Sunday, October 26, 2008

Low-Key Hillclimb No. 4 - Bear Gulch

Much like the last post from Geoff, this one was inspired partly by chastisement from Dennis, who nevertheless was kind to decline setting a deadline for when I should have it posted.

This report also revolves around time-mismanagement. Dennis and I set out from San Gregorio to ride up Hwy 84. Half way into our easy warm-up, I realized I had miscalculated by 1 hour, and there was no way we could make it to the race on time. Registration was happening up on Skyline, and then the group was supposed to descend together down Bear Gulch to the start.

So, instead of continuing on to the registration area, we turned off on Bear Gulch, and were encouraged by some runners who said the pack of cyclists had just gone by moments before. The road snaked through redwoods, gently falling and curving for 2 miles, then burst out of the shade onto steep grassland where it plummeted the last mile, ending at a gate back in a grove of redwoods.

And there was the race, 80 or so folks staring up at us as we descended the last turn. I told the race organizer we had passed a guy fixing a flat, which gave us an extra minute to turn our bikes around, strip off extra clothes, and take an extra deep breath before we were off.

The start was tricky since it was steep right away. The guy leading us off had to start, clip in, go past a telephone pole, push start on his timer, and yell go. Took him about 4 tries to get clipped in, and I was right behind him, holding back because it looked like he was about to take everyone out. But finally he got it together, yelled go, and immediately I hear Clark Foy over my shoulder calmly say, "On your left." I keep the door open for him best as I can with people clipping and wobbling all around me, and right into the first curve Clark slips through like a silvery-blue fish on my left. A dozen other fish stream by, and one of the last is Jeff Farnsworth. Jeff and I have ridden together in other races and seem to have similar abilities on the bike. I'm thinking, "Damn, Jeff is going good. I don't think I could do that. Guess I'm not going to keep up with Jeff today."

The first mile is tough. The race description of 3 miles at 6% is misleading because most of the climb happens in the first mile. I'm wrestling with my 34/23, wishing I had a 25 cog to drop down to, and later I hear from Dennis that he was quite glad to be spinning in his 34/27.

I follow a few Pen-Velos, but then they're gone, 1 ahead, 1 behind. A tire on my left explodes. He's not going to catch me. The views here are amazing but I've got tunnel vision, black fuzz around the edges. Eventually I settle in just behind a Morgan-Stanley woman, a trim climber. Then finally, mercifully, the first mile is past us and I can start to recover. I pass the climber gal and say, "That's a rough way to start a race." She says nothing, and when I glance back a few moments later, she is no where in sight. Later I learned that she is Jennie Phillips, racing with the Sisters of No Mercy team, and top finisher on the women side of things.

But who is in sight is Jeff Farnsworth, and I realize he got a gap on me but now isn't moving away. The road becomes much more enjoyable...I'm in shade, pavement is good, and its more like rollers than climbing. I'm back and forth between big ring, small ring. Every time the road rolls up I stand to power through, and when I sit, Farnsworth is that much closer. My race becomes 3 things: me, Farnsworth, and the finish line. I catch him maybe a couple hundred yards before the line, stand and power past. As I go by he offers up a "way to go", sounding like he doesn't have much fight left.

I finished 14th. Foy took first by a minute. The other Matt was right behind Farnsworth, and Dennis was 20th. Overall Bike Trip took 4th. No one stood a chance against the all female Sisters of No Mercy team. Where are the Bike Trip women?

After the race we did interval work on both sides of Old La Honda before heading back to San Gregorio. A beautiful day on the bike.

(pics by Sonja Wieck)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Low-Key Hillclimb No. 2

You’d think that since I’ve worked in high tech for the last decade I’d be better at contributing to the blog. I’m trying to be better, really I am. I also don’t want to be scolded by Dennis. So here you go.

The second Low-Key Hill Climb (LKHC) took our intrepid group of eight Team Bicycle Trip members up West Alpine, starting from Sam McDonald Park. We parked in Pescadero for a crisp but beautiful ride to the start. After an hour or so, we were going at a leisurely pace when Bob Montague said, “Uh, guys, it’s 15 minutes to start time.” So we had to drop the hammer to get there on time, but it in the end it was a great warmup. I’m glad someone actually uses an electronic device to keep time, while the rest of us stare blankly at our speed and wattage numbers and have no idea what time of day it actually is.

The start was a false flat through the redwoods for a mile or so, in the big ring. Amazingly, Tim Clark, the series leader, immediately went to the front and began stretching things out single file. (I figured he would at least save himself for the steep stuff.) Nils made good on his intention to take a pull or two at the front and put everyone in a little duress. Much appreciated! I thought all this was a perfect way to gradually elevate the heart rate before the nasty bits, so it was all fine with me. But no way I was going to make an appearance at the front!

