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September 14, 2010

Fremont Peak Hillclimb Race

Filed under: Road cycling — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

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).

Fremont Peak view

July 19, 2010

2010 Alta Alpina challenge

Filed under: Road cycling — mtbguru @ 8:45 am

Sierra season is on us and my first ride of the season was a road ride (already a few weeks ago). The trails are now finally getting snow-free so soon to ensue is the off-road fun. Meanwhile, here’s a repost of a report on that little road excursion…

I can’t remember exactly what my thought process was when I signed up for the Alta Alpina (it would be my first double century, while my longest road ride so far this year was a 55 mile ride and most of my training consisting of somewhat hard mountain bike rides), but a mix of exuberant irrationality and smug overconfidence sounds about right; the Alpina is supposed to sport over 20K feet of climbing, most of it at altitudes around 8000ft.

Nevertheless, as my riding buddy Jeff (who had also signed up) says, you gotta do what you gotta do. And so, the Alta Alpina 8-pass challenge was on. The event website has some interesting info, history and tidbits which I won’t repeat here, but I will say that the Alta Alpina club did a fabulous job in supporting the event, from stocking all rest stops with plenty of food, beverages, snacks and a bewildering variety of power-gels, gu’s, shots and blocks, to rounding up a multitude of friendly volunteers who didn’t mind standing around for hours and freezing on 8000ft mountain passes at 5 in the morning. You can very easily do this event without bringing any food or drinks of your own (just bring your bottles – and it helps if you like Cliff blocks, as I do).

Early start

Alta Alpina start
Morning glory on Kingsbury.

A 4am start on Saturday implies a short night of sleep or no sleep at all – so my strategy this time was to head home on Friday after work, (try to) sleep a few hours (gulping down a beer did help some), then start to drive up to Markleeville around 11pm. Sounds slightly insane, but the three and a half hour drive was actually very relaxing since there was hardly any other motorist around to annoy me or slow me down – I just had to watch out for unattentive deer on highway 88. I made it in Turtle Rock park around 2.30am so I had time for another power nap. The parking lot was the rendez-vous spot for meeting Jeff (aka TahoeBC) and Peter, a Belgian friend with a rather impressive track record of doubles and triathlons. It was hard to see anything, let alone identify riders, and there wasn’t any cell phone reception either. Jeff was able to correctly identify my Subaru and after injecting some caffeine in our systems we took off in the darkness of the night. No sign of Peter, but I’d figure we would run into him.

The first stretch led us into the Carson Valley, where we would head towards the climb up Kingsbury – a nice 15 mile warm-up stretch and it was surprisingly pleasant and warm on this side of the mountain. Jeff was so excited he took his bike offroad on one occasion – either that or he was catching up on some sleep. The Kingsbury climb then: not too hard when you’re fresh, a nice steady grade and there wasn’t much noteworthy to report, until I spotted some creature jump the road – deer or coyote? – right in front of another rider some hundred yards ahead of us. When we caught up to the rider, he said it was a mountain lion, long tail and all. In all those years mountain biking I haven’t seen any, but now on a road ride? Well, I’ll have to trust the guy, since I couldn’t see enough to identify it myself, so for all practical purposes I will, ahem, remain a cougar-virgin.


After checking in on the summit, it was time for some descending fun – it was still a bit dark so I took it easy, but Jeff didn’t want to hear of it and took off like a missile. It was a fantastic downhill I have to say, I think you didn’t even need to touch your brakes once to get down safely. The descent however revealed a serious flaw in my vestimentary strategy: I had decided to go all “Belgian-knee-warmers”:http://www.fatcyclist.com/2007/05/16/knee-warmers-are-stupid/ on this ride (i.e. without using knee warmers), but now my legs and knees had started to get really, really cold. This didn’t improve much even when we were tackling the next climb, up Woodfords canyon and Luther Pass. And at that point we were enjoying a tailwind highly unusual for that area. Woodfords/Luther isn’t too hard of a climb but unlike on the Nevada side of the mountain, here the temperatures were dropping steadily and the winds were picking up as we gained altitude – it was still only 7am. And when climbing turned into descending, tailwinds into headwinds, my knees, feet and hands felt like they were being frozen over in a refrigerator. More annoyingly, my right knee started to hurt badly when we started to take on the next climb, Carson Pass. With the temperatures and knee pain my morale barometer also dropped from ‘cautiously optimistic’ to ‘prolly not gonna make it’ and I geared back into granny, let Jeff take off and tried to pace myself up Carson while nursing the knee and wondering out loud what the hell I was doing here.

