I've done better on hillclimbs: Diablo as solid a 5th out of 6 as you can get, and a satisfying 2nd Ross' Epic. Small fields in each case, but the guys who beat me are guys who should be beating me. I rode well in each case.
But besides racing, my goal this year (as last year) was to crack 17 minutes up Old La Honda. My existing PR has been 17:03 from 2002. That was on a sub-16 lb Fuji Team, actually a Teschner hand-built bike for the Mercury team. The frame cracked on me last year, and I replaced it with another Fuji, this time a real Fuji, the SL/1 carbon frame, which I love. Weenied out it weighs in at a very nice 11.35 lb. So with that sort of advantage, I certainly should have been able to crack 17 minutes. But I wanted a bit more: I wanted to further beat my previous time by enough to offset the difference in bike weight.
It's rare -- very rare, in fact, I get to try for a "real time" up Old La Honda. Normally I've ridden hard Saturday and Sunday. I go into Tue still not fully recovered, then do some brutal interval or sprint session. On Wednesday, I'm hardly firing on all cylinders. Then if I do the climb, I'm carrying a pump and tool bag, probably with a full waterbottle. These are not the ways to get a PR. To really nail the climb you need to strip down all extra weight, come in with fresh legs, get an optimal warm up riding close to threshold but not over, and bring your best equipment. The last time I'd done this had been 2006, when I scored a tepid 17:43 at the Low-Key Hillclimb.
2006 Low-Key up OLH (Sheri Greenspan photo)
I am lighter now then I was then, and have been training smarter, so expected more. Indeed, my recent times have been close to this just on the Noon Ride, riding my steel Ritchey Breakaway with boat-anchor Powertap rear clincher wheel and a typically heavy front clincher wheel.
Yesterday I realized I had my chance. After a solid climbing workout last Wednesday, I'd had good preparation: a long massage + light ride on Thursday, no ride (travel) on Friday, a steady ride @ Diamond Valley on Saturday, a steady climb of Carson Pass on Sunday, then recovery on Monday. Freshness without staleness. Plus, the air temperature was essentially perfect: warm but not hot. The only downer was a 12 mph westerly wind. Old La Honda's eastern slope is well sheltered from westerly winds, but even an undetectable breeze can be worth 10 seconds.
So anyway, with my bike fully weenied (if I'd gotten a flat, it would have been a long walk back to the office...), I set off on the Noon Ride. They were doing the Tue Double Alpine route, which was perfect as it reduced the pace on Alpine to the Portola intersection. They continued on up Alpine, while I bailed on Portola for a moderate spin to Old La Honda Road.
During the spin, I selected on my strategy: put it in the 36/18 and keep that gear spinning. In lieu of a power meter, which I'd left at home in favor of the considerable mass savings of my Mt Washington rear wheel, I'd go old school: pace using gears and cadence. Old La Honda's grade varies considerably on a short-scale, but over longer length scales it's remarkably consistent. So a constant cadence in a constant gear means a relatively constant rate of altitude gain and a relatively constant power output.
The pace felt way too easy at the bottom. But I knew from experience with the Powertap that even what feels easy at the bottom can result in struggling in the final kilometers, and it was important to hold my power the full distance. Unlike when I pace with the power meter, however, I resisted the temptation to upshift when the grade reduced. I was married to that 18 cog. In the final kilometer, I'd reconsider.
As the climb progressed, it became harder to keep that gear spinning. But never too bad. When I hit the "3 mile" marker, with 500 meters to go, I knew it was time to ramp it up. Here I switched to alternating between the 17 and 18 cog, following the grade allowed, finally jamming it in the last 200 meters. I hit my watch, not really expecting that I'd achieved my goal.
But there it was: 16:49.44. I'd done it, at long last, and with time to spare.
So what about the weight? I'd had much lighter shoes in 2002 (custom 4-hole Rocket 7's versus my heavy Sidi Megas with Speedplay cleat adaptor plates, a total difference of close to 200 grams), but my helmet was around 70 grams heavier then. My bike was the big difference: around 4.5 lb lighter. So let's call the net difference around 4.1 lb. I weighed 124.4 lb yesterday morning, then add in 3.1 lb for clothing, shoes, and helmet. The net result is 4.1 lb would be around 2.9% of total mass. Given my calculations I've recently posted here, this would increase my time by around 1.8%, 18.05 seconds, bringing me up to 17:07.5, 4 seconds away from my 2002 time. Still, were I to add in the headwind, the two efforts are probably similar.
One potential advantage is tires. I'd have used some ultra-light Michelin clinchers in 2002 with ultra-light butyl tubes. This time: Veloflex Record tubulars, which have exceptionally low rolling resistance. And of course the state of the pavement varies. There's a lot of patching on the road today, but I think it's better than in 2002.
So I probably climbed better in 2002. But let's be real: I'm 7 years older, so that's not unexpected.
Maybe I'll have a chance to knock a bit more time off this time this year. Certainly my climbing power has been increasing over the past month. I'll definitely give it at least one more shot.
Some calculated numbers (with certain assumptions):
VAM: 1402 meters/hour (Contador was 1860 up Verbier)
wind resistance power: 33 watts
rolling resistance power: 16 watts
climbing power: 240 watts
Powertap power: 290 watts
drivetrain loss: 9 watts
SRM power: 299 watts = 5.31 W/kg (Contador was 6.7 W/kg up Verbier)
These numbers are good for me. My previous best power up Old La Honda on the Powertap was 289 watts, on a ride last April 8. But of course there's a lot of uncertainty in these calculations.