Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mount Diablo from North Gate: previewing Sunday's course

Sunday is the first of three organized hillclimbs on Mount Diablo in the coming two months. The second of these races is the Tour of California stage 3, which ends with a climb up to the Summit via South Gate Road. But two days before there's a public event, The Diablo Time Trial (not actually a time trial) climbing North Gate Road to the junction before finishing the climb on the ATOC course up Summit Road. The third race is the NorCal-Nevada climbing champship race pn 21 June.

I pre-rode it last Sunday and generated a profile from my Garmin Edge 500 data. Net distance = 17.55 km, gross climbing = 1070 meters, gross descending = 10 meters, average grade = 6.05%. But obviously there's a lot more to the climb than that. The rating is 2.42 Old-La-Honda equivalents, less than the altitude ratio of 2.72 due to the lesser average grade (Old La Honda is 7.2%).

Here's the profile, in imperial units since it was prepared for Low-Key Hillclimbs (replacing the profile I'd done in 2009, which I discovered had the wrong start to the climb).


The climb starts from the north entrance gate to the park. There's a bit of rolling before the climb proper begins. 0.75 miles, but with the serious climbing grade not kicking in until 1.4 miles. On this section, it's important to treat the race as a time trial: get aero, nice steady effort, stay in a good spinnable gear.

Through mile 4, there's two sections of real climbing each followed by a false flat. Then the grade settles into a sustained 6.7%, which it holds with relatively minor deviation until close to Juniper Campground.

But before that, mile 6.2 is the ranger building which marks the finish line for the championship, which is restricted by the park to the North Gate Road since that event goes later in the day (being a time trial) and the park doesn't want to grant exclusive access to the Summit road. It's important to treat the full climb as something much longer: it's 10.8 miles, not 6.2, and ramping it up to this junction would be a big mistake.

The junction between the three public roads: North Gate, South Gate, and Summit, comes at mile 6.4, not long after. From here, it's technically a left onto Summit, although it's actually more of a straight line.

Throughout much of this first part, from the start at the entrance gate to the junction, numbers are painted on the road in faded paint across the centerline to indicate the number of feet in distance to the summit. These numbers are the hundreds portion to the left of the line, with a "00" to the right of the line which looks more like an "infinity" symbol. These are useful for pacing, although each year they become harder to see.

At the entrance to Summit, there's a sign showing "4.5 miles to summit, 2.5 miles to Juniper Campground". It's still 1700 vertical feet to the summit, a considerable climb, so smart pacing is still important here even though it's very tempting to ratchet up the pain.

There's a few campground entrances along the way, but I'm always looking ahead to Juniper, which to me marks the end game. You can see the sweeping right in the distance up the hillslide as the grade levels out a bit for around a quarter mile. Then it gets steeper again as the road turns the corner and the 3000 foot elevation sign comes into view.

Now it really is end game, with around 700 feet of climbing left in the remaining two miles. With tired legs it's a relatively steep grind just beyond Juniper. I'm looking for the sharp left, then the sharp right, then I now it's time to get really serious.

The grade levels out here to closer to 5% as the road approaches the large parking lot to the right before the crux. And then there it is, the road splits, and it's time to embrace the pain for the final grind to the finish.

The final km, this time in metric since that's my general preference, is shown in detail here. I smoothed data by approximately 20 meters, since the Garmin measures altitude in 1 meters steps.


The first 720 meters are quite gradual, leveling out at 5.3%, and if that were it I'd be riding close to my maximum at this point. But with the finale being what it is, I like to save just a bit extra in reserve.

Then the road splits and you're on the finishing stretch. 15.9% with sections at 17%. My best times here come when I shift into a relatively low gear here, keeping my cadence up, rather than try and power through the short distance. It's only 34 vertical meters, but even that's plenty that it can't be covered in a wreckless sprint. But the end is there, so it's going to hurt no matter what.

That's it: you arrive at the top, utterly wasted. My goal is to keep a fairly steady VAM the whole way, ramping it up maybe 30% for the final grade. I'm planning on using my 34-46 in front, 12-23 in back. The 23 is slightly suboptimal for the final steep bit, bit not too much so. I rode it in a 36-26 on Sunday. That gear is 6.3% smaller, but I expect to be at least 6.3% faster.

For time targets, the results of the 2009 Low-Key Hillclimb, which was an individual time trial, are posted here. Based on this, and my general lack of cycling-specific preparation, and the fact I am old and feeble, 55 minutes would be an excellent result, with 57 minutes a reasonable target, with a conservative goal of breaking the hour.

My preparation, as is usually the case, has been less than optimal, as I got sick Sunday and haven't done anything resembling training for three days now. Hopefully I'll get in a few brisk rides between now and Sunday to get my legs moving again.



Diablo Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diablo Scott said...


Don't forget to kick it up a couple gears at Grapevine Picnic Area; a left turn about a half mile before Juniper. Not quite a false flat but it helps if you know it's coming and you can increase your speed quite a bit until the right turn at Juniper.

I created the Strava segments branded as "Д Mt. Diablo..." after reading your post about poorly-defined segments following one of your previous Mount Diablo rides; check them out.

Also your link to the NCNCA climbing championships is wrong.

djconnel said...

Thanks! I fixed that link.

Dobro Diablo? I wonder what fraction of Strava segments have Cyrillic?

It's a good segment, but I fear it starts slightly too close to the gate. That puts a lot of faith in GPS accuracy. But it's a good segment for rolling starts! It should come out close to the self-timed number.

Half mile before Juniper is 2.5 miles from the finish... that might be a bit early to start ramping up the effort. I'll really need to see how I feel. Hopefully better than now, as I'm still recovering from a cold.

Diablo Scott said...

It's pronounced "deh", rhymes with "meh", but I usually think "delta". Anyway, it won't work for the "time trial" since the start point isn't the same but that wasn't the objective. I wanted an easy way for people to filter out the hundreds of junk segments that come up on a Diablo ride, and an easy way for them to mark mine as favorites.

djconnel said...

The unicode tag is a good idea. But alas! Since my Strava Ambassadorship was not renewed my life mission of improving Strava segments came to a bitter and premature end, and I can no longer edit other people's. Sigh. Clearly segment filtering is a major feature on any well considered Strava.com to-do list.