At the rest stop on the summit I tried to take Jeff’s advice to heart – ‘full recovery is only one descent away’ – and though I was still pretty cold and miserable, flying down a mountain at 40 miles an hour always constitutes a healthy amount of fun. Blue Lakes road then, which was a bit shorter than planned because it wasn’t clear of snow all the way. This is a spectacularly beautiful road, nice pavement and primo Hope Valley-scenery, but I still had to deal with that stinging knee pain on even the slightest of inclines, so I switched back into granny mode and paced myself up. One thing I learned from doing these things is that good and bad times will alternate like a bad case of bipolar disorder, without much logic or reason – so I figured I’ll stick it out until lunch at least (which was scheduled around mile 110 or so) and hope things would improve.

Halfway there

And improve, they did! To make up for the shortened Blue Lakes climb we were asked to do a little out-and-back section on Airport road, right before Turtle Rock park. This featured a short but somewhat nasty climb, and perhaps due to the increasing temperatures at the approaching noon hour my knee got finally defrosted and started to work properly again.

halfway Alta Alpina
Our heroes are still fully capable of generating forced smiles.

Just about when we finished lunch in Turtle Rock park, I spotted Peter riding in. We exchanged pleasanteries, then carried on, as I was sure he’d catch up on us later. The biggest climbs of the day were still ahead of us, and at this point it was pretty hard to resist the siren song of the car and its luring comforts. But we were on a mission, and the morale barometer had now passed ‘cautiously optimistic’ to ‘unwarranted elation’. On Ebbetts Pass I felt really strong, and so relieved that the knee pain was gone that I started to hammer it. This was probably my favorite climb of the day, great scenery (snowcapped peaks, icey lakes), with steep stretches alternated by short plateaus that allow you to recover a bit before attacking the next wall. The descent into Hermit valley was great fun and I really started to get the hang of it. I enjoyed the climb back up as well (1700ft) and was finally getting convinced I had it in the bag. Jeff and I had a surprisingly similar pace throughout the day, and he caught up with me on the descent, heading towards the frontside of Monitor.

Alta Alpina: Ebbett's
There’s still lots of the white fluffy stuff around Ebbett’s Pass.

Right after he passed me, I suddenly felt the familiar and dreadful effects of the rear tire losing pressure… a flat. After launching into a curse tirade I replaced the tube and inflated it with a CO2 canister – all very mundane actions, but they felt a lot more difficult with 150 miles under the belt. The final two climbs of the day were the morale-crunching double ascent (front and back) of Monitor Pass. The frontside has some heinous grades but the worst part of it is that it’s consistent (no plateaus), and you can see rather far ahead, deep into the horrors that await you. I caught up with Jeff again but now started to feel pretty worn out. Monitor’s frontside was a real soul-sucker, but we were still hoping that full recovery was only one downhill away. On Monitor’s summit we were finally joined by Peter, and we took on the thrilling descent into Topaz.

The end

After making the U-turn, the final climb awaited us, a gut-wrenching 9 miles at a near-constant 7% grade (in normal conditions rather pleasant, but these weren’t normal ones) and I was in a world of pain. But at least I wasn’t alone, Jeff had various issues of his own (stomach, back) and also Peter mentioned he had been suffering throughout the day. I don’t know how, but the three of us made it in a snail pace back onto the summit, and Peter even still had an acceleration in him close to the top. And at the summit rest stop, it was finally party time! It is surprising how quickly the mind can process ordeals like this – full recovery has indeed been one descent away.

Alta Alpina: Monitor
The summit of Monitor, always a welcome sight.

