familiar with the Mt. Tam climb, since my in-laws live nearby, but I’ve never raced it. So I’d looked forward to this race for sometime.

I rode from my in-laws house to the start, a nice five-mile warm up. Scott and Mark were easy to find, riding their trainers next to Mark’s big shiny truck. There are plenty of hills around for warming up, so I rode up to Jerry Garcia’s old house a couple of times, with its expansive view of the ocean. Stinson is a beautiful area!

Jim L. and others warned me about a torrid start on the flat section around the bay, so I was worried about it. Plus, someone in the men’s room line said there was a 20-rider crash in our field last year, as riders vied for position before the climb. Ugh.

Indeed, someone in a plain white jersey went to the front in our field and immediately put the hammer down, joined by a few others. But I thought this was great, as I sat comfortably in the top 10, on Mark Caldwell’s wheel, as the race strung out single file. It was a talking pace for me! In what seemed like an instant, we were at the turnoff to the climb, and brrrrr over the cattle guard we went. At that point one of the guys pushing the pace at the front waved goodbye and said, “Have a nice race, guys!”

Carl Nielsen immediately charged to the front, with Jon Ornstil. The pace seemed a little hot to me, so I settled in to my own rhythm. Mark had offered the sage advice to follow John Novitsky, who rides these climbs like a metronome, dialing a wattage number—the exact tactic he used in winning San Bruno earlier in the year, where I was third. Sure enough, Novitsky soon came up on my wheel and I followed him for a while, but the human metronome was also too much for me. So for most of the climb, I was mano a mano in a small group of three: myself, Caldwell, and Rick Martyn. I noticed that I could make little surges that would gap these guys. I filed that information for future reference.

Suddenly, we were at the top of the main climb. I was still with my companions for the first two of the final “seven sisters.” Then I decided to play my hand, and just pushed as hard as I could for the next two hills. When I finally sat up and looked around, I was alone. Sweet!

The rest of the race was an exercise in pain tolerance. It was nice to have people cheering along the summit. At one point I passed a couple of pros, including Justin Lucke, which was a bit of inspiration for me. I came across alone, in what I imagined was seventh, but I was pleased to find out later that I was actually fifth. Not bad!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Montevina Road report

In my determination to pre-ride some of the 2008 Low-Key climbs, I took a new route to work:

View Larger Map

Montevina Road is a beautiful climb that offers views of the reservoir. It conncts to the top of Bohlman Rd. via a fire road. The climb itself is very consistent. Think Soda Springs, but a little steeper and shorter. The hard part is the end. It's short, but really steep. Easily above 15%. After climbing 3 miles of 9%, it really hurts. However, it's only a few hundred meters and might not even be in the actual LKHC.

In summary, it's not too bad. Easier than Mt. Madonna, except that Mt. Madonna eases off instead of getting much harder.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mt. Tam Hill Climb Pre-race Report

How to Race Successfully at Mt Tam
By Jim (did-everything-wrong-last-year) Langley

Dennis put his mini-pump against my head and forced me to write this. If you're doing Mt. Tam for the first time, please heed my advice below. If you're an expert already, please write a race report so we can learn more.

By the numbers, here's what I'd do if I was racing Mt Tam this year (I'll be at Interbike instead):

1. Warm up well - break a real sweat, get your heart rate high for a while. REASON: The start is fast and competitive. You want to stay at the front and do as little work as possible for the 4-mile flat stretch before the climb. In order to do that you need to have your engine warmed-up and ready to race right away.
2. Get to the start early and line up in the very, very front line. REASON: They're going to take off like it's a criterium and you want to be at the front for as much of a free ride as you can get so your legs are feeling great when the road tilts up. If you're anywhere near the back or even mid pack, there's a great chance you'll get bumped back further and further and end up yo-yoing at the tail end and arrive totally spent when the real race begins.
3. Focus on the road and riders and stay on the drops. REASON: The road is awful. It's narrow, twisting and rutted. The shoulder is bad, too. There's a centerline rule and maybe even oncoming traffic. Watch for snakebite-causing ruts that people don't point out (that's why you need to be in front); stay on the drops so you can keep control when you get bumped; and watch for squirrels that get pushed over the centerline and then force their way back in.
4. Try hard to be very near the front by the time you make the right turn to begin the climb. REASON: If there's a large gap or if you're back in the pack you'll lose a lot of time weaving through people on this part.
5. Go hard; don't pace yourself too much on this first climb. REASON: At the top you get a little dip where you can rest a little. It's actually a slight downhill for you to breathe easy a bit and spin lightly for the Seven Sisters to come.
6. Smile when you see the next part, the Seven Sisters: you get to ride a rollercoaster of a road. Do these like our hill repeats, powering over them seeing how many people you can catch. Wheee! REASON: The finish is right ahead and you can catch a lot of people and make some real time if you jam over each Sister and fly down the backside and repeat, all 7 times.

