Guanella Pass Hill Climb

It is always nice to see a new race on the calendar.  I get excited to see how a new course lends itself to racing.  I knew Guanella would be fun since I’m familiar with the area from my old hobby, climbing 14,000 foot peaks.  Guanella pass is so high in elevation, that is has one of the highest altitude trailheads for Colorado’s highest peaks.  I took this photo of the pass from the flank of Mt. Bierstadt a few years ago:

Guanella Pass – Hill Climb finish near the upper pond, 11,500′

The road was only recently paved to the summit and features pristine pavement and generally steady grades. The course switchbacks out of Georgetown at a steady 8-9% grade, with a few brief flat sections past the first small hydro dams after 2.5 miles. Then another set of steep switchbacks and steady 8-9% grades to mile 3.5.  After two miles of rolling terrain past the large hydro dams, the course again tilts upward for the final 5 miles to the finish.

Overall, the course profile is somewhat similar to the recent Sunshine Hill Climb, steep at the beginning and end, separated by a flatter middle.  Many of the same racers would take the start, so I hoped to use the same strategy: hang on as long as I could! (This pretty much works for all hill climbs).  If I was lucky, I’d have a group to work with over the flat section.

As soon as I woke up, I knew I was fatigued.  I hurt from the State TT just walking up the stairs.  When I started to warm up, I calibrated my new power meter a few times, thinking “Those numbers can’t be right…”  I knew this one was going to hurt.

Front row: Haas, Harding, Popowski

LeRoy Popowski was on hand again, and I knew he would be the man to beat.  I’ve learned his style from the last couple races: He doesn’t really attack, but simply rides about 10% faster than anyone else can keep up with.  He quietly lays the power down and eventually nobody can hang on.  The first few times he picked up the pace, our small field of about 25 riders started to fall apart.

I was surprised how many held on to the first hydro dams, about a dozen of us.  I was really hurting and knew I would probably come off before the long flat(ish) section.  After over-doing it at Sunshine, I was also trying not to go too far into the red, especially with the flat section still a few miles away.

The first 12 minutes of the race I averaged 342 watts.  This isn’t astronomical for me, but this season the highest I’ve averaged for 12 minutes was 351 watts, at much lower altitude.  The average altitude of this race was 10,000 ft, so I would expect about 5% lower power than at my home altitude of 5,000 ft.  I know my legs felt tired, but from my power data it looks like I performed close to this season’s expectations before I finally came unhitched.  I’ll also point out the 12 minute normalized power (accounting for the physiologic toll of variability and occasional high output) was 362 watts.

OK, enough power talk.  Now I was riding on my own, only a few miles into the race.  For me this can be a good thing.  I wasn’t happy to be riding 9th on the road, but I could set my own pace and focused on finding my rhythm.  I did the best I could considering the rolling hills in the middle of the course.

The last five miles come in two halves.  The first half is relatively punchy, with varying grades.  I had some more trouble finding my rhythm here.  The last 2.5 miles are very steady at 8% grade, and this is when I found my groove.  I reeled in 8th place, and came close to 7th before running out of road at the finish.  I averaged 320w for the last 12 minutes, despite being above 11,000 feet in altitude.

LeRoy destroyed everyone, finishing a full 2 minutes ahead of everyone else!  I am mostly happy with my result, but might improve if I could have settled in better when the grade was more variable.  I had better power numbers and better results last season, with more races under my belt.  I think I’m going to go the ‘more racing’ route and see if I can find a glimmer of last year’s excellent form.

About Russell

I have been racing bicycles for a decade. This blog will chronicle my efforts as a Category 1 road racer lining up with the pros.
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