Another fantastic descent by the way, and I felt weightless and truly in sync with my surroundings flying down this beautiful mountain near sunset. We wrapped up the last rolling ten mile stretch in twilight and darkness, and even though there was a nasty little climb to scale right before Turtle Park it didn’t upset anyone and we finished our 200 miler together, in about 17 hours and change. The pain of the day was soon forgotten but I could hardly eat anything or recover a bit before I succumbed to overwhelming and sweet fatigue. Unfortunately of the type that doesn’t lead to a good night of sleep, but I didn’t care; we got it done. More pics and stats

March 11, 2010

Bike directions

Filed under: Mapping,Road cycling — mtbguru @ 10:16 pm

Great to see bike directions on Google Maps – this has been overdue, but as I can imagine implementing this must have had its share of challenges, as outlined in this post on LatLong.

The first thing I did with it was to enter my commute and see what it came up with (screenshot of the partial route below).

Bike directions

It doesn’t quite match with the route I prefer – for instance, it sends me along Lawrence then follows a Manhattan-like pattern parallel to Foothill Expressway rather than taking Foothill itself. I would never take Lawrence, even though it has a pretty wide shoulder: having traffic zip by you at +50mph is highly annoying, and there are too many intersections and lots of right-turning cars. Bollinger + de Anza is a highly preferable alternative, there you have less and (somewhat) slower traffic. I do like Foothill on the other hand, even though you have the same problems as Lawrence (traffic zipping by at high speed) but this is offset by a very wide shoulder giving you an increased sense of safety. And the stops and intersections are fewer and a bit safer – the Manhattan pattern alternative would slow you down quite a lot.

I guess this simple example outlines the difficulty in coming up with a good algorithm: there is a huge space of parameters which rather than digital (suitable to bike or not?) have an entire grayscale range of values, which, to make matters worse, also have a subjective quality to it, making it very hard to come up with an optimal solution. But, at least using the new bike directions will give you a good first-order stab at a decent and safe route – so far in cases where I was on the bike in a non-familiar area I’ve tried the ‘walking’ directions, which not always led to desirable results.

Interesting to note is the collaboration with Rails-to-Trails, to identify trails – it seems for instance a number of trails in Rancho San Antonio park (left in the screenshot) are included in the database.

However, there are a couple of things in the LatLong post we feel the need to strongly dissent with.
I quote:

l don’t know anyone who enjoys biking up a hill, especially when you’re trying to get somewhere you need to be. Going uphill is worse than simply being much slower; it’s also exhausting and can take a toll on the rest of your ride.

Mmh, there are plenty of cyclists – yours truly for instance – who like a good climb!
But it gets worse:

Many cyclists will tell you that going downhill is annoying for a different reason: you may have to ride your brakes all the way down.

I don’t know what kind of crack those guys are on. Who doesn’t like a screaming fast downhill? Just get off the brakes.

More seriously, this bike directions algorithm is a nice feature. Since long Open Street Map (to which we contribute on occasion) was pretty much the only global online map with decent bike routes – though with strong variability in coverage depending on the region – besides of course local maps such as the VTA map for Santa Clara county; good to have another effort now (and a bit of competition?).

August 15, 2007

Shasta Summit Century

Filed under: Road cycling — mtbguru @ 5:53 am

Shasta centuryThe Shasta Summit Century is definitely one of the most scenic road rides you can think of. Clear lakes, winding forest roads, interesting geological features and of course the towering giant herself, they’re all there. Add to that for Californian standards fairly good road conditions with sparse vehicular traffic, a few real thrilling descents, a flawlessy organized event by the local cycling club (thank you Mountain Wheelers) and you have the makings of a great weekend trip to California’s North.

But it does have some venom in its tail: the main climb, a 14 mile grunt on Everitt Memorial Highway along the flanks of the big volcano, gaining 4200 feet and dropping you at 7700 feet of altitude, is at the very end of the ride – check out that profile, which is of the regular century – there’s also a 135 mile ‘long’ option.
Upon summitting, make sure to save some oxygen for the descent – it’s one of the funnest downhill runs on skinny tires around.
More stuff and photos on this trip page


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