Justin Lucke had told us beforehand to look for a 15-mph sign, with an arrow, which would signal the start of the real climbing. That was helpful. Plus, someone yelled out, “Small chainring!” just before the first hairpin. With that announcement, everyone dutifully hit the left shift lever. Ker-chunk, ker-chunk went 100 front derailleurs, and the real climbing began!

I stayed in the top five or so right from the start. I could see Tim up ahead, almost all the way to the finish, but there was no way I could get to him. At one point, in the middle section, I was in second place for a quite a while. When we hit the only flat section, I tucked in behind another rider to rest a bit before the final agonies.

The last mile or so was a group with myself, Justin, Michael Grundmann (Webcor), and Thomas Novikoff (Cambio). I’d never ridden up the climb before (though I have descended it many times), and wasn’t sure where the finish was. Ignorance in this case was not bliss. All of a sudden Justin and Michael started accelerating hard, knowing the finish was coming, but it was too late for me to get them. My only consolation was that I managed to outsprint Novikoff for fourth. Tim Clark won, going away, 53 seconds ahead of me. My wattage for the 30 minutes was 356; for the 25 minutes of the actual climb, it was 397. So I was pretty happy. Mark was 11th, and the great efforts of the team has us currently in second place overall.

For dessert, we went down Highway 84, up Kings Mountain road at a blistering pace with Mark leading the way, then over Stage Road, with me, Mark, and Nils alternately attempting acts of homicide on one another. The pain was exquisite. My PowerTap gave us 56 miles on the day. Another legendary Bike Trip outing!

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Melanie and I looked at the weather forecast and the promise of rain was all it took to convince us to get up early and drive to Santa Rosa for their 1st race of 5 in their series. That combined with the fact that the promoters are great people doing a lot in their community for bicycle advocacy, and always provide a good time. This race was no exception, with the Sonoma County Trails Commision on hand selling beer, and a live band present for our entertainment.

We arrived just after 8 o’clock and took a little walk around the course with Allison Baumhefner. There were a large number of tweakers hanging out in the park, who were somewhat confused by it all. One guy was eventually arrested, after trying to pick a fight, letting his dog run around the course, and making fun of the fit cyclists, “look at me, I’m a cyclist, I’m so fit” I made a mental note to watch out for dog poo. The promoters really made the most of this tiny park. There was an open grassy area covered in yellow tape marking all the zigzags, switch backs and corners to add some distance to the lap. They used some old paved pathways, and some trails that went along the creek to include a little variety. There was a small rooty run up, a large sandpit behind the swing sets, and a pile of woodchips that reminded me of a DFL course, along with a couple sets of super high barriers to make it hard. The rain added a little extra challenge making some corners nice and slippery, but it wasn’t enough to create the desired mud bath. We finished making our mental notes, and went back to the car to get changed and ride a lap.

I did a little warm up and chose my lines, the sections through the grass were really slow with all the twists and turns, the paved sections were fast, and there was little downhill into a right hand turn followed by a short steep slippery uphill that people were having trouble with. I decided to give it a try, and realized that if you went into it with enough speed you could clear it, but if someone in front of you stalled out, you would lose traction and have to get off and run. It could be one of those places to lose or make up time. I also noticed that the rest of the tweakers had positioned themselves on the backside of the course, and had quickly turned into typical cyclocross fans…Hecklers! They weren't bummed about their friend being arrested they "never liked that guy anyway".

We lined up for the start and there were about 7 Women in the A’s race, a small field but not bad for a low-key race like this. I managed to get the hole shot, and was wondering how this was possible, I shouldn’t be in the front. I stayed there for a lap and then slowed down a little bit, out of fear of blowing up and Barb Howe came around and passed me on the barriers. I figured I should stay with Barb as long as I could. I could hear Allison right behind me. We passed through the Tweaked Heckler section to find a guy standing still in the middle of the road, and a dog riding a skateboard, we yelled at them, just hoping they would stay where they were, kept our speed and went around them both, wishing for the best for those behind us, it was interesting to say the least. We stayed in this order for another lap until I tripped and fell on my face on the short rooty run up! Allison came around me and stepped on the gas, and she and Barb made pretty decent gap on me. At that point I decided not to let anyone else pass me, I got up, remounted, and just tried to keep it nice and steady from there. I could hear that Sarah Bamberger (on her Mountain bike nonetheless) and Sarah Piccolo were close behind. I held them off just enough through the next couple laps. It became a bit of a challenge to pass some of the lapped riders at this point, especially through the twisty turny grassy bits. It was the short steep up hill that proved to be a turning point. Sarah B and myself managed to ride it and Sarah P had to run, and we managed to put a little gap on her there. I was feeling pretty good again, after my little spill, and bruised ego and decided I could go a little faster on my last lap. I distanced myself from Sarah B, and made up some time on Allison and Barb. I came in 3rd place, which is a great result for me. I reminded myself that along with fitness the key to Cyclocross is staying on your bike!!