Monday, December 19, 2011

San Bruno Hillclimb: Jan 1

It is traditional that the top 3 men, top 3 women, top 3 juniors, and the Endurance Award winner of the Low-Key Hillclimb series are all awarded a free spot in Pen Velo's long-running San Bruno Hill Climb, held every year on Jan 1. I finished 4th, just out of the "money". But yesterday I signed up anyway, paying the entry fee: it's not often I have fitness and opportunity this time of year to do the climb.

The USA Cycling page has it listed as a "time trial", but that's incorrect. It's a mass-start race, riders starting in waves from the base of Guadalupe Canyon Road near Bayshore, climbing to the "saddle point" marking the top of Guadalupe. Then from there it's a sharp right into the state park, down a short descent past the ranger kiosk, an immediate right turn over rough pavement a short straight, another right, pass back under Guadalupe Canyon, then the narrow, sometimes rough climb to the summit. Here's the profile:


The rating listed on the plot uses my algorithm, which is normalized to Old La Honda being 100. The rating is lower because of the relatively lower average grade. However, given the distance, the times aren't that much faster than Old La Honda road, the difference depending on conditions (San Bruno is much more exposed to the wind).

It opens with surprising steepness, then levels out for a traffic light. Past this light (annoying on non-race days when it's too often red) the road climbs somewhat steeply again until the grade lessons, then flattens completely at the Guadalupe Canyon "saddle". Radio Road passes underneath, visible to the right, while to the left is a clear view to the summit. Then comes the tricky bit: the net 270 degree turn onto Radio Road and back under Guadalupe Canyon. You absolutely don't want to fritter away any seconds here, but given the poor road condition, taking a corner too hot is a real danger.

Once under Guadalupe, Radio Road really comes into its own. This climb begins moderately, but it becomes progressively harder to hold onto a gear until at a sweeping left turn the grade hits its peak of almost 10%. Now it's the end game: first a right turn which appears it might be the end, but following that a second sweeping right leading to the finish line at the radio towers (watch out for the 6-inch gap in the metal plates on the road!)

mind the gap

Here's a Strava segment:

As I write this, I'm 18th, a result I got in a training ride on November 13th. I'd like to improve that time on Jan 1. Unfortunately a lot of other riders are also likely to post good times on Jan 1, so if I can just hold my position in the rankings, that wouldn't be too bad! But I think I can reasonably hope to just crack the top 10 when the day is done, conditions permitting.

It's a fun race to watch as well as well as ride. 2007 was an off year for me: I'd ridden well at the Low-Keys in fall 2006, but IEDM and other factors got in the way of me keeping enough fitness to make riding San Bruno worthwhile. Instead I took photos. Here's spectators near the summit watching riders pass below:

spectators at San Bruno

The view of Guadalupe Canyon Road below is nice:


Here come the leaders! It's newbie Chris Phipps leading hillclimbing Low-Keyer Tracy Colwell! San Francisco is in the background. Chris would go on to take the win.


The next year, after I had done the Youth Hostels International "Christmas" bike tour out of San Diego, returning the day before, and was tired but at least had some fitness. So I gave it a shot. I did not ride a smart race. Here's the results.

On Guadalupe Canyon, I resisted the surge of riders near the front, preferring to ride a steady power the whole climb. This works for a climb which is a steady grade in consistent conditions, but San Bruno has neither. First there's the false flat where being in a pack is a benefit, so the faster lead group will gain time on slower trailing groups. Then there's a chance to recover on the descent and turn, so it pays to be slightly in the red going into this section. The worst part was the wind: it was a strong head wind on Radio Road that year and so whatever group you were in, you stayed in. Bridging gaps was extremely hard. The real race was to the park entrance, and I arrived there with way too much left in the tank.

In 2009 I was in Southeast Asia. But this video shows conditions aren't always ideal on San Bruno mountain:

San Bruno Hillclimb 2009 from Chris Stastny on Vimeo.

2010 I missed as well (more focused on running, and the forecast had been for rain), then in 2011 I was woefully out of shape due to 11 hours days at work at my then-new job.

But back to 2012....

As I noted, it's tough coming into Jan 1 ready to go. As is the case most years, this year I'm traveling to the east coast to visit family for Christmas week, during which time I won't have a bicycle. I'll probably run a bit and go to a YMCA or other local gym where I will ride a stationary bike and do some light lifting and core work. Hopefully things go well.

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