So the Fremont Peak Hillclimb Race it was, and I headed down south on Sunday morning to try my hand at something completely new, a genuine road race. Thus I would fullfill at least one New Year’s resolution (I still haven’t been able to forget these bloody things); a short (10 miles) but intense (all uphill) road race.
The first challenge of the day was to identify the proper category to sign up in. As this being my first road race, I was tempted to go for the +35 Cat 4. But there was also the +35 Cat 1/2/3. For some unknown reason, Cat 1,2 and 3 were bunched together here, unlike 4 – are 4’s that much worse compared to 3’s than 3’s are to 2 and 1’s? Who knows – and who cares?
Doing Cat 4 would feel like sandbagging I thought, so I did the honorable (or stupid) thing and signed up for the +35 1/2/3. I was getting a bit confused by all this pigeonholing and to make things more confusing, the race would be held in ‘waves’ with several categories grouped together in the different waves: my +35 Cat 1/2/3 would start together with the Cat 1 (aka ‘Pro’), 2 and the ‘Elite 3’ group; 10 minutes later the next wave with another bunch of categories and so on. And so I found myself in front of the start line with 30some other riders. I had a nagging feeling that I somewhat stood out:
- I was the only one in the group with unshaved legs.
- I was the only one in the group wearing a jersey with no sponsoring info on it whatsoever.
- I was the only one in the group who didn’t own an annual USAC license.
- My Frankenbike (cheap frame with borrowed Zipp TT-wheels and funky looking bladed tri-seatpost) didn’t quite fit in with the stable of high end Specialized’s and Pinarello’s around me.
Oh well, as Feynmann said, don’t care too much about what other people think, it should be interesting and fun, and off we went. I was a bit taken back by the slow start – I’m used to mountain bike races, where the start is usually an excuse for an all-out sprint to make it first on the dirt/singletrack. Instead, we formed a well-disciplined gruppeto and started to make our way up the gentle lower slopes of the mountain.
The Fremont Peak climb starts out with 3 fairly easy miles followed by 6 steeper miles and a flattish final mile. Not too long after the start my initial smug confidence started to slowly evaporate, as the pace went up and up and I had to work more and more to keep my position in the peloton. I briefly wondered if something was wrong with my bike, but no, these guys started to go really fast and even with the benefit of drafting I had to go all out to keep up. This of course ment that I was the first to be dropped at the first sign of steepness. A pretty painful experience: as soon as the gap was a couple bike lengths I could forget about closing it again; I tried to hang on for a while but it felt like going into cardiac arrest so I settled down; there was nothing left but to pace and brace myself for the steeper stuff.
Early on the hardest section I still had three or four guys in sight. I decided it was time to fire up the afterburners and went into ‘angry climbing man’ mode – I was determined to catch them. To my surprise and delight the gap slowly closed. I reeled three of them in and an epic battle for fifth-last place erupted with number four, which I ended up losing in the (downhill) sprint. I still managed to end up with a DFL in my category though, as the riders I caught up with were in Cat 1,2 or 3 (remember these are supposed to be harder than mine, which is the old guys’ Cat 1/2/3). Another new experience, and I guess next time I should shave my legs for improved aerodynamics! But it was a fun event and I’m glad I didn’t end up sandbagging – though I could have made money with it (I would have placed second, with $50 price money, minus the $35 sign up fee).
The summit of Fremont Peak offers you a pretty awesome view over the South Bay, Salinas Valley and the Monterey Bay by the way (it did require some additional steep climbing past the gate to the summit station, I was almost sad they didn’t include it in the race). And the descent is a rather thrilling affair – true ‘singletrack for roadies’.
P.S. At least I smoked everyone on the descent (not that ayone was racing it of course).