Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 Low-Key Hillclimbs: Mount Hamilton report

Thanksgiving marked the ninth and final climb in the 2014 Low-Key Hillclimbs. And as it has been every year we've done the series, Thanksgiving marked the longest "single" climb we do, Mount Hamilton Road.

Single climb is in quotes because John Summerson has asserted that Hamilton isn't a single climb, but rather three. And indeed the descents are considerable. But with a net elevation difference of 1161 meters and total climbing of 1340 meters, that's an "altitude efficiency" of 86.6%, so it is considerably more up than down. A series of three equal climbs separated by two descents to the original elevation would be an efficiency of only 33.3%.

I began my day in San Jose, having stayed with a friend, and a weather check showed the temperature in the city was 44F but at the summit, at 7 am or so, it was already 62F. So it was unusually warm, a common trend this year. Despite this I wore a wool baselayer in addition to knee warmers, shorts, and a short-sleeve jersey. With a light jacket this was sufficient for the warming morning air at base elevation. Before the start I put the light jacket into Kevin Winterfield's rental car, which was doing support duty,

I gave my speech advising riders to not start further up than they should: I 'd assigned group numbers from 1 to 5 to riders for whom I had availanle scores to do so, with 1 being they should line up near the front, 5 near the back. There's a perceived advantage in starting near the front, but if slower riders start too far up it creates passing situations which result in crash risks. So it's way better if people start in the approximate finish order. It's hardly appropriate for me to call for this then step right up to the front of the pack myself, but I tend to overcompensate a bit, and I was starting back with group 2 people which was not the best place for my goal of avoiding the start line snafus which caused me to be delayed last year when a rider had trouble clipping in in front of me and caused me to burn a match to cross a gap.

But while my starting position could easily have been trouble, the pace at the start was unusually sedate. I had no problem following wheels, and was able to take advantage to move ahead when space opened up toward the left of the right lane to which we were dutifully confining ourselves. This proved a good move, because not long after moving up I looked back and our group had separated itself.

But up the road, three had already taken advantage of the relaxed start: Chris Evans and series leader Stafano Profumo of Squadra SF, along with Hanns Detlefsen of Sistes and Misters had established a considerable gap. Back in my group, favorites Ryan Sherlock and Adrien Costa along with dark horse Brian Lucido sort of neutralized each other, none wanting to drag the others up this first of three climbs where "keeping the powder dry" is the prevailing strategy. That strategy was not held back in the last decade, or the decade prior by Tracy Colwell or Tim Clark, each of whom used their dominent strength to shed the field from the front. But this was going to be far more tactical.

By Grant Ranch I was still feeling fine. The lead three had a 3-minute gap at this point, and extended it further on the close-to-two-mile descent before the start of climb #2. The descent has in the past caused me problems, since with a tendency for gravel to accumulate in the corners exercising too much caution is always a temptation. But I had no issue keeping up with the riders around me. Part of this was due to using my carbon Ritchey MT-32 wheel with Veloflex Carbon road tire rather than the Edge 100 rim with Vittoria Crono time trial tire I more often use on climbs. This wasn't a tactical choice: the Crono is flat and my attempt to order a replacment in time failed due to Sports Basement getting the wrong tire.

But the front wheel, with better aerodynamics, traction, and braking even if it had slightly inferior rolling resistance and a significant amount of extra mass, was probably the best choice today, and I was able to descend confidently.

Different years different riders have different tactics and it is obvious that one of the tactics this year was to shred the lead group on climb 2, because as soon as we hit the end of the descent, I found myself too deep in the red for the 2848 vertical feet still to come. I had two options: stay with the group as long as possible and then hope to struggle the rest of the way, or throttle back immediately and try to ride a more sustainable pace. I chose the latter option. I thus found myself with Shahram Moatazedi and Oleksiy Mishchenko. Shahram was clearly strong, and I didn't see any obvious signs Oleksiy wasn't also ready to keep a good pace. Shahram pulled at first, then Oleksiy came through, then I took my turn.

There's always an initial enthusiasm at the bottom of a climb, and this was no exception. A later review of my data, applying a power-speed model, showed even though we let the leaders go this was still what for me is an unsustainable pace. But I still felt okay, and as I moved to the front I thought maybe I'd succed in dropping someone. But no luck: they stayed on my wheel. So I put in a decent time at the front then pulled off to let Shahram have another shift at the front.

At about this time I saw the unmistable figure of Daryl Spano up the road. He's tried to stay with the leaders longer. clearly, but had reached the same conclusion I had eventually. Daryl and I are often closely matched, so if I can ride with or faster than Daryl, I know I'm doing well.

