Sunday, January 4, 2009

San Bruno Hill Climb 45+

By Mark Edwards 1/1/09
Pictures by Michael Hernandez

Team Bicycle Trip rang in 2009 with a bang!

We stormed the Mt. San Bruno Hill Climb in force. 11 of us restrained our New Year’s Eve celebrating to show up ready to rumble in the cold and fog of New Year’s Day. We came by carpool and bike, we arrived an hour or so before start time and proceeded to attempt to warm-up. In reality, I think all of us were colder after our warm-up. The start line was a collection of shivering skinny climbers. I was absolutely miserable, thinking nobody could be as cold as I was. But a quick look around convinced me that I wasn’t any worse off than anyone else.

This year they started us in two waves. The first wave included the Pro 1/2, 35+, and a few other groups. The second wave, starting 5 minutes after the first, would have the 45+ men leading the charge up the opening 8% climb. This was the first time I’d been in the lead group for the start. It was a much better experience than previous years. No traffic, no close calls.

At the starter’s gun, we were off. Within the first ½ mile the lead group was already down to about a dozen. The attrition rate, like our pace, promised to be high. Team Bicycle Trip was well represented in the lead group. Geoff, Miles, Russ, and I made up a third of the most competitive group I’ve faced for this climb.

With an expected time of 16 to 17 minutes, there aren’t many reasons to hold back. Carl Neilson (2nd in 2008) was setting a blistering pace. I was intently focused on my fellow rider’s body language. As soon as someone revealed the slightest weakness, I had no choice but to go around them. Getting gapped at this speed would mean almost certain doom. 7 minutes in, Carl began to slow, but he’d already done plenty of damage. Even though most of the lead group was still together, it soon quickly thinned.

I could see that Geoff was feeling strong and considering taking over pacing duties from Carl. I was on his wheel and ready to go with him, but hoped he’d hold back… it was still nearly a 10 minute sprint to the top. Feeling good a third of the way up can quickly turn into blowing up at the ¾ mark.

Around through the Park entrance and out of the underpass, the road again tilted up. This time the smooth pavement was gone and the fog was hugging the mountain. Conspicuously absent at this point was John Novitsky (last year’s winner and current 50+ National TT Champion). This is also about the time Russ lost contact with the group, an impressive ride by Russ so early in the season (against some of the best NCNCA 45+ climbers).

The final climb would prove to be a real test for Team Bicycle Trip. We were down to Rick Martyn (winner of the 2008 University road race), Jon Ornstil (winner of the 2008 Mt. Tam and Diablo Hill climbs), Steve Archer (2nd @ the 2008 Mt. Tam Hill Climb), Carl Neilson (2nd 2008 Mt. San Bruno Hill Climb), Clark Foy (2007 BAR and 2nd in the recent LKHC series), and Bike Trippers Miles, Geoff, and myself.

This group would quickly slim down as Clark Foy timed his move out of the slipstream and into the lead perfectly. Clark was incredibly dominant in the Low Key Hill climb series this past Fall, placing second overall to the amazing climbing machine Tim Clark. Clark was my pre-race favorite, and I wasn’t surprised when he took the lead and upped the pace. He shed all but Geoff, myself, and Steve in short order.

With less than a mile to go Steve slipped off my wheel. Shortly thereafter I noticed Geoff had allowed a small gap to open between him and Clark. I still felt good, so I moved into the gap. Clark was so smooth and relaxed I almost forgot how hard I was working. As he inched the pace up I started losing contact. He made it look so easy, my legs were telling a different story.

The fog was on the ground at this point. It was disorienting, I couldn’t tell where I was on the road, or how far I had to go. Even when I spotted the 200 meter sign, I couldn’t trust that the finish was so close. Between the creepy low visibility and oxygen debt, I couldn’t process any thoughts other than to just keep pedaling. I was fading fast and Clark was showing no weakness what-so-ever. He crossed the line in first, and I limped across hanging on to second. Geoff filled the final podium spot in 3rd.

Had Clark raced the Pro 1/2 this year, he would have won with his time. My time this year was 53 seconds faster than last year’s 45+ winner. Just another example that the bar keeps getting bumped up in the hotly contested 45+ Master’s racing group.

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