San Bruno this year was a striking contrast to the Low-Key Hillclimbs in which I participated for six consecutive Saturdays from October to November: the nature of the climb and the wind made for an especially tactical race.
San Bruno Hillclimb route profile
I'd registered for E3 instead of my master's 1-2-3 category because, considering the start list at that time, I thought my podium chances were better in E3. To that point, E3 registrations were typically light, but the masters was already heavily populated with big guns. In the "clearly stronger than me" department were Cale Reeder and Kieran Sherlock. Carl Nielson was there: I'd beaten him in our last head-to-head, on Kings Mountain, but that had been the only time in my recollection and the big money was on him to finish ahead. Add in Clark Foy and Tim Clark, both of whom had been training well, who were also in contention for the podium, not to mention the riders with whom I was unfamiliar, and an "in the money" top 3 was looking very unlikely for me there.
In the E3: the two names I knew were Adrien Costa and Zeke Mostov, both riding for the Chipotle Development Squad. I knew they'd keep it together. I was fairly confident against Zeke, as he'd not been able to keep the pace on the Kings Mountain Low-Key. Adrien, on the other hand, while he'd finished only seconds ahead of me at Kings, clearly had more punch than me and would likely win this one, I felt. So I only had to worry about two unknowns in E3. The goal was to follow Adrien.
My pre-ride the day before had confirmed the weather forecast for wind being a factor. There was tailwind on Guadalupe Canyon, then mixed wind on Radio Road. Guadalupe Canyon would be a good place to get away for a strong rider, as the intermittent head and cross-winds on Radio Road would disrupt the coherence of a chance among uncooperative riders. But it was also clear that no effort was too great to stay within contact of a group on Guadalupe, as there would be ample opportunity for recovery on Radio Road with the wind factor.
I'd planned on pre-riding the entire climb. However, my train from San Francisco had been 15 minutes late, and there just wasn't time. So I had to do with "sampling" the beginning of Radio Road, but I didn't specifically know the wind conditions near the finish.
Our group headed out at a nice brisk pace at the base of Guadalupe Canyon. The pace was clearly unsustainable but not super-red zone, and I was able to sit in the group without much issue. I knew that everyone knew there was recovery on the false flat by the intersection with Carter Street (ordinarily a source of delay but during the race we didn't need to worry about the light phase), so I had no fear anyone else found the pace particularly comfortable. Racing is racing and it's all about sharing the pain.
Not long into the section, a rider launched himself off the front. But his progressed quickly stagnated as the Chipotle boys kept the pace. It was still early going and I wasn't ready to bury myself in a
Sure enough, when the grade leveled out, I was able to restore some physiological sanity. All I had to do was to stick for the shorter second steep pitch on Guadalupe Canyon, then it would be mission accomplished for part one.
But then Gregory Coleman of Dolce Vita launched a hard attack. I later spoke with him and he said he thought that was a good place to dig deep because the entry to the park would provide recovery. It was a good tactic: the Chipotle pair chased, as well as a few others. I knew I didn't have the top end to go with these accelerations, and things would very likely regroup on the entrance to the park.
This was a section I'd worried about: not lose time on the semi-technical right turn past the park entry kiosk. I'd practiced this several times, and I wasn't going to take chances, but at least I knew the line I wanted. Here things slightly unraveled, however: the rider ahead of me slowed ridiculously. A second gap to the leaders was lost in an instant. I probably should have more assertively passed him, but instead I let his mistake cost me time.
We started the climb and when the fog cleared from my brain, there were three riders up the road: Gregory in his Dolce Vita kit, Ned Britten in his Davis Cycling kit, and a single Chipotle ride who had to be Zeke, since Adrien was the better climber of the two. Adrien, it turned out, was long gone, but I was clearly closing on the other three. I had an advantage since all I had to do was to catch them and I'd get recovery, but the leader of that group had to keep to a more sustainable pace.
And bit by bit the gap did close. First I passed Gregory, who was perhaps suffering from his early attack, then I caught the other two. The win might have been up the road, but I thought second place was going to come from this group. All I had to do was beat one of them, and I was good for my goal of top 3.
Again I things are a bit of a fuzz here. The winds seemed to be all over the place, sometimes head, sometimes cross, sometimes briefly tail. I tried to use that to my advantage, but none of the other two guys in our group was willing to take charge.
As I finished a pull (I think this is when it happened), Zeke attacked. He got a quick gap, and I should have responded, but instead I waited for Ned to respond. Ned stayed on my wheel, however, so I upped the pace. I glanced back and there seemed to be a gap, so all I had to do was catch Zeke. But the gap wasn't coming down.
Soon we hit the last right-weak left-right combination to the finish. I thought I was good for third here, but Ned came around me and I just couldn't. Time collapsed into a singularity as the cross-wind changed into an apparent tail, shooting us forward to cross the line in our present order.
I was fourth. Again.
Starting with the Low-Key Hillclimbs, my results in races have been 4th, 4th, 4th, 4th, 4th, 5th, and now.... 4th. I was 4th overall in the Low-Keys. Crossing the line, I felt like I'd worked hard, but lacked that totally spent feeling from having dipped mhy feet into the "running from the pedator" reserve. I could have done more.
That's how it is with tactical racing. I could have worked harder, riding hard from early in the Radio Road, and Ned could have sat in for the ride and out-sprinted me. Or he would crossed his personal threshold, and been dropped. I would have liked to have been able to conduct that experiment, because my indulgence "game theory" was a failure. I hadn't met my goal of top three.
Ah, well. At least I'm happy with my time: 16:03. It's said San Bruno is 30 seconds faster than OLH, so that's about consistent with my most recent Old La Honda time, despite my Christmas travel and eight days off the bike (running only). I'd love to put this one in the bank and look forward to my next one, but the next mass-start hillclimb around here is Mt Tam (canceled two out of the past three years) in September. Sure, there's Mt Diablo in June, but that's a time trial: no tactics there, just ride.
For years I've contemplated organizing a USA Cycling sanctioned hillclimb. I've never been able to move ahead with the idea on my own. I need to get the right collaborators: people I know and can work with to make a truly good event. San Bruno is such an event: better today than when I first rode it so long ago. They even had post-ride food for riders, a feature of the Low-Keys.
In any case, while I failed in tactics this day, I am super-happy with my fitness, so time to set another goal and move on. I'm not sure what that goal will be, but I'll have time to think about it during my vacation, where I am now.