Monday, October 31, 2011

Low-Key Hillclimbs: over the hump


The 2011 Low-Key Hillclimbs
are over the hump, with 5 of the 9 scheduled events in the bag. Each one has had near-perfect weather, with warm sunshine without being hot. It's been supernatural, almost.

Week 1 is always stressful: after a long "off-seson", Low-Key returns to Montebello Road. I traditionally coordinate this one, more to take responsibility for the outcome rather than due to being qualified. Honestly, organization is not my strong point, and every year something gets overlooked. But I've had excellent assistance from Howard Kveck these past few years, and he helps keep things in shape when I stumble. Sometimes there's a bit of next-day revision needed on the results based on email feedback, but in the end we typically get them fairly good. This year things went even smoother than normal.

Week 2: a late swap with Barry Burr for week 6 (more on that) had me coordinating Sierra Road, as well. Biggest trick on Sierra Road is the start, which is in the suburbs. But nobody objected to our presence, and it was a great day on this road now made classic by the Tour of California stage race.

Week 3 and I was nervous again, not only for pulling off the climb of Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, but also because it was my first one I'd ride. I sort of recruited Janet LaFleur for this one after nobody volunteered from the Low-Key mailing list. And oh, my, did Janet come through! All the organizational skills I lack she has plenty. Everything came off with precision. It helped that we started riders in groups of around 15 rather than all together: the lower portion of Page Mill is too narrow, really, to send well over 100 riders at it in one pack. To top it off the day I really surprised myself with how well I rode. I knew my running had been going well: I was putting out good training runs after recovering from my August half-marathon. But would that translate to cycling fitness? For hillclimbing, apparently it did.

Week 4 and we tackled the first of the two brutally steep climbs in the series: Bohlman Road in Saratoga. Well, not really Bohlman, more precisely Bohlman-Nortan-Kittridge-Quickert-On Orbit-Bohlman. Again, we had a wonderful coordinator in James Porter, who like all excellent coordinators never gets flustered and never lets things get out of control. I was worried about the record turnout for this road: typically numbers fall off on the super-steep stuff. This time, that wasn't the case, and we maxed out our rider limit. Yet it turned out to be no problem, as residential density on these roads is low, and all of the drivers we encountered were amazingly patient. I think living on such steep roads they accept that high speeds aren't in their plan. So having to go around some cyclists isn't a big deal. Of course initially we filled the entire uphill lane, but soon after starting we turned onto the steep slopes of Norton Road and that strung things out very quickly. It was a great climb: I prefer it to alternate approaches up the mountain due to the steepness of the lower portion, the excellent pavement, and the very low car traffic. For now, at least, I think we'll stick with this version for future rides here.

Week 5 was a recovery week of sorts. This one had been Howard's suggestion: Palomares Road near Fremont and Union City. I had been sceptical: the climb wasn't steep enough long enough to break up groups, I feared, and so results would be challenging. But Howard is the results coordinator and it had his call to do this one, so that was his problem! To help, we used small groups (15 or so) of riders as we had at Page Mill. Unlike Page Mill, though, here the first group, of the self-assessed fastest riders, failed to break up. Pretty amazing: it's been too long since I've done a road race, and this had that feeling. Too afraid to pull, I was trapped in the vortex, at the mercy of the pace of those in the front: Tracy Colwell, a renewed and stronger Tim Clark, Nils Tikkanen, Jacob Berkman. Then I was freed from my trance by the 200 "paces" sign: the finish was near. Then it exploded, Tracy and Keith Szolusha off the front, the others scrambling for minor placings. I was fourth.

Amazingly the finish line crew managed to get most of us, and I went to Pat Parseghian's excellent finish video for the rest.

The other groups were less well matched, and the biggest sprint after ours was probably four riders. A few riders looked puzzled when we asked their numbers as they crossed the line (we avoid jersey numbers) until I realized we forgot to mention at the start that people shout their numbers at the finish, and people tend to be fairly brain dead at the end of a hard climb, even short ones.

It was another gorgeous day, and I was super-happy the series was going well. Three more weeks to go, then Thanksgiving @ Mount Hamilton, which is special.

But it's hard to look past this weekend: Mix Canyon Road. It stands to be by all accounts the hardest climb Low-Key has ever done. It's simply inhumane. But I'm the one who put it on the schedule, so no whining allowed from me...

I love it how this series magically comes together and works. Most people would say you couldn't do this sort of thing, but every year we do, and every week people have a good time.

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