Monday, May 12, 2014

"Diablo Time Trial" race report

The "Diablo Time Trial" on Sunday was a new event, organized to raise money for the Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland. I viewed it not only as a good event on its own, but additionally excellent training for the NCNCA championships on 21 June, which covers the first 10 km of the course, from North Gate to near the junction.

The promotion had some interesting aspects. At sign-up, we wereinstructed that "elites" were those who could beat 50 min.... unstated was the intent was that was for the Diablo Challenge course, from South Gate, which has 200 fewer vertical feet. From North Gate only 3riders on Strava have beaten 50, and none in the times Low-KeyHillclimbs have ridden the route. My targets were 56-58-60 minutes,which put me deep in the "novice" category. So that's how I registed.

After achieving a long-time goal of running a 50 km trail race (my first ultra-marathon) in April, meeting my performance targets, my ramp-up in cycling training hit a barrier when I caught a cold a week ago. I was still blowing snot out of my nose in large globs, still had a bit of a sore throat, but in warm-up my legs felt surprisingly okay.

At the start I chatted with Carl Nielson, a Diablo park ranger, and recent winner of the Challenge. He rides Diablo like I ride the parking lot in the industrial park waste land where I work. But even he had virtually no chance of beating 50 minutes. I noted he should have been in "novice". He just smiled and said that 50 minute goal was obviously an error. Indeed there were 9 men in elite, 3 women. I later talked to the promoter and suggested 1 hour was a better time cut-off for expert (and obviously longer for women) rather than the cut-off between novice and beginner, which is what it was this year. He noted that with this year's results he'd revise the times for 2015.

I was in wave 3. They called it a "time trial" but it was mass-start, with riders within a wave all given the same start time, and a finish time based on chip time. It was unclear how riders were going to be ranked. I assumed all waves were going to be combined, ranked by time. That would be most consistent with the "time trail" label.

I was riding my Fuji SL/1 for the first time since San Bruno on New Year's. I had Vittoria Corsa time trial tires pumped to 150 psi the night before (overnight pressure loss), betting on smooth pavement rolling resistance over rough pavement suspension losses, as pavement on Diablo is generally quite good. I had my light wheels: an Edge 1.24 in the front, with an Enve 1.25 in the rear. Both original 1.24 rims had been warranteed by Enve after they warped at the seam. The replacement 1.24 looked on its way to the same fate, but the 1.25 is holding strong. It's a much better-made rim: the extra grams they added from the 1.24 were well invested, even if they pain me deeply.

At the start, the pace was fast: I needed to actually dig deep to catch a wheel after an attack up the left side of the road. We had full road closure all the way to the summit and, remarkably, back down again after the event was done. This was really an amazing opportunity to ride the full mountain with zero cars and, additionally, no bikes other than participants. After the first mile of rolling profile, however, the real climb began. When the smoke cleared I was following Andy Crews' wheel, Tanner Tingley of Danville was up the road. Don't panic, I told myself, and sure enough he didn't seem to be gaining much ground.

Andy was riding his Powertap. I didn't have any power: I don't think it makes me faster in racing, and my Powertap is heavy. I also have a Garmin Vector, but it's incompatible with the Lightning crankset on my racing bike. But I've found my best climbs have been w/o power data, and I can estimate power fairly well post-ride for pace analysis using a Perl program I wrote for that purpose, neglecting wind, which was a big factor today.

Anyway, Tanner was up the road. Andy, however, faded a bit, and I moved on, just riding my steady pace. I wondered if I'd be able to hold it, as I've often faded on Diablo, especially near Juniper Campground 2.0 miles from the top @ 3000 foot elevation. It's a long climb, but running has been good for my endurance if not my top-endpower, so I felt it was worth the risk pushing myself a bit outside my comfort zone.

Tanner seemed to fade as well, and I was able to bridge to his wheel. One thing that helped was I was apexing corners while he was sticking to the right side of the road. With full road, use fullroad! We were passing wave 2 riders in big chunks, and I almost wished I had my handlebar bell, but there were no issues.

I sat there a bit, but wanted a bit more, so on a left where he was stuck on the right side of the road I cut the inside and passed him. But he clearly had a decent surge, as from the sound of his heavy breathing, he got right on my wheel. Heavy breathing usually means a rider won't be sticking around and so I persisted in my pace, but he persisted back.

We hit the junction and continued onto Summit. Road-side volunteers, wearing orange vests, cheered us. The support for this event was really remarkable.

Finally I slowed a bit, letting him come past, and he put in a hard dig to gap me. That was fine: I knew I could catch him from last time, and I didn't feel like I was any weaker now. Remarkably, he returned to his right-the-right-side habit. On steep grades, this is arguably defensible, but he did it even on the occasional flat portions of the climb. Good for me. I was gaining every left turn.

As I trailed him, I finally finished my single water bottle, which had been full at the start. This was good: I didn't need water the restof the way, as it was cool and the remaining climbing time wasn't muchover 20 minutes. I contemplating tossing my bottle. Issues: 1. wind resistance might, or might not, be better with the bottle in the cage, 2. weight: 70 grams of water bottle would cost me around 1 seconds in the remaining elevation, 3. chance of being seen: if a ranger spotted the bottle on the road side he'd be pissed. Ah, well, I decided, go with the sure thing. I tossed the bottle. I then looked at my Garmin: 1 km from the junction. I wanted to make sure I knew where I was so I could fetch it on the way down.

