This climb is a front range classic, and is a very good test of fitness. It also makes for a great race. The course isn’t too long or too steep, which not only makes it accessible for racers of all abilities, but also more strategic in the upper categories.
Since the gradient is “only” just over 5% average, the speeds are relatively high (averaging about 15 mph), so drafting plays more of a role. Also, the shorter distance can make the race a little more animated.
These factors definitely played a role in this year’s Pro/1/2 race. LeRoy Popowski has won every hill climb on the calendar this season and was the man to beat. He has incredible stamina and a high power to weight ratio. This hill climb still favors these traits, but I suspected he might be at a disadvantage in a shorter race. Everybody was racing against LeRoy; it wasn’t possible to win without defeating him.
The race started at a blistering pace. A racer jumped off the line and LeRoy set to work chasing him down. The field could afford to let an unknown rider go alone from the start, but not LeRoy. I averaged 524w for the first 60 seconds. This effort is equivalent (according to the charts) of a Cat 4 racer sprinting for 100% effort. I didn’t get a chance to look back, but I’m sure the pack was decimated only a few minutes into the race.
I had a teammate that was nice enough to make sure I regained contact with the leaders without taking any wind, and also allowed me to regain contact without panicking and going too deep into the red as he paced me steadily.
There aren’t many amateur riders capable of the power to weight ratios required to compete in this type of race, so having teammates for a tactical race can be a rarity. This day we had a few teams with a few pairs of teammates to keep the race pleasantly strategic. Next to go was Chris Carr’s teammate Rory Kelly. Every time, LeRoy was forced to close the gap.
The only lull in the acton was on the flatter section between the “M” and the saddle overlook. On this section the grade eases and speeds of 20 mph are possible, be we kept the pace steady at 15 mph. This section had the biggest penalty to the rider at the front, and likely any attacker would be quickly brought back, so we covered this mile marking each other and riding closer to a tempo pace.
Immediately following the saddle overlook may be the best place to attack. It is quite steep and there are only 5-7 minutes left to race. The switchbacks follow immediately after and a lone rider may be able to negotiate them slightly faster. Garrett Suydam was the instigator this time. When he launched his typical furious attack, I made a conscious decision to not respond and hoped to save a little energy bringing them back at my own pace, rather than digging too deep to hold their wheels.
Either this turned out to be a mistake (because I never regained contact), or my subconscious was letting me know it was time to let them go. At 15 mph there is still a considerable benefit to drafting (perhaps 10%), and also makes for excellent motivation when the only goal is to hold the wheel in front of you. Either way, I started to really suffer at this point, but I managed to hold the leaders somewhat close, and nobody passed me from behind.
Ahead, a few riders fell off the pace and four were left to contest the finish. I was surprised to see teammates Josh Yeaton and Chris Winn both make the lead selection, as they’re not renowned climbers. But, it looks like traveling to National Calendar races has paid off for them and their fitness. Chris Winn ended up winning in 16:54 followed by Josh Yeaton, Chris Carr, and LeRoy in 4th.
I crossed the line at 17:33, about a dozen seconds faster than last year’s time of 17:47, when I finished 4th a couple seconds behind the winner. This year I’d be 7th, and 30 seconds behind the winner. I’ve been slowly clawing my way back to last year’s form, and races like these are a helpful reminder that despite my lesser results, my form is as good or better than last year. My last road race is only 14 days away, so I will be doing all I can to make use of my form before rebuilding for cyclocross season which is right around the corner.