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!