October 30, 2010

Done with Dunne

Ah, the nuances of Bay Area micro-climates. The short drive to the start of today's Low-Key Hillclimb was dry ... mostly. The live radar map showed a distinct lack of precipitation in the area.

As the saying goes, you had to be there.

There, it was decidedly moist. You might think the turn-out for a late-season hill climb in iffy weather would be low. You might think that, and you would be wrong. Some ninety-seven riders headed up a slippery road into the clouds. Cyclists are a hardy bunch.

Last Thursday night, as I watched a Major League pitcher cede the mound in the second game of the World Series [he had a blister on his finger], I thought of the guy who broke his collarbone [in two places] in a crash on the first day of the Tour de France some years back. He got back on the bike, and kept riding. Over the next three weeks, day after day, he kept riding [and even won a stage of the race]. Cyclists are a hardy bunch. Not to mention stubborn and perhaps a bit loony.

October 9, 2010

Riding with Levi

Who needs a travel alarm, when you can count on some fellow traveler to set off his car alarm at 5:20 a.m.? I am sure that everyone in our little motel building appreciated his ineptitude, not to mention the residents of the neighboring apartment complex.

Given the apocalyptic warnings of insufficient parking at the starting location for Levi's second annual King Ridge GranFondo, my ride buddy and I biked to the start. After that nice 3.5 mile warm-up, we settled into our place near the front ... of the back of the pack. With approximately 6,000 registered riders, this would be the largest cycling event in which either of us had participated.

Sensibly, they stage the riders from fastest to slowest. Regrettably, that means some cyclists with good bike handling skills are mixing it up at the back with those whose skills are, shall we say, a bit dodgy. After an electric rendition of the national anthem, with a helicopter hovering overhead, the familiar voice of the announcer from the Amgen Tour of California coached us through the mass start. Packed like sardines on wheels, we started inching forward at 8:00 a.m.; we crossed the starting line at 8:15—and there were hundreds more behind us.

Roads were closed for us throughout Santa Rosa. Six thousand cyclists take up a lot of space, and they gave us both sides of the road. When we transitioned to sharing the road with the motoring public, we found officers controlling every intersection. In that sense, this was one safe ride.

I lost my ride buddy around mile two, as I picked my way forward through gaps in the sea of riders. The three routes (Gran, Medio, Piccolo) diverge in Occidental. After leaving the first rest stop, I had the road to myself for miles.

Apparently that first stop was meant for the Piccolo riders, but without route sheets or clear guidance, many of us made the stop. That spot has served as a rest stop for the Wine Country Century, so it seemed natural to stop there. I arrived before the main crush; by the time I departed, they seemed pretty overwhelmed.

As with any organized ride, people sign up for a variety of reasons. Some hope for a chance to hang tight with Levi and his crew. Some hope for a chance just to see Levi. I longed to ride the Medio route because it follows much of the same course used for years by the first day of the classic Waves to Wine event. I suspect I was not the only Medio rider with that agenda; I saw one woman sporting the beautiful Champagne Club jersey from 2004. Sadly, Waves to Wine moved away from this route after 2006. Unlike that foggy day, today the coast was clear.

I had considered wearing that very jersey for old times' sake, but opted instead for a badge of honor—my Death Ride jersey. Unlike Waves to Wine, the GranFondo's Medio route heads up a steep climb on the return to Santa Rosa: Coleman Valley Road. I may be slow, but I can climb and I want some respect. I was anxious to reach the hill ahead of the crowds, after hearing hair-raising stories of unprepared riders stopping at random in the middle of the road to dismount (and walk).

By this point, the crowds were thinner, and—as one cyclist wryly observed—so were the riders. As I reached the base of the climb, I asked a passing century rider how long it was. "A mile and a half," he replied. Oh, not so bad. The narrow road was not too crowded; I chided one wobbly warrior to pick a direction, right or left, before I could safely pass her. The number of riders was about evenly matched with the number of walkers. The grade was steady, averaging 10%.

Those who were climbing were strong, which incited me to ride at a faster pace. A thin climber in a BMC racing kit encouraged me:
If you can do the Death Ride, you can get up this hill.
With my heart rate at 186 bpm, I pulled off into a shady nook about halfway up the climb. Lowering my heart rate allowed me to spin up the second half of the climb and enjoy the view. On the descent, I was particularly respectful on a sharp hairpin set up with an opposing wall of hay bales. This was one safe ride.

I was just about to leave the final rest stop, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but Levi Leipheimer himself. He graciously mingled and posed for photos with us, asking if we were having a good time. Back on the road, his posse passed me on a slight uphill grade, which subverted any chance that I might tack on to the back for a spell.

In a crowd of 6,000, I really did not expect to cross paths with anyone I knew. As I rolled across the finish line, I was astonished and pleased to be cheered by another ride buddy who had to sit out this event. I re-connected with my morning ride partner and devoured a heaping plate of chicken-and-shrimp paella. On the way back to our motel, we made one more stop: to admire the brand-new Cyclisk, one day before its official dedication.

Still feeling the aftermath of the cold virus that sidelined me for the past few weeks, I suffered less than I expected. I managed to average 12.7 mph over 60 miles, with a paltry 3,180 feet of climbing.

October 2, 2010

And, They're Off!

Photo by Alison Chaiken
Fall is here, and with it, the start of the Low-Key Hillclimb season. You have been training, right?

Well, maybe you have. I, on the other hand, have been more relaxed about my cycling this year. I thought about charging up Montebello Road today, at close to my maximum capacity for close to an hour. I know how that feels.

Then I signed up ... as a volunteer. Oh, what a noble sacrifice!

After a chilly summer, fall has brought warm weather. I was sweating in the bright sunshine, and I was standing still. [So glad I wasn't charging up the hill.]

The sight of 100+ cyclists, clad in bright Lycra, swarming all over the top of Montebello was something to behold. I was busy collecting finishing times as riders crossed the line, no time for photos.

With our top three endurance cyclists sitting out, there was uncertainty at the finish line about whether anyone was still climbing after the one-hour mark. (There were two.)

By the time we were done, I was longing for a nap. My first cold of the season has really set me back, but still ... all I did today was stand around.

Good thing I didn't try to charge up the hill.