By Mark Edwards 11/27/08
Mt. Hamilton is arguably our most epic local climb. At 18.4 miles and 4,343’ of vertical gain, it clearly has the credentials. But it’s the views, sweet pavement, and low traffic that seal its place as one of our top climbs. It’s also a fitting finale to the Low Key Hill Climb series and a wonderful way to kick off Thanksgiving morning.
This year also promised to be my chance to redeem myself for taking a wrong turn prior to last year’s finish.
Matt, Scott, and I carpooled to the start where we met up with Geoff, Chris, Nils, Bryan, and Gary. We warmed-up, put our jackets and warm clothes in the designated SAG vehicle, and lined up for the start. This year’s group appeared to be well over a hundred racers, likely setting a record.
Last year I got popped near the end of the first 6 mile climb, making the final 12 miles into an individual time trial. This year, although heavier, I hoped that the extra power I’d built working all those hill repeats with the Team would give me what I needed to hang on.
The lead car honked its horn and we were off. I stayed around 15th, keeping an eye on the key players, while Geoff sat comfortably in about 5th position. The remainder of the Team was hot on our heals, with everyone hoping for a strong climb. This years pace seemed easier than last year, but it was deceptive. Our leaders seemed content to set a hard steady pace, absent the quad searing surges of last year. The pace took its toll, dropping one or two riders at a time, until the lead group was down to about 15 riders as we crested the first 6 mile climb.
An early casualty was Tim Clark, series leader. Tim is so strong, he went directly to the front and pulled at what must have been over 400 watts for the majority of the first 10 minutes. He dropped back to rest and his competitors jumped on the opportunity to attack him. Tim, myself, and another rider got gapped. But we slowly struggled back onto the group before the second climb started.
The second climb saw the lead 15 break into multiple small groups of 2 to 4. After a short decent the third climb had Geoff and I working with Justin Lucke. Justin is a young strong Cat 2 that has traded placings with Geoff and I the past year or so. He tends to be somewhat inconsistent, but you can never discount him.
Geoff had been riding very smartly, staying out of the wind and well positioned. But we were now beyond the “save your energy” section of the race. The final 6.6 mile climb was sheer strength. Geoff was pulling like a freight train with Justin on his wheel, and me on Justin’s. I’d noticed Justin was allowing small gaps to open, and was progressively getting slower at closing them. I was also close to my edge, but figured I might be better off than Justin.
About this time Geoff sat up and looked over his shoulder for help. Justin wasn’t about to come around and I knew I didn’t have much left. As Geoff slowed I was considering how many times I’d seen an obviously broken Justin recover and become a serious threat at the finish (Mt. Diablo 07 the three of us played this same game). So I moved up front. I knew I was on my edge, but liked our Team’s chances better without Justin. Once in front I brought the pace back up to Geoff’s scorching previous pace. It worked, Justin dropped. As the gap opened Geoff returned to the front and proceeded to chase down the next couple of stragglers ahead.
Now with four of us together, Geoff was punching holes in the group with short surges at every switchback. One in particular sent a clear message to me that I was toast. I succeeded in hanging on, but I knew my time was close. Sure enough, not more than a couple of minutes later, at about mile 14, I had to let go of the three others.
At this point my focus switched to my time. I wanted to better last year’s time and felt I was well positioned – if only I could hang on.
About 2 miles from the finish, Tim Clark came by me. I tried to catch his wheel, but could only hold it for a minute or two. Even blown up, Tim’s an amazing force on a bike. Shortly thereafter, Dan Connelly went by me, he was clearly on a mission to attempt to catch Tim.
The last mile no one else appeared on the road behind me, so I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the cramping in my legs. I finished well worked and deserving of a big Thanksgiving meal, and with a PR of over 4 minutes!
Geoff did extremely well, placing 5th against many of our areas best climbers. I was a few positions behind in 11th. My time this year would have earned me 4th place last year, it’s amazing how much faster the races are getting.