Good luck team! Ride smart and climb fast!

Friday, September 5, 2008

University Road Race 45+

By Mark Edwards 8/24/08

Mark riding up Hagar RdUniversity road race… I love this race! I’ve never podiumed, I suffer terribly, and rarely are the results correct. So why do I love this race? Many reasons, it’s my home course, we always have lots of friends come by to cheer us on, and there’s lots of climbing.

This year exceeded all others combined. We set up two Bicycle Trip tents, had at least half the team there at one time or another, had the most family and friends I’ve ever seen at one of our races (I don’t think I ever went more than two minutes without hearing someone cheer me on – that was amazing!), and… they even got my place correct.

Snacks provided by The ButteryAnd then, a real highlight, Joe Platin (racer extraordinaire and team sponsor) brought by an amazing array of great food prepared by The Buttery which was enjoyed by all.

I got to the race a bit early to cheer on our guys in the 35+ 4/5. I watched Scott ride the best I’ve ever seen in this race, while Matt impressed all of us climbing with the leaders (he’s gone from out of shape to a formidable climber in a surprisingly short time), and Bob showed that once his legs catch up to his heart – no one will be safe.

I’ve raced the 35+ 4/5 twice and the 45+ Open three times. I’ve been competitive in the 35+ 4/5 group, but never in the 45+. For this race the 45+ is combined with the 35+ 1/2/3 group. This combined field puts everyone at the mercy of some of the top climbers in the NCNCA. Historically it’s been an incredible amount of suffering for really lousy results.

Would it be different this year? Has my training prepared me for the inevitable surges and attacks? Never mind that this is probably the most demanding course of the season.

As usual, the starting roster was a who’s who of climbers in our District. All my main rivals were present and accounted for. We talked casually waiting for the starter’s gun, trying our best to hide our nervousness. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, this course is going to hurt. Bad.

The gun went off and Geoff, Jim, and I surged off the line. The pace was quick, but manageable – at least for a lap or two. This race has a way of splitting up very quickly. If you get caught behind a gap your race can be over before you even get started. Jim and Geoff were staying near the front - smart positioning. I assumed my usual position, somehow managing to hang at the very back of the lead pack. I’m able to avoid getting gapped, but I’m always nervous that a gap will open ahead of me and I’ll end up in trouble.

Over the first climb, I then tucked in behind the largest rider I could find and did as little as possible on the descent. The turn on to Hagar, starting the 1 ¼ mile climb, always starts with a surge. I moved to near the front and allowed myself to drift back as the guys accelerated. They peloton usually backs off just as I near the rear of the pack, and they did it again this time. Perfect! I stayed in the lead group and expended less energy than most.

Each of the next four laps saw the pace pick up, with the forth passing in a scorching 7:12! I’m still amazed how fast we climbed that forth lap, unfortunately that was the last I saw of Geoff and Jim (actually I did see Jim one more time).

Throughout the race Scott was keeping me apprised of my position relative to the other 45+ guys ahead of me. A couple of times I had to chuckle as he urged me on with news I was only 45 seconds back. Heck, I could barely turn my cranks, let alone consider accelerating.

Up until about lap 7 I was with the main group. After that the 35+ guys started to pull the group apart. At this point I couldn’t figure out if all my competitors were around me, or up ahead with a handful of 35+ guys. Scott tried to keep me informed, but it’s a tough race to track, and I’m not sure how capable I was of understanding his updates at that point. I was in serious oxygen debt and not thinking especially clearly.

By lap 11 I was struggling with negative self talk. I wanted to quit, questioning why I do this to myself. But then, as I crested the climb near the pool, I saw Jim and his group working together. That gave me a push to keep going. As I passed, Jim gave me a cheer that carried me up the next climb.

