Saturday, November 30, 2013

The final Low Key Hill Climb, and concluding thoughts on the LKHC series

Somebody said that in time of peace men satisfy their impulse to go to war by racing bicycles. I agree. In this particular instance, my own personal battle was to get to the top of Mt Hamilton faster than the guy who was going to end up winning the General Classification, David Collet. Actually, I wanted to get up there much faster than Dave. (Incidentally, Dave is a really great guy, and I was really happy I got to meet and ride with him during this series; we follow each other on Strava and plan on going out on training rides together next season).

I got into the race quite depressed ("heartbroken", in the words of Eddie) by the amazing amount of points that a certainly very strong mountain bike ride had given Dave on Saturday, which had cost me my several-weeks-old GC lead. I had beaten Dave at Bohlman-On-Orbit, in a close sprint finish. I had beaten him at Patterson Pass. I had beaten him at Lomas Contadas. I thought I had him. But no, thanks to the black magic of Low Key points calculation, the mix of low attendance and huge time dispersion on the one mountain bike hill climb gave him enough points to put me out of contention for the GC. Especially with Hamilton only left, a race with just the opposite features: large attendance and small time dispersion.

Mark Edwards had warned me of the presence of three-time olympian and 7- or 8-time Canadian TT champion, ex-pro Eric Wohlberg in the race, so the overall win was almost surely out of reach. However, I had a very clear objective to shoot for, and I decided I was going to be as aggressive as possible from the gun.

Have I managed to clip in my pedals yet?!
After struggling again with clipping in my pedals (alas, one year of biking and I'm still there!) I sprinted up to Nils to the front of the race, and started attacking probably not even 5' from the gun. It was me and GC #3 Bill Laddish, and it was clear that we both wanted to put some time over our direct competitors. We immediately agreed to work together and started pushing it. Our breakaway didn't last long (perhaps half of the first climb), but I continued to stay at the front, either pushing against the wind or riding on the wheel of the guy in front.

I could hear Mark telling me to be smart and to save energy, but I just wanted the race to have a fast pace and to tire Dave out as quickly as possible. But Dave, smartly, was riding in 5th-6th position, well sheltered in the lead group. Through the end of the first climb, the descent and the first half way of the second climb it was Chris Evans taking most of the air out front. Kudos to him. I did my share, but had started to realize how foolish my initial strategy had been.

Half-way through the second climb it was a great "Rich Brown" attacking generously. I decided to let him take a few lengths. I really like and respect Rich, and I know he likes and respects me as well. We understand each other at many levels (for one, we both have two kids each, the exact same age!). Dave was getting antsy, and he actually decided to get to the lead of the chase group, which pleased me, and I happily rested on his wheel. He was 10" on and 15" off the saddle. I could hear Mark telling me that that's a sign that a biker is close to pop. But I knew that Dave is actually a mountain biker, used to long stretches off the saddle. Still, he was clearly struggling to keep Rich in sight.

I knew Rich was ultimately not a factor, but at the end of the second climb I saw the actual factor jump. And jump like a pro. It was Eric. I found myself boxed 3-4 positions from the lead of the group, but knew that that was the winning breakaway, and put a ton of power to catch up to the Canadian before we'd get to the downhill. Unlike Eddie, I suck at downhill (Eddie knows this and chastises me every time on our long rides). But what was I to do? I braced myself and stuck to Eric's wheel all the way down and then up the last incline. Pace was all right. At some point, actually pretty soon in the incline, Eric turns to me and is like "they're right there, let's go" and invites me to take the lead. Honored, I put in a very honest 1-1.5 miles pull, which I believe managed to put some ground between us and the chasers.

At that point I had the pleasure to enjoy the second pro-move of the day: instead of nicely taking the next pull, Eric sprinted past me and left me in the dust. In great style: body low to the handlebars (see the picture), effortless, one thing with his machine etc. And more importantly, not even leaving me a grain of hope to stay on his wheel easily.

Eric Wohlberg powering to the finish line

So he was gone, and there were a good 3-4 miles to go. The TT champion in front of me and the chasing group, including my friend Dave, chasing me. I could see them at every hairpin turn. And so, evidently, the could see me… Well, I decided that I was not going to be caught for that day, and pushed my pace the best I could, hitting myself in the head for all the energy spent early in the race. I was getting increasingly nervous when the wind picked up towards the top, but I was also feeling good, managing to stay in the saddle, and to summon good power. I could still see Eric up
at almost every turn as well.
The last turn before the finish. The chase group is not in sight.

At the end the chasing group didn't catch me; I was less than one minute back from Eric, and the chasers about half a minute back from me. Dave did eventually pop, and I ended up giving him 1:22. Enough.

I think there definitely are a few shortcomings in the LKHC points system. For example, no rewards for the final rankings: when I out-sprinted Dave at Bohlman-On-Orbit, we both put in a good effort, and I beat him, but we got the same time and the same points! Also, the disproportionate reward for the MB climb is quite frustrating. Take triathlons: the swim always has a huge dispersion, but that is accounted for by having swims be much shorter than the other two events. Or take grand tours: the TT are much shorter than the other stages, to avoid making TTers the only contenders.

The LKHC organizers argue that dirt climbs "mix things up [and] reward versatility". Well, then why not adding some running? Or rock climbing? Or speed chess? I'd be game for all! Also, there are other ways to mix things up. Random number generators work quite well…

I had a lot of fun during the series. It brought me a good amount of fitness and some racing strategy skills. I am so grateful to my wife, who understood how important this was to me, especially during an amazingly busy time at work, both from a fitness and from a mental standpoint…

I am grateful for the support of all the team, from my fellow low key-ers Nils, Eddie, Dan, Matt, Mike, Scott, and Matt S, to Mark and Jim for their advise. It meant a lot to me when today, at the Felton-Empire repeats, Scott told me that it made no sense that I had gotten second in the GC and that I clearly deserved first. I look forward to a solid 2014 season, hopefully quickly upgrading to cat 3 and being able to play some team work with trippers Morgan, Dan and perhaps also Mark!


Matthew O. D. Sloan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew O. D. Sloan said...

Sounds like an amazing ride, Stefano. Congratulations on your success! It seems likely you will win next year! The points system sounds unjust; however, you still tore it up!

Jim Langley said...

Really enjoyed your race report, Stefano. Thanks for telling the story of your race that so nicely complements Eddie's report on his. Regardless of the strange scoring, you truly dominated the LKHCs this year and that's something you should be very proud of -- just like all your teammates are proud of you! Way to go Stefano!!

Mike said...

You'er Awesome! El ProFumo. Let's go to Europe next year I'll fund you. LOL! Can't wait to see your real races next season.
Mike Andalora

Dennis the Mennis said...

Yes, what an awesome finish to the season! Everybody who's raced the series knows there's nothing "Low Key" about's all brutal.