Monday, May 25, 2009

Mount Hamilton Road Race

approaching the summit
500 meters to summit (Veronica Lenzi)


After a crash truncated my Berkeley Hills Road Race, Mount Hamilton would be my first full road race of the year. After being off the bike Monday and Tuesday after Berkeley due to my bruised ribs, I had a solid 5 days and 240 miles of training, including Bike to Work Day on Thursday and one and a half repeats of Diablo in the East Bay heat last Sunday with my teammate Noe.

But something was wrong. I've just not been feeling good on any rides this year. A solid recovery block was in order. So Mon through Thursday was Z1-Z2 only, with a 90-minute massage on Thursday. For the first time this year, I wasn't either tired, sick, or (other than residual bruising from that crash) injured. I felt good for the first time this year.

Saturday, the day before Hamilton: a blustery ride in the gusting chill of fog-shrouded San Francisco. So much for heat acclimation.... but the forecast for Sunday was chilly-to-moderate temperatures. I was as ready as I was going to be.

Mount Hamilton is a truly epic race. Point A to point B over consistently challenging terrain: extended climbing, technical descents: the essence of bike racing. So rare in the United States. And San Jose Bike Club's' promotion is top notch: from course preparation to registration to marshaling to the impressive same-day results.

Profile of Mount Hamilton Road
Profile of Mt Hamilton Road, from Low-Key Hillclimbs.

So there I was. I'd last climbed Hamilton at Thanksgiving's Low-Key Hillclimb. That, ironically, had been the last time I'd felt really fit riding a bicycle. Hopefully I'd recapture that feeling.

But there's a lot more to the Mount Hamilton Road Race than climbing the mountain. Indeed, the race doesn't really begin until you reach Isabel Creek at the bottom of the subsequent descent of San Antonio Valley Road. The mountain itself and the descent which follow are just filters, preliminary selections, as well as a drain on reserves before the racing begins.

And that was the story of my race. When we reached the 500 meter to go sign for the King of the Mountain sprint, I was surprised to find myself with the lead group. I'd ridden poorly, tailgunning this group, leapfrogging dropped riders. This threw me at the mercy of the the pack ahead. A serious split and I would have been stranded. But moving up requires confidence more than fitness. It was confidence I really lacked. Nevertheless, I'd survived.

In those final 500 meters, indeed a small gap opened as the leaders accelerated for that KOM. But the gap was small, just a few seconds. Easily closable on the descent by the group of us towards the rear of this much-reduced lead pack.

But here I unraveled. Mines Road is probably the most technical descent on the traditional race calendar. There is no margin here for fear. A seemingly endless progression of hairpins: a small gap opening in one becomes a larger gap in the next and then the rider ahead is gone. I felt my race evaporating with every corner. Finally things stabilized as I matched the pace of Rio Strada's freshly upgraded Steve Christiansen. He also admitted to being conservative. Partners in shame.

But still things weren't over. A group of maybe 7 riders including my teammate Dan Murray (another recent upgrade) appeared from behind. The key was to keep a steady chase with this group. Maybe, [i]maybe[/i] the lead group would lack motivation and coherence, and the minutes I'd lost could be regained.

But trouble. For such a small group with a long chase ahead, the most efficient formation is a single paceline with relatively long (20-30 second) pulls. But we were too scattered. Guys would move to the front, punch it, then immediately pull off. We approximated a double paceline instead of a single, with some sitting in while others rotated at the front. Too much surging, too many bodies in the wind at once. We needed organization. I tried to provide some.

But it didn't last. Again I was gapped on a descent. This time I should have been able to close the gap: it was so small, just a second or even less. But when I asked my legs for more, they refused. I was empty. 35 miles to go.

The rest of the race was an exercise in survival. One after another group caught and passed me: 3's, then Chris Phipps leading the 35's, then a mix of 35's and 45's. Finally I was caught by my other two teammates: Dave Parrish and Ryan Byers. I hung with them for awhile, until again I couldn't sustain the pace. The final 15 miles were hard, but I never cracked completely, slogging along. Eventually I finished, alone.

A sobering day. At least I proved I can still climb a bit. But there just wasn't enough in the tank for a race this hard. A good day of training, an epic course in fine conditions, but that gnawing feeling that I'd failed. Why was I here?

Well, I suppose it made me stronger.

Thanks again to San Jose Bike Club for the great job in promoting the race, and special thanks to Cara, currently out with a knee injury, for driving out there to support me and the other Mice who suffered on the road between San Jose and Livermore. Results and photos are accessible here.

1 comment:

Mr. C said...

It sounds to me that for this being the first time you have not been sick, tired etc. you did quite well. Racing always has a random quality from race to race

Also, thanks for the compliments on the race organization, there are a lot of people at SJBC that worked hard to pull off this weekend