I’ve had less time training this season, and one of the differences I’ve noticed is that I’m not quite as good the second day as I have been in the past. Racing the day before wasn’t the only reason this race hurt though. The bulk of the climbing is up Sugarloaf Road, gaining 2,000 ft over 4.7 miles. The average grade on this section is 8.0%, but the last two miles are over 10% grade.
Note: The Mike Horgan Hill Climb course alternates, using Magnolia Road, and Sugarloaf road, every other year.
Overall the course gains almost 4,000 vertical feet over 17.8 miles. The road does turn to dirt about two miles after the crest of Sugarloaf Road, but this year the dirt was in very good condition. There is some descending on the dirt, but if you’re a timid descender there is plenty of climbing to make up any time lost.
The field was a bit on the smaller side, with only 16 racers in Pro/1/2. This can happen in hill climbs, since the outcome is less variable. We have also had more hill climbs than usual this season, with three new uphill races on the calendar. Especially in the higher categories, the guys that don’t go uphill well don’t bother to show up.
The race started in the usual manner for a Pro/1/2 race: FAST! Someone is always willing to be the guy attacking from the gun, and today it was Competitive Cyclist’s Taylor Shelden. LeRoy Poposki responded, but Taylor was still ahead. LeRoy got a small gap along with another rider, but I was almost certain it wouldn’t last.
LeRoy has been winning all the hill climbs this season (and last), and I knew someone would make sure he stayed close by. Rory Kelly took the initiative and jumped to try to bridge alone. I was waiting for it and was right on his wheel. I wasn’t the only one, and the pack (minus Taylor) was back together quickly.
I was in the perfect position to keep my momentum as we reached LeRoy. I could have slingshotted past to easily join Taylor. I resisted the urge. The canyon is gentle enough that drafting makes a serious difference, so I stayed in the field. (We would average just under 20 mph in the canyon)
The pace was high approaching the turn to Sugarloaf Road, but positioning wasn’t quite as important with such a small field. We caught Taylor just after the turn and the pace went through the roof. I rode my own pace and found myself in the second group on the road as we crested for the short flat section.
I knew it was a long climb and I tried my best to hold back the last few percent of my effort, because I knew I would be suffering later. I had carefully gone over the profile, grades, and my old power data to make sure I had the right gearing. I calculated 72 rpm (standing) at 330w on the steepest sections of 11-12% grade with my 39-28. This is about my threshold and I knew if I went out way too hard, I wouldn’t have the gears to ride much slower later on!
Eventually I crested the ‘summit’ of Sugarloaf in 6th position. I was in no-man’s land. LeRoy and Rory had crested together, followed by a chase group of 4. I was alone, but followed closely by Yannick Eckmann and Colby Pearce. I flew down the descent, fearing they would have an advantage working together.
Once I hit the gentle climbing on the dirt road, I set a pace (340w) that I thought I could maintain, and would hold them off. I was wrong on both accounts. Colby came up alone and was motoring past. I would average 310 watts struggling to hold his wheel. Our average speed on this section was 13 mph, just fast enough for drafting to provide slightly more than the mental advantage of a carrot on a stick.
I knew Colby would beat me, so I stayed tucked behind him. Once we reached the pavement and he flicked his elbow, I gave a good pull to be polite and he went on his way up the final section of paved climbing. Yannick was nowhere in sight, but I kept the power on for the benefit of my power average and my finishing time.
I finished 7th. My power numbers were okay, averaging 305w (321 Normalized, which accounts for the descents). Back in 2010 I was a nervous Cat 2, but finished with almost an identical time and power output. Last year I was on the podium (3rd) in the more difficult variation of the course. The last two weeks I’ve had some good sensations and I’m hopeful that 2011′s form is on the horizon.