Serf of the Mountain?

| February 22, 2008 6:29 pm

by Mark Seaman

Last Saturday, I joined 300 other cycling enthusiasts for the 2nd Annual WEBCOR King of the Mountain Ride. The race is a 3.7 mile time trial up Sierra Rd, advertised as the toughest climb on the 2007 Tour of California. I just started cycling in earnest in August after a few years of long distance running. A note came out at work encouraging cyclists to participate in the ride since it befitted Fit For Learning. Two of the guys in the group I ride with every day at lunch time at work signed up immediately. I was not sure I could even do it. The race description was quite intimidating (10% average grade, the only Category 1 climb on Tour of California). I was not confident I could complete it, so two friends, and I, rode the course two weeks before the race. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated so on the basis of my trial run, I signed up for the race.

I loaded my friend’s bikes on my bike rack and headed off to the race at 7:15 AM. Check-in was scheduled to start at 8:00. Being accustomed to running races where you stand around outside and wait for a turn in the porta-potty, this race was a dream. SVBC had a bike check, where you could have your bike stored in a secure area before (and after) the race. I checked my bike, got my number and my goodie bag and sat down at a table in the the City Hall Atrium. A breakfast of bagels, coffee, juice, muffins, and danish was provided for entrants. While we waited for the start, there were introductions of the some of the area CEOs and elected officials competing in those categories. I returned to my car to get my bike shoes and get ready to ride. I wish I knew that SVBC was checking bags during the race. I could have checked my sweats and sandals for after the race.

At about 9:45 we started lining up in the street in front of City Hall for the ride to the base of Sierra Rd. The sun had just come out from behind the clouds. The conditions were near perfect: sunshine and little wind. I removed my jacket and stored in my jersey pocket, thinking I would probably need it for the descent. We departed right on time. I was pretty far back in the mass of riders, so I was not close enough to see the lead police motorcycles. But there were policemen at every intersection holding up traffic for us to ride through. There were even a few people along the road yelling encouragement. As we arrived at the base of Sierra Rd, I expected a rolling start and was looking forward to some momentum as we started up the hill. But that was not to be. They halted everyone at the bottom. Someone walked around with timing chips to make sure everyone had one. I was concerned I was going to cool down too much but after 10 minutes or so, I saw the first riders take off.

I knew my tendency would be to let the adrenaline take over and start out way too fast. My training ride was around 37:00, so I thought a good goal would be to break 35:00. That is an average of around 6.4 mph for the hill. The start is fairly steep and I wently slowly, sitting and spinning up the hill. It was quite crowded at the start. After a minute or two, I was too anxious to get moving and stood and moved to the outside to pass. I looked down at my computer as was shocked to see 8.1 mph. That wasn’t going to last for long! I settled back down and continued. Just after the first steep section, a woman behind me called out “On your left”. She drew alongside me and stayed with me, riding at my pace. I jokingly said, “When you call out ‘On your left’, you are supposed to pass”. She said “I’m trying” very apologetically. I had to tell her I was just joking. I guess that doesn’t come across too easily when you are breathing hard and grimacing.

The climb was unrelenting and included some short, brief steep sections where I felt like I had to stand to get up them. I was amazed at how much harder the climb was made by just increasing my speed a couple tenths of a mile-per-hour. There is a welcome flat section near the top that allowed me to spin a little faster and loosen up my legs. I had dreams of a standing sprint to the summit. There was just one more climb to the finish line from here. As I headed up the last incline, my friend Don passed me and yelled out “Let’s go, Mark”. This was the point I should have stood up and sprinted like the pros do on TV. Right! I just kept turning the pedals and eventually crested the hill and rolled over the timing mat for the finish. I pulled off into the dirt on the side of the road and tried to catch my breath. My computer read 34:40, so it looked like I made my goal. My friend Charlie came up and said he did it in 29:39. A guy with a Road Bike Review jersey was amazed that Charlie could finish in a time like that on a rusty, old steel-frame Univega with (non-indexed) shifters on the downtube.

After a brief rest, we headed down the back side of the hill, following Sierra to Calaveras. It is a beautiful section, rolling green hills and farmland for the most part. I was descending comfortably but every once in awhile someone would whiz past me at what appeared to be 50 miles an hour or more. I am too old and cautious to go that fast downhill. We reached the bottom, turned left on Piedmont, and fell in with a pretty fast group headed for City Hall and the post-race festivities. Somehow, we missed a turn and had to find an alternate route. I was just following the leaders. We were one of the first groups back and really enjoyed the lunch of paella, salad, and a wide variety of desserts. I’m sure I consumed more calories than I burned on the ride. The results were posted for review by 1:15 or so. My official time was 33:48 so I did all right.

This race was a great experience and a lot of fun. It was extremely well organized and provided an opportunity to ride a small section of the Tour of California route. It is amazing how easy the professional riders make it look. The police escort to the start is very cool, too. An added benefit is that proceeds benefits Fit for Life, a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating childhood obesity through programs in Santa Clara County Public Schools. I will definitely be back next year.

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