With Daryl as a rabbit, we closed the gap, and Daryl joined our group. I'm not sure where we lost Oleksiy, but it was somewhere along this second climb. That left the three of us. I think I took one more pull along the way, but the climb gains only 788 vertical feet in its 3.2 miles, so we were to the top relatively quickly by Hamilton standards.

The second descent with our small group wasn't an issue, and we were soon at the bridge which marks the start of climb #3. This bridge offers a clear view of the summit observatory, which while it appears tantilizingly close, is still 6.6 miles and 2060 vertical feet away. This final climb is longer than all but 16 of the 53 climbs for which I have stats from Low-Key history, so it's a challenging climb by Low-Key standards all by itself. It demands respect. Optimism due to the view must be tempered.

The entry to the bridge is a corner where Nils Takkenen crashed three years ago: it's tempting to rail it but it can take you down. I apexed it a bit more than I probably needed to, sticking with my two companions.

And then we were onto the climb. I tried to follow Shahram but he went out a bit too fast for what I had left in the tank and I let a gap open. I was able to limit the damage, though, and the gap stabilized. But try as I could I couldn't close it.

I wasn't the only one in difficulty, Daryl was dropped behind me. My eyes were ahead, not behind, though: doing my best to keep a tempo which gave me a chance to close that gap to Shahram.

But I could not. He wasn't gaining on my, but I wasn't gaining on him. We were in stasis.

There's a sweeping right turn where going in you can see riders ahead of you above, then coming out you can see chasing riders below. Going in I saw Shahram, of course, as he'd been hovering ahead of, but I didn't see anyone immediately ahead of him (Brian Schuster was next, and he had a big gap). However, coming out I saw Daryl Spano chasing from behind, not much more behind me than I was behind Shahram. Well, I already knew Daryl never gives up... so this was added motivation: pulled from ahead, pushed from behind.

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finishing (Bill Bushnell photo)

But so it remained. Daryl never caught me, but then I never caught Shahram. I hoped, I willed him to crack, just a little. All I needed was a little. But he held his gap to the final rise to the summit. Once I turned there, my last chance to catch him was just ahead, so I spun it up and suppressed the pain and gave everything I had left. Indeed, in those final few hundred meters I closed on him but not enough: he crossed the line 5 seconds ahead. So close. Could I have gone a bit faster a bit earlier? That's hard to say: cycling is such a mental game. But I was wasted at the finish, and I think the better rider won that little battle.

Afterwards I looked more closely at the data, applyin a bike power-speed model to my Garmin numbers. Here's the result, where I assume a coefficient of rolling resistance of 0.4%, a CDA of 0.32 meters2, a drivetrain efficiency of 97%. Note the CDA is a compromise between drafting on the first climb and part of the second, being in a tuck on the descents, and less aerodynamic solo riding on the third climb. The other parameters are estimates. I further estimated my bike mass was 6 kg, my body mass 57 kg, and my clothing and water bottle 2 kg. Here's that result, using 20 second smoothing:

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calculated watts versus distance

For reference, here's the altitude versus distance:

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altitude profile

On the first climb, which felt so easy, the power is sustained at around 260 watts. In reality is was likely lower, perhaps 250 watts, due to the benefit of drafting (I can emulate this by reducing CDA, for example to 0.28 meters2).

On the descent, power was low, as I was coasting in draft, even though the model shows relatively high numbers. This is because I was in a tuck and so CDA was lower than modeled, and additionally because I was in rider draft much of the time, a substantial benefit because larger riders ahead of me have higher terminal velocities.

At the second climb, power was unsustainable high. This is where the selection was made in our group, and although I gave up hope of following the leaders early, I was still putting in a big effort here. That paid off by putting me in a compatible small group, which gave me draft on much of the relatively short, gradual second climb.

On the third climb is where things unraveled on me, though. Although I was following Shahram, and the gap to him remained stable, it is clear we were both running out of gas here. Had my endurance been better I could have closed the gap simply by sustaining the power I'd maintained earlier in the climb. To some degree I was perhaps paying the price for the relatively hard pace at the bottom of the second climb, but in the end the real solution was more fitness. Practice makes perfect and with my present work situation my ability to train on climbs during the week is extremely limited, while access to climbs on weekends from San Francisco is also tough (it's a decently long ride just getting in and out of the city, and I've not had the time to do that as much as I used to). In any case, I did the best I could.

At the end you can see the little blip at the end where I pushed the pace on the final rise. The model shows this was relatively unimpressive. That's a good thing, because if I'm too strong on the final bit, that means I didn't ride hard enough leading into it. I'd given pretty much everything I had.

In the end, no complaints. I did what I could, and my overall standing in the Low-Key Hillclimbs ended up being tenth, which is very respectable.

Big changes are happening in my work life, and it remains to be seen what my plans are for running and cycling in 2015...

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