I'm sure it wasn't the weight savings from the bottle toss, but soon after I caught Tanner again, getting on his wheel for a bit. Here's where strategy came in. Was the goal to finish with the fastest time, considering that I'd be competing against riders of different waves,or was the goal to maximize the placing within my wave? I didn't know: the web site hadn't said how scoring would be done. In any case, I was certainly racing against Tanner here. And given the impressive muscular definition on his legs, it looked as if it wan't going to be in my interest to drag him all the way to the 16% final 300 meters to the summit.

But things changed when suddently Chad Norris of Concord came blowing by on the left side of the road. He'd obviously started in wave 4, the "beginners". He was flying. I came off Tanner's wheel and tried to close the gap.

I was able to limit the damage, but the gap wasn't closing, and Tanner was back on my wheel again, breathing hard as before. I kept tempo, losing any hope of catching Chad, but maybe I could drop Tanner with a steadypace.

I passed Juniper Campground and still felt okay. I'd passed the endurance test: it looked like I'd be good all the way. From here, it gets steeper for a bit, generally goingstraight, then a left turn, straight, a right, then the final km opens with a reduced 5.3% grade before the final 300 meters.

I decided to pull into the first left because the wind was generally atailwind and so it would be mostly headwind on the stretch followingthat, where I could claim it was his turn. So in the corner I went wide and slowed. Tanner dutifully took the lead, once again slowing and breathing a bit easier. But at thispoint I was primarily focused on beating him up the steep final. Iwasn't particular confident and wanted to recover a bit.

I stuck to his wheel until the parking lot which marks the start ofthe steep bit. A group of orange-vested volunteers were there withflags and traffic cones. To my surprise they pointed left, rather than theusual right, where the road splits. This, I later learned, is the route taken by the Diablo Challenge, which I've never ridden. It's to allow finishers to descent to the parking lot without crossing the path of climbers.

We caught a triathlete from an earlier wave right at the base of thesteep bit, creating some congestion, but there was room to pass and I gave it everything, spinning my 34/23 better than I'd expected. No more breathing behind me: I'd finally managed to dropTanner.

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The final 300 meters average 16%. Event photo.

"The finish is just around the corner, I promise!" a volunteer shouted atthe first corner. He was lying: there was a second corner, but atthis point there's no subtlety left: ride at max until hitting thetop or until you lose consciousness. I managed the former option,crossing the timing pad. It was done.

I'd managed to put adecent gap on Tanner, who finished 27 seconds later, and in the process ranking 10th overall for the segment, which is contested primarily during the Mount Diablo Challenge, since otherwise it's illegal. Andy, who'd been hovering behind us for much of the climb, faded further toward the topand was a minute later.

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After collecting my clothing from the summit, I bundled up against the chill win at the summit parking area. Carl Nielson photo.

Results, it turned out, were by male/female, masters/sub-masters, elite/novice/beginner. So there were a lot of prizes. I won"master's novice", winning some coffee, socks, and a nice SportsBasement gift card. I was 6th overall. Chad Norris was 2nd overall,winning "beginners" in 52:02. Elites was won by Carl Nielson, in51:09 (3 seconds faster than Justin Lucke's Low-Key Hillclimb timefrom 2009), with Hanns Detlefsen 2nd at 53:50 and Eddie Santos 3rd (havingraced E4 @ BHRR the day before) at 57:23. Eddie was a regular at theLow-Key Hillclimbs last year, winning the "most improved award" for his remarkable 23 point increase in median score from 2012. I wondered if I'd have been able to follow him had I been in the elite category. Of course, none of the elites hit the claimed 50 minute cut-off for that category, and as one who organizes a climb series myself, I'm reluctant to ignore the instructions, even if they seem misguided. "If I want things done differently, I should put on my own event!"

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Nice view from the podium! Official event photo.

The top woman's time was Jenny Slwata's 58:10. That would have been a Low-Key Hillclimb record by 4:45. She's listed fromTalent OR: I wondered what brought her here.

The descent was fun, with full road closure, although I lost the packwhen I stopped to fetch the bottle, which to my relief hadn't been collected by a ranger, and hadn't rolled into some unobservable nook.Additionally that Edge 1.24 rim with its bulge at the seam is a braking hazard.

Later, when I uploaded my data to Strava, I was surprised to see my time was not a PR. I'd done a minute faster in September 2011, when I was riding over 200 mile weeks. That ride I'd done with a focus on getting a solid time, but instead of carbon sew-ups with time trial tires pumped to 140 psi, I was riding aluminum clinchers. It was also around 19C warmer and less windy. I shouldn't fixate too strongly on that. My present fitness should in principle still have plenty of headroom.

Among Low-KeyHillclimbs results, my time would have been 27th. This ishonestly about what I'd expect given my lack of climbing to this point. But then that's exactly why I set my mid-range goal at 58 minutes. If I'd have magically spawned good climbing form, 56 minutes might have happened, but climbing form never appears by magic.

So overall it was a success. I wasn't sure how I'd do given my relative lack of riding and still being on the tail end of a cold. I think if anything I was too conservative. Given how hard Tanner was breathing, I should have had more confidence I could drop him with ahard effort. But then my failed bridge attempt to Chad failed to doso. So maybe getting to the top a few seconds faster would have succeeded only in giving Tanner a free ride to pass me in the end.

So given everything, I'm happy. But hopefully I can ramp up my fitness by championships. My standards go up for June.

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