Suffering through the next couple of laps, I wasn’t sure what to make of Scott’s update on lap 13. He said Jon Ornstil was cracking big time and if I could pass him I’d be in 6th place – good enough for a T-shirt!

I kept pushing, trying my best to ignore the pain, when Jon came into view. I was going to catch him on the flats near the pool parking lot. Perfect. The short flat section is probably the only place on this course where I have an advantage on Jon. On the descent he could sit on my wheel, he’s stronger climbing, but I’m heavier and stronger on the flats (plus he’d killed himself off the front for several laps with one of the 35+ monsters).

I mustered whatever I could and went by him too fast for him to attempt catching my wheel, it worked. I crested the summit with him no where near.

My final lap, driven by panic that some one was bound to catch me, was actually one of the most painful. But I managed to hang on for 6th place.

I’ve got a year to get ready for University ’09.

Dunnigan Hills & San Ardo Road Race Reports 2008

Dunnigan Hills & San Ardo RR Reports
By Ed Price

I'll start with Dunnigan since it was just last weekend - and then cover the previous weekend's race at San Ardo (scroll to the bottom).

Dunnigan was one of the hardest flat races I've done in some time. What Dunnigan Hills lacked in climbing, it more than made up for in wind and heat. It should be called Dunnigan "Winds," not Dunnigan Hills. Fierce wind. Central Valley wind. The kind of wind you get riding up the coast of Highway One about noon on a typical summer day. Two long sections of sidewind, one long section of headwind and finally a long section of really strong tailwind. The sidewind tore my race to pieces.

I knew Dunnigan was going to be a hard race when about half of the field (including me) missed the right-hand turn to head north. One of the most basic rules of the group training rides is "never lead unless you know the way." About mile eight, I noticed that riders were starting to turn around in one's and two's and head back in the opposite direction we just came from, never a good sign. It took about three quarters of a mile for the remaining pack to realize we had strayed off course and turn around.

We found the turn we should have taken and headed north into a fierce wind. I thought my race was over right then and there. The riders who knew the course and took the right-hander we missed were almost out of sight and I could see a big pack way way up the road. I felt like quitting and turning around right then and there but we chased and chased and chased. I knew John Pollard took the right way because he was not with my group and our plans to "race together" were dashed before we even had a chance.

I don't know how, but we finally began to catch rider after rider who took the correct right turn. The headwind was fierce and the effort those riders made by themselves severely taxed their strength and they were unable to keep up with my group as we passed them. We finally caught the big group but it was the 55+ category who started five minutes behind us, not my race. They had slipped by us when we missed the right-hand turn to head north.

After much discussion, I determined my group was all together at this point and that no one was up the road anymore. My group pulled away from the 55+. After a few miles, the 55+ riders came by us and pulled away. Then the juniors came by us and pulled away. After a few miles more, my group started to put down the hammer and we passed the juniors and then went straight by the 55+ riders. Finally the 55+ riders caught my group again and we rode together briefly. I was not paying attention when my group rolled off the front of the 55+ riders and by the time I saw the danger, it was too late. I chased and chased and got within 25 yards but the wind was too strong. 12 riders were up the road about 30 seconds and I was in "no man's land."

I let the 55+ group catch me and stayed off the back just enought to stay out of trouble with the motorcyle ref that was watching us (and me) very closely. Finally we hit the last ten-mile stretch with the wind at our backs. I broke away from the 55+ group with another rider from my race several times but I could never make it stick. I saw Jim Langley attack the 55+ group over and over again and wanted to help but I knew I could not.

With about three miles to go, the motorcyle ref told me and the others riders in my group (four total) to drop back and let the 55+ riders sprint for the line. I left my four companions in the last kilometer and finished 13th, about a minute down on my group of 12.

Next year, I will not miss that turn again.

San Ardo RR Report
This was my 12th year racing San Ardo and it was by far the fastest, almost 13 minutes faster over 67 miles (covered in just under three hours). I could have raced the 45+ 4/5 event but wanted the challenge of riding three laps and competing against guys 17 years younger than me. I fulfilled my goal of a top six placing the very first race this year at Cantua Creek (4th) , so the pressure was off and I could focus on helping my team in races or race a harder category if I wanted to.

