RACE REPORT #17 Mike Horgan Memorial Hillclimb CAT 4/35+
It was with a LOT of trepidation that I entered today’s race. First, it was a hillclimb. Historically not my best event (but getting better). Second, it was a really, really, really, tough hillclimb. 22 miles, 4400 feet of elevation gain, short pitches of 17% grade, a 4 mile stretch at 10-12%, and to top it off – 7 miles of rolling dirt road with some washboard sections thrown in for fun.
The course has been the subject of much discussion among the members of our team for almost 2 weeks. Here’s an example of some of the chatter that’s been flying around our email list:
I have never done a harder climbing course. My “easy” test ride was very hard.
It is demoralizingly steep in sections and then it just keeps going. It is unlike any road climb that I have ever done, with some pitches that rival mountain bike terrain for steepness.
4.6 Left turn to Magnolia Rd: NOTE: it is important that you take the INSIDE on this turn. You will have the best line up the first switchback. If you are on the outside of the first turn you will likely be in the inside of the 1st switchback which is so steep, it would be almost IMPOSSIBLE to negotiate on a bike. Also the inside of that switchback is SUPER smooth from tire wear and my tacky race tires (on the right rear of my car) spun out!
Actually, it was the steepest sustained climb I think I’ve ever done. I used a 13-29 and did not find myself spinning out of the 29 on the steepest pitches.
I sent out the pre-ride announcement earlier, and, for those planning to race it, it would be a REALLY good idea to make the pre-ride. This is probably the HARDEST climb on the front range, if not the whole state…
Wow! Now you can see why I was shaking in my cleats. Especially never having ridden/driven/seen the course at all. I also knew that events like this are a magnet for the rocket-up-the-hills MTB dudes that keep a road bike laying around and other climbing hermits that come down out of the peaks to force feed a sack full of humble pie to the regular-joe road racers like myself. This is THEIR time to shine. All this can be yours, I’m thinking, for the low, low price of only 30 dollars. What a bargain!
To top it off, I had been feeling less than optimal in the legs over the past two weeks after my 100+ miler with Phil in Utah. The trouble wasn’t doing that big of a ride, it was doing it and then nothing else for the next 4 days. That let all the little tears and tweaks in the muscles start to heal up and made for some tight and very dead-feeling legs. I just did not have any snap left in them. In the week leading up to the race I had alternated some very hard riding days, with some super easy spins on the rollers to loosen up the muscles. I also worked at massaging my legs (too poor to pay someone else…) for up to 90 minutes a night. That is a huge help in getting them back on track.
With all that said, the day of the race found me feeling more relaxed than I had been at any of my races so far this year. The pressure was off. No chance for a win, top twenty was all I dared hope for – but even that seemed questionable. I basically resigned myself to considering it a $30 training ride and would just see how things went. I did my best to prepare with the resources I had available. Thanks to some efforts of a few teammates, I was able to construct a course profile with key mileages to keep in my pocket. That helped a ton (but still didn’t make up for not knowing the course). I kept my warmup pretty low key and didn’t even do any hard efforts on the trainer, just a half-hour of moderate spinning. I knew that we’d have 4-5 miles of gradual climbing before we hit the steep stuff and didn’t want to waste any energy before the start.
The first bit was ok. Our group of around 60 started up Boulder Canyon at steady clip. I was surprised to see the same 2-3 guys sitting on the front pulling the group for most of the approach. I was thinking that was kind of dumb, but made sure to do my best to take advantage of their effort! I kept myself very well positioned sitting in the sweet spot of between 10-15th place in line and trying to stay as sheltered as possible. We went through a cool tunnel a couple of miles up the canyon and I commented on how ‘euro’ we were to a teammate. From then on, my eyes were glued to my computer – counting the tenth’s of a mile to reach 4.6 where the real race would begin.
At mile 4.5 I took the last tug on my water bottle that I’d be able to for a while, and prepared myself for the carnage that was sure to ensue on the first switchback. When we made the turn off of the main canyon road, my legs sprung to life as I stood and cranked my way up and around the steeeeep corner. One guy was putting so much pressure on his saddle while he was grinding up the hill that it snapped clean off the rails – that’s one way to get out of having to do the climb… I had to pay attention to my weight distribution as if I was mountian biking, my front wheel was lifting off the road at times.
Much to my absolute amazement, my legs felt really good! Despite the fact that my heart rate was over 180 for the first half-mile of the climb (which would normally mean that I’m about to blow because my max is 187), I wasn’t even breathing that hard and didn’t feel the exertion like I normally would have. Man, what I wouldn’t give to feel like that all the time! A few guys immediately pulled away, but I elected to just keep my own pace – because there were so many unknowns for me regarding the course. Plus, I didn’t want the magic bubble I was riding in to burst!! Here I am, racing up some vertical road on my bicycle, guys weaving all around me and breathing so hard it sounds like they’re going to explode – and I’m actually having fun?!?! I went into it with the training ride mentality, and it felt like a training ride – only I knew I was going well because I left all my teammates behind very early in the climb, and I caught and passed two others at mile 7 that had started in a group a couple of minutes before mine.
George Hincapie (Armstrong’s teammate) calls a day like this on the bike “no chain”. I was feeling no chain. Accellerations came easily, I wasn’t breathing hard, and my legs felt like they had endless power to tap into. Wow.
I knew I should kick it up a notch and try to make up time on the guys that pulled away earlier, but I was enjoying the moment and just doing my thing. Any other course and I would have been flying off the front with the same voracity as the rabbit in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
The dirt road section was a hoot! The road was in pretty good shape for the most part, but there were some exciting moments to be had taking corners downhill at 30+ mph on skinny tires. Yee-Haw! I saw one guy flip himself upside down when he was yanking on the bars while climbing a short hill – ouch!
The dirt ended very suddenly, catching me a bit off gaurd as we hit the pavement for a fast and twisty descent to the base of the final climb. As luck would have it, straight into a block headwind. Fortunately, I was with three other guys at this point and we were able to take turns plowing through the air. After a mile or two of false-flat, we made a left and started the ascent to the finish line which was another two miles or so up the mountain. I was still feeling ok when one guy put in a solo attack. It was still a ways to go to the finish, and I had dropped this guy earlier in the day, so I let him go – thinking he would either blow up, or that I could reel him back in. Turns out he didn’t blow, and he managed to open up quite a gap. I upped the pace enough to drop the other riders with me, but kept it below full-on chase mode. Still waiting to see what would happen up ahead. He must’ve made an amazing recovery from getting dropped earlier, because he showed no signs of slowing at all. Once we hit the final kilometer I started chasing HARD! I was closing fast, but he turned and looked back with just a couple of meters to go and began his own sprint when he saw me coming. I pulled even, then inched ahead, but just couldn’t hold it after chasing so hard and he managed to nip me at the line for 10th. Bugger!
However, 11th place was FAR better than I had hoped for. After being the top finisher for our team again, I’m starting to get a small reputation as a climber. That seems so funny to me – when I think back to my chunky white, hairy legs and 220lb. body of a little over a year ago. Now they’re lean and tan, and people are calling me a ‘climber’ – ha… Feels good!