2016 Hill Climb Nationals race report. If it’s boring, at least skip down and check out Sunday’s ride. It was a great weekend.
This is the first time they have held a hill climb championship and when it was announced I knew that I had to do it. The full Pikes Peak highway is a bit over 19 miles and starts at around 7,000 feet. This race does the same course as the car races do, starting at 9,000′ at Crystal Reservoir and climbing approximately 12 miles to the top at 14,115 feet.
I have a friend (Nathan Parks) who moved to Denver from the Bay Area. He rode up Pikes Peak a few years ago and gave me the heads up that a mid-compact (52×36) with an 11×28 cassette was NOT going to be enough. 10% at 13-14 thousand feet is pretty steep, even for the guys who live at altitude. I did my research on Strava and decided that I’d run a 34×32 low gear.
I flew out Thursday afternoon, rode in Denver with Carl Nielson on Friday and then drove to Colorado Springs. I purposely did not check out the course as I was advised by a friend to minimize the negative effects of going to high altitude. I didn’t like that, but figured that this wasn’t a race that would be won or lost because you didn’t know where to start your sprint.
The weather up high had been sketchy. It snowed a bit at the top the day before the race and on race eve there were thunderstorms in Colorado Springs. Race day though was clear and sunny, if a bit cold. The temperature at the top was expected to be in the high 30’s when we got there. Did I mention the 7AM start time? How to dress was a concern. I went with arm and knee warmers, booties and a skull cap under my helmet. I can undress on the move pretty well so I wasn’t worried about overheating.
Based on the chart on Joe Friel’s web site about power loss at altitude I figured that my 360 watt sea level FTP was down to 300 at the start line and about 260 at the top.
So finally, we started. Kind of slowly. Basically we putzed around for the first two miles. Even at “only” 9,000′ feet though my FTP has taken about a 60 watt hit so I was happy with the pace. The 60-69 group started 1′ behind and actually caught us, but shortly afterwards the first surge was initiated by Gary Sharp who finished 4th in the recent Mt. Evans climb. That surge put me in the position of thinking that I could handle that pace, but not for another hour. Looking at my power file, this was above my adjusted FTP for about a mile. I was a bit worried. Frankly, I came here to win this race and 15 minutes in I was having some doubts.
Sharp’s surge pulled a group of 5 of us away from the rest. When he finally pulled off I was heartened to see him huffing and puffing pretty hard. I think he dug a hole for himself with that surge. That was a mistake that I wanted to avoid. After that I started feeling better and more confident. Another rider Mark Zimbelman from Utah was riding strongly, but I was sticking to my pre-race plan of doing nothing but following and pulling through when it was my turn until at least 12k feet. No heroics down low.
As we headed up towards 12,000′ I still felt good and could hear others who were breathing harder than I was. I took a pretty good pull and got it down to 3 of us. Myself, Zimbelman and Kerry Ferrell. Still though I was careful to not put myself in a position of digging deep and opening myself up to a counter attack. Finally, up around 12,500′ I upped the tempo and dropped Ferrell and after a few more digs, eventually Zimbelman.
From there I rode a hard, steady tempo while always being mindful of avoiding going too hard and blowing up. I was pleasantly surprised that so far I had not needed my 34×32 and thought that maybe the 28 would be enough. Just before mile 9 there is a nice long break of flat and downhill. I liked that part. When it kicked back up again “all that was left” was two miles of 10%. At 13,000’… It was here that my “maybe I won’t need the 32” thought took a hike. I probably would have been okay in the 28 here, but very unhappy about it.
Inside the last km I was catching two juniors who were riding for 2nd in that race. I got to see them attack each other and sprint at the end. That looked VERY unpleasant and I was happy that I didn’t have to do the same.
In the end, it took 1:20:08 at 269 watts average.
There are a couple of pictures on my Strava file. https://www.strava.com/activities/674850903
Afterwards I headed back to Denver. I had planned my trip with the idea of riding up Mount Evans on Sunday. I figured that I hadn’t ridden my bike in Colorado since road nationals in 1987 and who knew when I’d get another chance. I figured we’d drive to Idaho Springs and do the Mt. Evans Hill Climb course. My friend Nate had a better idea.
At 7am on Sunday Nate, his wife Flavia (7th in the Rio Olympic RR last week) and I left his house in Littleton and had an epic adventure. “Super Epic” actually.
A great weekend indeed.
Funny that in 32 years of cycling I had never ridden up higher than 9,000’ (Mammoth Stage Race), and now, in 2016 I’ve been above 11,000’ four times. Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Pikes Peak and Mount Evans. I kind of like it.