Mt. Hamilton Road Race

Promoter: San Jose Bicycle Club

Course: A point to point course starting in San Jose and ending in Livermore that goes over some mountain. I forget the name…

Course Description: The race starts with a fourteen mile climb up Mt. Hamilton, followed by about ten miles of descending. After the descent there are more short climbs and descents that gradually gain altitude until about twenty-five miles to go where the road gradually slopes down towards the finish.

Road Surface: The road surface is generally good except for 1987 when the descent was chip sealed the week before the race. Imagine descending Mt. Hamilton when some corners had two inches of gravel covering the road…

Gearing: The climbing isn’t very steep, but there is a lot of it.  I used to do this with a 12×21 cassette back in the old 7 and 8 speed days.  With 11 speed now there is no reason to not use at least an 11×23 and for even the strongest climbers I can’t see much if any downside to using a 11×25  or 11×26.  Use the smaller gear when the opportunity presents itself to save your legs.

Facilities: Restrooms area available at the start and finish.

Weather: Though it will usually be cool at the start in San Jose it will almost always be hot on the other side of the mountain.

Feeding: The feed zone is on San Antonio Rd. near Del Puerto Canyon Rd. after the climb and descent of Mt. Hamilton. There is usually neutral water in this race.

Rules Specific to this race: Since the race is point to point you need to find a way back to your car in San Jose. Some people ride back after the race, via 84, Calavaras Rd. and Piedmont Rd. for a nice day of approximately 110 miles.  Some people turn around and reverse course.  Because really, without another 5,000′ of climbing and 70 or so miles of riding it’s hardly worth going, right? 🙂

Race Advice: Okay, this is the real thing. There’s no faking it here. You either make it over the top of Mt. Hamilton with one of the front groups or you don’t. We’ll assume that you do.

The climb can be split into three sections because there are two breaks in the climb. The first third (9.6km, 516m gained, ave 4.7%) is pretty straight forward. Expect the tempo to be fast and riders will come off in ones and twos, but nothing big will happen. After a short down hill and flat section the climbing starts again. The second section (5.2km, 281m gained, ave 4.5%) of the climb is much like the first. After the second short down hill and flat stretch you get to the final third (10.1km, 658m gained, ave 5.9%) of the climb. The final third is a little steeper and of course everyone is starting to get a little tired. This is where things happen and the front group will split up. Towards the top of the climb there are usually painted kilometer to go markings on the road. These can help you determine how far it is to the top.

Now that you’ve made it over the top the hard work has only just begun. The descent is long and technical. Don’t let gaps open up on the way down as they will be hard to close later. The descent is long enough to let your legs get really stiff and when you go up the first little climb afterwards you will feel it. In some ways I feel like the climb up Mt. Hamilton is just a prelude to the real race which starts on the other side.

Now that you’re on the other side of the mountain you’ll probably be in either the front group or a group that is chasing the front group. Either way you’ll have to continue working hard in a pace line. The road undulates a lot and there aren’t many long flat stretches. This is a really BAD place to be chasing alone!  Every time you start getting close you go over another roller that slows you down and re-opens the gap a bit.  I know this from experience…  This will wear on your tired legs. There will probably be riders trying to sit on your group and other riders trying to attack the group. Unless you really think one of the riders sitting on is sand bagging just ignore them. They will probably be gone soon enough. If you spend too much time worrying about them you’ll either never catch the leaders or get caught by a chasing group.

Past the main feed zone near the Junction Cafe and coming up to the Alameda County line is one final hard climb. You MUST crest this climb either with your group or VERY close to them. If not you can easily lose four or five minutes by the finish. The last twenty-five miles are almost all gradually downhill and into a HEAD WIND. At the bottom of that long downhill you are just over one kilometer from the finish. If you know the road it is possible to attack the group your are in on the last little twisty part of the descent and stay away to the finish. The finish is a relatively fast uphill big chain ring sprint

The sprint is a single lane sprint. Don’t cross the centerline! In 2007 I moved up one place in the final results because somebody ahead of me crossed the center line in the sprint. Thanks! 🙂

I recommend riding back to the start after the race. It is an enjoyable way to get back to your car. Bring some money, tubes or spare tubulars, etc. and have a great ride back to San Jose with your friends!

If you are really hard core you will ride the course in reverse back to San Jose over the back side of Mt. Hamilton. This is a very hard climb when you’ve got close to 100 miles in your legs. Especially so since it can be very hot and exposed on the back side. The Junction Cafe is a good place to get food and water on the way back if you choose this route. It was closed for a while so make sure it is still open if you are depending on getting food here for your trip back to San Jose.

Specific advice for women racers: The women’s race tends to string out more than the men’s. While I’ve only once heard of one of the Sr. 1/2 riders taking the KOM and staying away alone to the finish, it is relatively common in the women’s race.

Corrections and additions, please email me!

Kevin Metcalfe

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