Saturday, September 10, 2011

Camino Alto

Since Tam was canceled for today, I decided to make a run at my Strava PR for Camino Alto. Virtually all of my existing Strava times for the climb are on my Ritchey Breakaway, a relatively light bike in the low-17 lb range with clincher wheels, but with the Fuji I place weight at a priority. For Mt Tam I had my Reynolds 35-T carbon "road race" wheels (with Veloflex Record tires), not my lightest configuration but with the Garmin 500 checking in at 12.5 lb -- still pretty good. So I decided to risk taking these tires across San Francisco and into Marin for the climb.

Ironically the worst road I ride glass-wise, not even close, is Central Expressway in Mountain View which is typically part of my commute. The streets in San Francisco, despite a serious problem with cars getting broken into, are fairly glass free. It's because the streets here get swept once or twice per week, while once glass is on the Central Expressway shoulder, it's there for months. So I've had very few flats riding in the city, and my tires were fine today.

The Golden Gate Bridge just reopened the dedicated bike path after around 4 months of seismic reinforcement (or something; it's not obvious that anything was actually done). This was a huge relief after months of battling for space with distracted tourists on the pedestrian side. But it was hardly a comfortable crossing: winds were as strong today as I ever remember them, and crossing the bridge on the Fuji was a challenge. The Reynolds rims aren't the best in a cross-wind, and the Fuji's exceptionally large trail results in a proportionately larger steering moment when the front wheel experiences a lateral force. So it was dicey going.

When I reached the base of Camino Alto I stopped to place my vest and mostly empty water bottle near the side of the road. Why bring these up the hill when I was going to just return immediately after climbing? I forgot to also drop off my cleat covers and multi-tool. Every gram counts, and maybe the weight from these objects would have made a difference of a second in my Strava time.

I started hard. Here those strong winds provided a tailwind which was an obvious favor. I felt fast riding up the hill. The grade is modest, so I was able to stay in my 46 tooth big ring rather than go down to my 36. In the rear I had a 12-27 making it easier to avoid the downshift. It felt good riding the carbon bike with the carbon wheels instead of my usual steel bike. There's a hollowness to carbon frames that provides the feel that you're riding a high-tech race machine.

I love Camino Alto. The grade is never steep, but there's enough variation that you need to shift often enough, and you need to keep concentration up to avoid letting power slacken on the lesser-grade sections, and need restraint to avoid going into the red on the steepest portion around a third of the way up. It's short enough that if you start too slowly you don't get to make up for that mistake later, but it's long enough if you start to hard you'll fade at the end. There's some car traffic, but not too bad, and there's usually room for cars to pass without too much delay. And the cars expect cyclists on the road, because there's always cyclists on the road: it's an extremely popular route for individuals and groups riding between the city and either Fairfax or the Paradise Loop.

Indeed I was having such a good time that when I looked down at my lap time I noticed I was already at 4 minutes. My goal was sub-4:30 so this meant I was almost at the end, and sure enough I realized I was going into the final curve. I'd not been paying enough attention and should have been riding harder at this point. So I tried to ramp it up as much as I could, going for an imaginary finish line whose exact location was determined by the whims of GPS error.

My time: 4:25. This was 10 seconds off my previous Strava best, although I'm not sure it's my best ever including untimed efforts (I should check my Powertap data). This tied me for 13th on the climb; to get 10th I would have had to have been two seconds faster. Ah, well: the stuff in my pockets wasn't worth two seconds for sure.

VAM wasn't so impressive. Part of that is the low average grade: only 4.7%. But part is also that I've never been able to generate my best average power for the duration on this hill (when I was using a power meter). All of the changes in grade make it hard to stay on top of a good gear, and to really nail average power for a time interval, I personally need to be able to keep my power fairly constant. For example, I've gotten higher average powers down on the Peninsula on Kings Mountain Road to Huddart Park or Page Mill Road to Altamont. But for sheer fun, Camino Alto is my favorite.

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