There were a number of teams with four to six riders who controlled the group and although the pace was fast (23mph), we didn't lose very many riders as we approached the long uphill finish. Starting from the very back (and yes, I should have been closer to the front) at the bottom of the hill, I slowly worked my way up the field, having to dodge a few riders who were rapidly slowing down in front of me. Hitting the brakes hard twice, I forced my way around several riders who were purposely swinging off and slowing down after leading out their favored sprinter. That's bike racing and I should know by know what to expect. A group of about 15 riders were pulling away from the field near the top of the climb and I joined them as we turned left onto the finishing straight. I finished 16th and it was a good two seconds before the 17th rider came in. Our newest team member, Mike Bodge was 2nd overall and 1st in the 35+ 4/5 "B" race (raced together but picked seperately). Great job Mike!

The important lesson for the day; if you start a sprint at the back it better be a very long and unobstructed way to the finish line. Long it was, but unobstructed it was not and I know that hurt my chances of a top six placing. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dunnigan Hills Road Race (55+), Aug 31, 2008

Dunnigan Hills Road Race Report
By Jim Langley

Oddly enough, the Dunnigan Hills Road Race isn't really about hills, it's about wind, but there is one important bump right at the end it's good to know about. We 55+ guys raced 1 lap around the 46-mile loop and I spent most of the day hiding, which was relatively easy since the flat terrain attracted one of the largest fields of the year, more than 3o strong.

Mostly the course follows frontage roads skirting Highway 5 and we faced stiff cross and head winds. A few strongmen tried to get off the front and some were able to fight the wind alone for a good distance but we eventually pulled everyone back. My plan was to stay in the sweet spot and not do any work until late in the race. I was thinking before the race I might attack from the gun or go halfway in, but it was so much more difficult out in the wind, I gave up on those ideas and decided to wait.

About the only interesting event in the early part of the race was barely avoiding going off course as we began to follow teammate John Pollard's pack, that had missed a turn. Luckily for us, John and another rider realized their mistake and headed back, just in time to prevent us from making the same goof. Read John's report to see how his race turned out.

I actually almost didn't enter this race because of the lack of hills and I expected it would be a fast, flat contest decided by the sprint. I don't have much finishing speed so my plan was to apply a little "tenderizer," in the form of almost all-out attacks, to soften up the pack's legs and hopefully improve my chances in any dash to the line.

About 10 miles from the finish I made my first big effort, standing and giving it about 90% for a minute and then sitting and looking back to see what effect it had. It opened a decent gap but the guys closed it quickly. After a brief rest, I attacked again, and this time one of the Hammer Nutrition guys came with me and one other guy and we put a little pressure on the bunch behind with a few miles of pretty smooth pacelining. But, the wind prevented us from adding any distance and the pack slowly absorbed us.

I drifted back for some rest and to recharge my batteries and watched my computer. When it read 40 miles, meaning only 6 to go, I hit the front again, standing and powering away at almost maximum effort in my top gear, 53/12. I did this about 5 times and every time the guys drew me back, but they never counterattacked me, so I was always recovering when they were chasing and attacking when they were trying to recover, giving me a slight advantage even if I was working much harder.

With the bunch all together we passed the 2-mile marker and then the 1-mile sign and, worried that everyone was setting up to sprint, I tried to attack again. This time, 2 Hammer Nutrition guys were on me and they pounded past and made the hard right leading to the finishing straightaway. This road looked more like a driveway than the course and I might have missed it had they not led the way. At this point, I thought I'd blown it and that the finish was going to become a large pack sprint, the worst scenario for me. After all, if the Hammer guys had hammered by so easily, obviously there must be a bunch of faster sprinters just behind them biding their time for the right moment to pounce. (It never occurred to me to look back and see.)

Not wanting that to happen I marked the Hammers and saw that we had to get over a small hill, an overpass over I5. This made it impossible to see the finish so I had no idea how far out we still were. All I knew is that the finish was ahead somewhere and I didn't want the red-and-white Hammers to beat me to it. Still in my 53/12, I couldn't get quite enough leg speed up the overpass but I managed to pass the guys in front and had a clear view of the VeloPromo finishing tent. I could not see the line but I knew it had to be near the tent.

