Sunday, January 1, 2012

San Bruno Hillclimb Jan 1, 2012 55+ 1/2/3 & 4/5

San Bruno Hillclimb Race Report 1/1/2012
55+ 1/2/3s and 55+ 4/5s
by Jim Langley

Leading it out (David Cheung photo)
On maybe the most beautiful morning we've ever had for the traditional road-season kickoff event, Scott Martin, Joe Platin and I piled in my van and headed over the hill to test our early season fitness on the +/- 18-minutes of pain that is the San Bruno Hillclimb.

I think Scott and I have done it about seven times or more each, so we're really good at avoiding the alcohol, goodies and late bedtime on New Year's Eve. I don't think Joe has done it as often but he had a great race last year nabbing second, and this year was to be his first time in the 55+ 1/2/3 racing with me. (He's coming off a broken elbow so he's just finding his form again.)

For Scott, this was his first race in the 55+ 4/5s and Coach Mark, Joe and I had high expectations and urged him to ride aggressively. Plus, Scott and I have been following Mark's new-and-improved training program and felt fit and ready to race.

I had also upgraded my race bike to Bontrager's 2012 Aeolus 3 D3 carbon aero tubular wheels, dropping its weight from 16.4 to 15.2 pounds! These are the newest carbon aero wheels, which according to the company's wind-tunnel testing are some of the fastest ever made. Just soft pedaling around my neighborhood testing the featherweight hoops, I could feel the lightness and get-up-and-go, and equally important, I knew they'd help with the wind at the top of the mountain too.

First number of 2012
Even though we left Santa Cruz at 7:15, we ended up a little late, so it was a firedrill getting the numbers pinned, setting up the trainers, putting in our full warm-ups and rolling over to the starting-line staging on time.

Scott flatting on his trainer(!) didn't help. But we lined up in time for the 10:05 a.m. mass start - with each category going off at minute intervals. From the parking situation it seemed like a packed event this year, but from the racers lined up waiting for the start, it was clear that the turnout wasn't as large as it has been in the past.

Joe and I went off in one of the first groups. There were only nine guys lined up, which was a surprise. We had expected some day-of-race signups with the incredible weather, but nope.

Still as you know, how many racers are in your race doesn't matter as much as what racers are in it. And, ours was stacked, with last year's winner, Steve Archer; the Everest Challenge winner; a former 45+ all-star that Coach Mark had told us to watch out for (in his first 55+ race); and other guys who had beat us up pretty good all last season.

San Bruno starts with an uphill dragstrip - a wide-open 2-lane road, about a quarter mile at a steady 10%. So when the official starts you, you rocket out of the side street, turn left and are immediately looking up this ramp into the sky.

Go Joe! (David Cheung photo)
Checking the pre-race signups, I was concerned that Webcor had 3 strongmen in our group and I told Coach Mark that I thought they would attack from the starting line and then trade accelerations to weaken us right from the get-go.

With this in mind, on the starting line I was looking at how they were lined up and I noticed that the 3 of them were on the far right, together, and most telling, that one of them had his chain on the 53.

So, sure enough, they start our race and that guy just stands, punches it and blasts off up the hill - probably a 100% effort. We responded right away and got on his wheel and he sat up. At which point, his teammate shot away on the left and we had to match his acceleration.

We shut that down and the other guy went again. But thankfully after that, everything settled down and we pretty much rode as a solid, fast group pushing it hard all the way to the entrance to the park about halfway up the 3.5-mile climb.

I keep coming back to this race because there's something epic about the start and how you have to dig so hard not to get dropped. Then, as you crest the first pitch, the grade mellows a touch and if you're fit, you recover and find your climbing rhythm. After that, you're flying up this hill with the other top guys and it's a magic feeling going so fast up the mountain.

1/2/3 results
During that magic section of the climb Joe and I were together, and from what I could tell, he was feeling as good as I was. But then, as we reached the right turn taking us down and into the state park, one of the Webcor guys attacked again and raced down into the park taking the long way (but faster route) around the entry hut on the wrong side of the road.

I was in second and I stayed to the right because the officials told us to stay in the right lane. So, the Webcor guy opened a gap with his greater speed taking the faster line. Steve was behind me with Joe, and Steve took the faster route too, while Joe did what I did, staying right.

Joe told me that having Steve going so fast around the booth and zooming past him, unnerved him a little - made him remember his bad crash and he hesitated for a second or two. That stretch of road is very bumpy and there are poles and potholes to avoid so racers taking sketchy lines makes it feel more dangerous. I can see why it distracted Joe.

4/5 results
I knew I couldn't let them gap me. So I matched Steve's acceleration and we quickly reeled George (the Webcor guy) back to us. But Joe got gapped and couldn't close the distance, which was a problem because at this point the wind and grade kicked up significantly.

After that point my memory isn't as clear as it needs to be if I'm going to start winning tight, tactical races like this. I know that George, Steve and I were together and that we took turns surging and testing each other and we tried different sides of the road and different positioning to try to hide from the wind and get any advantage. As we got closer to the top, I was looking for the power poles that are the sign that you're close to sprinting distance.

Last year Steve had been in front and had just ridden away from me and Mac Carey (Mac wasn't there this year). I didn't want Steve dictating the pace to the top. And, I had a feeling that George had done so many attacks at the bottom that he might be a little tired now. So, I pushed a little harder and found myself in front (top photo). Immediately I could feel the wind pushing me back and hurting my legs more than they were hurting when I was drafting.

But I thought I was close to the finish. I thought it was right around the corner. There were lots of racers coming down the hill and that made me think that. And we were past the power poles too and that meant it was somewhere just ahead.

Second & First (me and Steve Archer)
I also thought that I had opened a small gap and that I had no choice but to play my card and go for it. So instead of hesitating and letting whoever was back there come up on me and trying to play cat & mouse with them, I just gave it everything fighting that wind.

For maybe 10 seconds I thought I was going to win the race. I could see the finish, people were hollering, I couldn't hear anyone behind and I thought I had the power and speed to finish it off. But, I had been in the wind too long and Steve had been smarter again and came around for the win.

Joe took a strong 5th, just behind Steve, me, Kevin Susco and George Smith. That's some great riding by Joe for his first 1/2/3 55+ event and coming off a tough injury.

Scott had a great performance, too, taking 5th in the packed 4/5 55+ race, which started with 25-30 riders. He said that 2 guys escaped at the bottom and he had to fight the wind alone a lot of the way up the mountain or he might have been able to do even better.

Team Bicycle Trip also had John Bonnet in the 45+ 1/2/3 who took a strong 9th place. It was nice to see John again. We used to ride together when he was with the Apple City Wheelmen in the 1980s and he looks as fit as ever.

Overall, it's a fine start to the 2012 season for Team Bicycle Trip/Symantec! See you at the races,