Saturday, November 30, 2013

LKHC #9: Mt. Hamilton

By Eddie Santos

For most, Thanksgiving is a holiday synonymous with a large meal centered around turkey. For the rest of us, it's a heavy dosage of pain centered around Mt. Hamilton. As tradition has it, the culmination of the Low-Key Hillclimb series brought a race up Mt. Hamilton on an absolutely picture perfect morning, despite forecasts of rain showers in the week leading up to the race. To thank the Gods for their providing blessed weather, Bike Trip put forth a solid Thanksgiving day team (likely annoying family members at home left to do all the cooking) of Dan, Nils, Scott, Stefano, and myself.

For those who have never experienced Hamilton, it's an 18.4 mile trip up to the observatory accumulating 4,399 ft feet of climbing along the way. In essence, the course consists of three climbs of starting with 5.9 miles (4.7%), a technical descent into the second climb of 3.2 miles (4.5%), and then a fast descent leading into the longest, steepest climb of 6.3 miles (5.9%).  This was the fourth time I'd done Hamilton (third time racing) and thus had started to get a sense of how to best slay the beast. The previous times I'd raced up the twisty mountain, I'd gone out too hard on the first two climbs, blew up, and bled time up the final, hardest climb. These experiences however, allowed me formulate a plan of attack: error on the side of slow on the first climb, find a group of riders to work with on the flatter top part of the first climb and on the descents, and save some energy to punch the third climb square in the face.

Staging on Alum Rock Ave / Mt. Hamilton Rd
The riders staged at Alum Rock Ave in different groups, according to ability. Group one was those who had scored above a 117 in the series, group two above 105, so on and so forth. This put Dan, Nils and Stefano in group one, with Scott and I waiting behind. The grouping did not appear strict however, as I spotted some rather heftier fellas hands on hoods staring at Stefano's back wheel, with dreams of glory sparkling in their eyes beneath their sunglasses. The lead car sounded the horn and the race was on. As usual, Nils was charging ahead of the field already halfway up the climb.

Nils sprinting while it's still flat

Group 1 already had a good lead up the road as I turned onto the course. I immediately reminded myself to be cool, and start the climb at a manageable pace. After a few minutes I realized I felt great, my body was responding well, and so I decided to catch up to the first group that was just slightly ahead. I knew I couldn't hold them to the top, so the goal was to hang out at the back, catch the over anxious, and form a second group of strong, but not quite top riders who I could work with. I was hanging on pretty well and feeling great. I was careful not to overexert myself, and eventually started slipping back slightly. I was still hitting a solid pace and found myself riding next to Rob Easley, who would prove to be a valuable ally for the rest of the climb. At one point, he shot up the road and caught a few other riders. I didn't panic and kept my rhythm. Knowing the flatter, faster portion portion of the first climb was just ahead, I accelerated to catch them so I could sit on the back and save energy, and executed this perfectly. We caught others, formed a group of about 8-10, one of which I noticed was Dan Connelly, and thus knew I was in good company.

Rob was pushing a really good pace heading towards the first descent, and I was still in the big ring churning the pedals hanging onto his wheel. Rob was all over the road, but he was proving to be a really strong and motivated rider. I knew descending was a relative strength of mine, and if I could hang on, I'd be in a good position. Once we crested and started the descent, Mark Johnson of Pen Velo attacked hard and shot down the road. I was still on Rob's wheel and noticed he didn't have the firepower to follow Mark. Immediately, I took the reins, came around Rob, and started pushing the pace, with Dan and Rob on my wheel. Once we reached the flatter part near Grant Park, I flicked my elbow and Rob came around to help me out and keep the pace up. We caught Mark at the base of the second climb, with Dan and Alex Komlik bridging up to join us. Rob and Alex were doing a great job at setting the speed, and realizing I was in the presence of better climbers, I mostly held wheel, though I made sure to occasionally take the front to let them know I was there to help out. This was a race against the clock after all, and solidly behind the leaders, there was no point to not working together. We must've shed Dan somewhere along the second climb before a fast descent towards the last climb. 

The last climb was now upon us, and though I was tiring, I still felt great, and was very motivated by the low time I was seeing on my Garmin. I knew the final climb would be just over 30 minutes, and thus knew I was well ahead of my very optimistic goal of 1:20:00 (honestly, I was just hoping to beat 1:22:00 to improve on my 1:28:XX time from the Mt. Hamilton Classic in May). Rob was dishing pain and I was matching him quite well. Alex and I helped out when we could, and occasionally Mark, though he seemed more apt to sit on. Near the top, the wind picked up and we slowed down ever so slightly. I decided to up the tempo to see if the guys had it in them to hold on, and grinded away at the pedals. The guys were digging deep and were matching me, proving that they were in it until the end. With about a mile or so to go, they came around on a big left hander before the straight away to the gate.

Stefano solos near the top with David Collet on the brain

The last mile was pretty fast and I was at the back of our group of four hanging on for dear life. We powered past the gate before taking a right hand turn leading up to the final ascent to the observatory. Rob and Mark shot up the road in a strong effort, and though I punched it, I decided not to contest the finish, partly because I was tired and we were racing the clock (not each other), but mostly because I was grateful for having had them to help me push myself to a fantastic time of 1:18:54 (113.28), over one minute faster than my most optimistic goal! This was by far my best score of the series, having scored consistently in the 107-108 range.

Overall Bike Trip had a fantastic day, led by Stefano who took 2nd with a time of 1:12:42 (125.55), 58 seconds behind winner Erik Wohlberg, Dan in 10th at 1:14:26 (120.50), Nils in 13th at 1:16:14 (117.49), myself, and Scott in 59th at 1:30:53 (97.52). This was good for 2nd place in the team division, behind The Brown Zone who had recruited a ringer in 3-time Canadian olympic athlete and current men's performance manager for Optum Pro Cycling, Erik Wohlberg.

With that, the 2013 Low-Key Hillclimb series concludes with great performances from various members of the Bike Trip team. Nils, Stefano, and I were the only amongst us to register the five necessary races to place highly in the overall classification. Stefano barely missed out on first behind David Collet, who stole first in heartbreaking fashion on last weekend's dirt climb up Montara. Nevertheless, second place is an all-time Bike Trip record and I'm sure an even more improved Stefano will be back next year for blood. Nils and I placed in 9th and 18th, respectively, as I managed a last minute shot up the rankings with my final performance. As a team, we finished third behind winners Sisters and Misters of No Mercy, and The Brown Zone, both of which scored highly based on the strength of their women and weekly recruits. We'd like to think we'd of won if it came down to just the men!

(l to r): Eddie (most fashionable), Dan, Stefano, Nils, Scott.

I managed to secure the Most Improved Rider category in a landslide, having improved my median score in this years series by 23.17 points (84.41 to 107.55), well ahead of the next rider, Joe Sullivan, at 12.12. This is in no small part thanks to you guys, and particularly our coach Mark Edwards, for providing fantastic training opportunities, solid race advice, and excellent camaraderie. With no more races until 2014, it's time to get back to training in an effort to secure Most Improved Rider next year as well. Let's get to it Gents, looking forward to seeing you all there.

2012: Eddie "Beefcake" Santos

2013: Eddie "Lesscake" Santos

For results and pictures, click below:
Week 9, Mt. Hamilton
Overall, 2013 Low-Key Hillclimbs


Dennis the Mennis said...

Wow, amazing accomplishments, and great writing too! Thanks for sharing!

Jim Langley said...

Way to go guys! Fantastic results this year. Congratulations and bravo!!