I had lugged my engine getting over the hill but was able to wind it up coming down the backside and I was still out in front. I was fully expecting at any moment to hear the sound of the cavalry charging past and relegating me to pack-fodder status. I was even slightly holding back trying to save something in case I had to make one final effort or get on a wheel. It was about then that I spotted the line not 20 feet ahead(!), way before the tent, and I tried hard to speed up. But, 2 guys timed it better and caught me right at the line. Maybe if I'd realized the finish was so close, or maybe if I'd had an 11-tooth cog, I might have won, but I'm very happy with 3rd and especially happy I was fit enough to almost control a flat road race, something I've never been able to do in the past. Overall, Dunnigan turned out to be a lot of fun and a great confidence builder, too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dunnigan Hills Road Race

By John Pollard

This was a strange enough experience that I thought I'd write about it.

I drove up with Bob, Jim, and Joe. Ed was there, and I did spot Nils, but didn't have a chance to talk to him. There were so many 45+ 4/5 riders, that they split us into two fields. Bob and Joe were in the "A" field, while Ed and I were together in the "B" field. Jim rode the 55+ race, where he did quite well, and Nils rode the E3 race.

I did not come into this race with good fitness and it was a flat race on paper, so my plan was pretty much not to respond to any breaks, and hope for a sprint finish. For the first 7-8 miles, it all went according to plan. On the outbound section, there was a strong quartering headwind from the right, and I sat happily on the left, doing virtually no work. One of the other riders said "this is turning into a really boring race." Perfect. As we went over a freeway overpass, I heard shouting behind. It was one of the San Jose guys drifting off the back, trying to attract the attention of his teammates. Behind him, I saw riders turning, and a large group riding away in a different direction.

I drifted back, and turned around. No one else followed. The San Jose guy (who turned out to be "Bunkie" (Ed) Webb said "I want to wait for my boys." He had 4 other teammates in the race, and it looked like half of the group was up the road, but not attacking. I preferred to arrive in the pack without "his boys," so I put my head down to chase, and he jumped on my wheel. We traded pulls, into a headwind. After chasing for several minutes, we had narrowed the gap, but it started to stabilize at a hundred yards of so. Damn, they're speeding up. Instead of waiting to get worn down, I jumped across the remaining gap with Webb sitting on. With my nose on the stem, my new Power Tap showed scary high numbers, but we made it back to the race and were able to rest on the very back for several minutes. Once I felt vaguely human, I looked around and saw a Bike Trip jersey in the front third of the group, out of the wind. "Ed made the turn. Cool." I decided to cruise up to tell him that I was back. That's when things got ugly for the second time.

It wasn't Ed. It was Jim. Webb and I had chased down the 55 pack, but we didn't know how many of our pack were mixed up with the 55s. It turned out that he was sticking with me, we talked about it, and decided to look over the group to see if any of our guys were in it. All the way down the left side, from front to back, the race numbers showed all 55s. We weren't sure if we were the front our race, or if there were other people even further up the road. At that point, the guys in the middle/rear of the 55 pack noticed our numbers, and started yelling at us. They were going to call a referee, have us DQed, and so on. Webb and I drifted off to the side to discuss what to do when we spotted a group of 3 further up the road that looked like part of our race. We decided to bridge up to the group of three.

We traded pulls again, but the guys on the front of the 55 pack chased us down. We sat up for a minute before trying again, and the guys in the middle of the 55s started shouting and threatening Webb and I again. We did a "rinse and repeat" a couple more times, and finally ran down the 3 guys who DID turn out to be in our race. For the second time, I was totally gassed and really, really needed a rest. At that moment we were hitting the rollers that were the "hills" part of "Dunnigan Hills," and the front of our race came through, working a fast paceline. I saw that Ed Price was with them. Webb jumped on the train and went on to win the race. I jumped on the train and blew up on spectacular fashion, going backwards through the 55s and then through the people in my race who were unable to hang with the chase. Jim saw me slipping and told me to hang on, but there was simply no gas left in the tank at that moment.

The race itself had gone up the road, but I convinced several of the dropped riders to start working again - mostly because it was going to be a long ride back alone in the wind. We eventually became 5 riders, then caught another group of 5 or 6. The eventual group of 10+ motored back much faster than I would have liked at that point. It was a learning experience and a hard workout - on par with something that Mark Edwards would design. My Power Tap file shows many extreme power spikes, and sustained early L4/5 that you do NOT want to see if you are trying to conserve energy. Congratulations to Bunkie Webb (SJBC) who also did tons of un-necessary work, but was able to go on to win the race. If I had known that I was off the front with one of the strongest guys in the field, I would have ridden very differently. As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca, "I was misinformed."

John Pollard