Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ross's Epic

Another Ross's Epic in the bag.... and again I was shocked at the brutal steepness of the final 1100 vertical feet.

Partial results finally went on-line last night. I and many of the other day-of-registrants seem to be missing. I was number 119, second in the 35+ 1-2-3. Not a bad result for me: the category winner was Webcor/Alto Velo's Kieran Sherlock, an excellent climber who's fairly fit with a focus on time trials right now. Also up the road in my starting group were Rob Anderson, winner of the 45+ 1-2-3, a truly excellent climber, and John Bennett, a 3 riding for Whole Athlete. I was with these guys until close to the end of the first climb of 2000 vertical feet. I desperately wanted to hang with them, as it's a big advantage to be in a group on the 2-mile flat-descending section separating the two climbs. But I just couldn't stick.

After being caught by the second group, I ride past the volunteer station at the start of the second climb. Curiously our order of finish was the same as our order in this photo. Coincidence? Photo by Hulk Hands.

On that plateau, I was caught by a group including 45+ John Ornstil (VOS), E3 Justin Malloy (Norcal Velo), and E3 Brian Gillis of Z-Team. "2 miles to go!" the volunteers shouted as we began the brutal second climb. Sobering.... a bit too much so, as it's more like a mile and a half. I should have been aware of this. Indeed, Keiran Sherlock had memorized the pattern of switchbacks from Google Maps.

Brian had difficulty on the steepest grades and fell off the pace. Justin surged, a pace I couldn't or wouldn't match, instead settling into a pace I could sustain for this rather extended climb. John rode near me.

approaching the finish
Approaching the finish with John Ornstil (Veronika Lenzi)

I looked for the 500 meter or 200 meter signs which had been there last year. The road snaked out ahead. I remember being fooled by what I had thought was the summit last year, surging too soon. I wasn't going to make the same mistake this time.

A line appeared from my tunnel of pain. John surged: my addled brain not registering until too late that it was the finish line. I crossed with fuel left in the tank. Not good.

My front tire had a slow leak. Not a big deal on this climb: it's so steep there's not much weight on that tire anyway! Still, I needed more air for the descent. I pumped it, then started riding down the hill. After some bumps on the steepest portion of the descent, my tire, a Veloflex Record sew-up, went totally flat. I stopped at the volunteer station near the bottom of the second climb, eventually getting a ride back with Veronika Lenzi. It was nice to finally meet her: she does great work photographing local races.

Overall, I wasn't too disappointed with how my race went. Of course, you always want to win, and I didn't do that. But my official time was faster than last year, and I know I was much fitter then. I know I have room still to improve this season.

The event itself is in transition. Last year it was a USA Cycling affiliated race, this year it straddled the fence between race and ride. The missing signs, the lack of results at the start-finish, the long delay before getting results on-line all could have been viewed as a disappointment viewing it as a race. But it's moving beyond that, and should be judged in a different light. It's a celebration of climbing and of health. A chance to reflect on how lucky we are. And a chance to raise some much-needed funds for Ross.

But the transition has taken its toll. I can name at least 3 competitive climbers who stayed home because of the change in status. If the event is going to survive, it needs to attract the semi-competitive recreational crowd, the ones who turn out so strongly for the Low-Key Hillclimbs. They've got to get the word out, get beyond the hard-core racer crowd.

Is there space on the race calendar for another USA Cycling hillclimb? I think so. Every time I attend one of these events I file away what I like and what I don't. I'd like to give it a try. It's a big jump from Low-Key to USAC. But let's see for 2010.

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