By Mark Edwards
Mt. San Bruno Hill Climb, after 5 consecutive years it appears to have become somewhat of a tradition for me. After 5 years, It’s also getting tougher to write a race report, what can I say that I haven’t said before? After all, they blow the whistle, you pedal like mad for three and a half miles, then it’s over.
My breakfast wasn’t notable, even Dennis wouldn’t be interested. The carpool, usually good for many stories, fizzled to a solo outing this year due to the forecast of rain. But, I did make great time on the drive up. New Year’s morning is a great time to drive. It only took 63 minutes, shaving 14 off of Map Quest’s estimate.
After a couple of light sprinkles, I arrived in San Bruno to hook up with Geoff and Matt, we lamented our unusually large carbon footprint for this race. This was the first race in a long time that we weren’t able to coordinate a carpool. While the skies threatened us with showers a couple of times, it actually turned out to be a very nice morning. Much warmer than past years, with no fog at the top. Not to mention we managed to stay completely dry.
We had a good warm-up on the Ronde Van Brisbane circuit course and then lined up for the start, timing chips attached to our helmets were a first this year. Each group would start at 30 second intervals, the volunteers did an amazing job sending us all off without a hitch.
As we awaited our start we laughed and joked, mostly to ease our nervousness, all the while keeping a close eye on our main competitors. Jon Ornstil and John Novitsky were no where to be seen, VOS’s Rick Martyn confirmed neither would be there. Too bad, as those two guys always make their presence felt in a race.
Different this year, instead of starting in two waves, each category would have an individual start at 30 second intervals. Not only did this make the start much safer, your time wasn’t penalized if you happened to be the fourth group in the second wave to go. Sometimes technology does work.
The 45+ was about the 7th category to start, we inched up every 30 seconds until we were on the start line. At the whistle, we were off. It was clear that Carl Nielson was the man to watch. Carl had destroyed all of us at Fremont Peak Hill Climb and the Low Key Hill Climb series. This was actually a double edge sword for Carl, none of us were crazy enough to think we could survive going head to head with him. So we waited and watched, where Carl went, we went.
The opening 8% ¼ mile can be brutal, but this year Carl set a fast and manageable pace. Those of us experienced with this group knew to be patient, a couple of new comers weren’t so lucky. Two guys apparently were feeling good and took the lead mid way up the opening climb, the rest of us watched them open a 20’ gap. By the top of that first climb we were reeling in several guys from the group ahead of us. The two guys that had gone to the front? Well, they came back quickly, almost like they’d put their brakes on.
Carl took this opportunity to throw down a surprisingly brutal surge. I say surprisingly because I’ve never seen him use this very effective tactic. He normally just rides us off his wheel with a pace just out of reach. On Carl’s wheel was Cale Reeder, Cale’s a super strong racer with a ton of experience. Geoff was tight on Cale’s wheel. Carl’s surge caught me off guard. I was gapped behind Geoff, with three guys on my wheel. I choose to slowly close the gap over about 15 seconds, fortunately it worked without putting me into too much distress.
At this point things settled into a good hard pace, Carl in front, with Cale, Geoff, and myself leading a group of seven through the middle section of the climb.
Popping out of the underpass onto Radio road we knew the fireworks were close at hand. There’s a short sharp rise immediately after the underpass and it lets you know very quickly that you’ve been climbing hard for the past 8 minutes or so. Near the top of the rise Geoff allowed a small gap to open, I was temporarily a bit stunned. I know first hand how great a climber Geoff is, when he started to struggle it let me know that I was likely more tired than my race distracted mind was telling me. I had to be careful.
I went around Geoff and smoothly closed the gap to Cale’s wheel. I was intently focused on Cale. At this point I felt he was the favorite, and knew from experience that he can attack from far out and make it stick. I couldn’t afford to give him an inch. Behind me was Clark Foy and Rick Martyn. Carl seemed to be tiring, we were about ¼ mile from the finish.
As expected, Cale exploded from behind Carl at about 400 meters. This time I was ready, I stuck to him as he pulled us clear of the rest of the group. Having done this race several times I knew there was generally a headwind for the final sprint, perfect to take the zip out of Cale’s legs. At 200 meters Cale slowed slightly and I countered. Coming around him I noticed no headwind. Good for my final sprint, but not good in that it meant Cale hadn’t been fighting it either. Oh well… I’m committed now.
I felt good, but I just couldn’t get on top of my gears. I much prefer sprinting in my big ring, but there hadn’t been an opportunity to shift up without risking getting gapped. So, in my 39, I put the hammer down. I came around Cale, but he caught my wheel. I was nearing my max cadence and Cale was inching up on my left, I reached to shift, but missed the lever. My fingers seemed almost paralyzed. Was it the cold? The fatigue? It took several moments for me to re-establish the link between my mind and fingers, now Cale’s front wheel was just past my crank arm. I was ready to try and shift again, knowing a drop in my cadence would put me back in the drivers seat. But, the line was just meters away. A shift now would cost me half a pedal stroke, what should I do?
A half pedal stroke would surely cost me the race, so I grit my teeth and spun. What I wouldn’t have given for just a little of Dennis’ high speed spinning ability right now.
We threw our bikes at the line (in hind sight, I might have been better off throwing my head forward instead of sliding back as I threw my bike forward. I was thinking front tire position, not helmet transducer). It was very close, but I was pretty sure Cale got me. I’d have to wait for the official results to be sure.
Cale 1st 15:59. Me, 2nd 15:59. A photo finish.