Archive for the 'Races' category

Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb 2009

| October 4, 2009 11:10 am

by Alison Chaiken

In The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike), author John Summerson wrote about Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb: The most difficult road bike hill climb in the U.S. and perhaps the world, this road is only open to bikes during the annual hill climb race usually held in August and at times for several hours for a practice ride shortly before the race. No concession to gradient was made as it starts out steep and never lets up all the way to the top.

Woot! I had to try it. That meant getting up at 4:45 AM on February 1st, 2009, as the registration opened at 8 AM Eastern Time. In 2008, the 600-person field filled in 7 minutes. The fact that my family lives near Mt. Washington in northern New Hampshire meant that the race could be part of a longer vacation. A friend of my father’s told him that the gradient was so steep that cyclists had to stand the entire way. As a Low-Key Hillclimber and veteran of many Almaden Cycle Touring Club “billygoat” hills of gradient greater than 20%, I knew that I would not have to stand for much of an average-12% climb. Nonetheless, the 4725′ elevation gain over 7.4 miles was a bit scary, especially when paired with the 22% finish, reminiscent of our local Mt. Diablo’s 16% finish. You do have to wonder about an event where the winningest riders in both the men’s and women’s categories are under long-term ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

According to Summerson, Mt. Washington has the toughest 5-mile climb in the U.S., with an average 12.1% slope over that distance. The Angliru featured in the Vuelta a Espana goes up at an average gradient of 10.1% over 7.8 miles, while the infamous L’Alpe d’Huez of the Tour de France rises up 8.4% over 8.1 miles. By comparison, local lung-buster Alba climbs 2050′ over 3.9 miles for an average 10% grade, with the fearsome Bohlmann-On Orbit rising 2337′ over 4.7 miles for a similar 10%. Mt. Washington thus has about twice the elevation gain of Bohlmann-On Orbit over significantly less than twice the distance. As a frequent climber of these Bay Area hills, I normally ride a 52-39-30 in the front and an 11-27 in the back and definitely had occasion to use my lowest gear at Mt. Washington.

The race was on August 15th, 2009. I flew out to New England on the 13th and stayed with my brother. Jim Chaskin of The Bicycle Outfitter packed my bike up and shipped it, and thanks to help from friend Michele Rae, UPS figured out where it was and delivered it on the 14th. The night before the race, my father, brother and their wives and I stayed over at the Mt. Madison Motel in Gorham, NH.

The morning of the event, I drove out to the Glen View Cafe at the base of the Mountain and had breakfast with a few other participants. Mt. Washington is famous for its bad weather, but August 15th dawned clear and warm. The summit was clearly visible from the base, and riders could see how nearby and high it was!

The race start was amusing because I showed up in my Alto Velo kit, and the P.A. announcer clearly thought I was one of the Webcor women pros. A Colavita rider I spoke to was very friendly as she clearly was wondering why she didn’t recognize me. We 500+ riders went off in five flights all initiated by a loud gun. I was in the 4th of 5th flights, presumably based on the estimated time (90 minutes) I submitted.

At the bottom - Credit: Philbrick Photo

At the bottom - Credit: Philbrick Photo

As noted in the press coverage, the day was beautiful, and riders were actually hot at the bottom. The road surface was mostly smooth and wide in the first five miles. While I could tell that we were definitely going uphill, the variable 10-15% grade didn’t seem any worse than going up Hicks or Montebello, because it wasn’t. There were two kilometer-long stretches averaging > 14%, on one of which I did stand a bit, but for the most part I was taking it easy and conserving my energy. I was pretty nervous when we hit the dirt/gravel section at about mile 5, but since there had been just a bit of recent rain, the roadbed was packed and traction was good. I rode on the embedded-gravel section in the center of the road since
I was worried about slipping my traction wheel when the dirt turned up, but then I was nervous about flatting on some of the sharper-looking rocks. Everyone definitely breathed a sigh of relief when they got back on pavement at about mile 6.5.

About Halfway - Credit: Philbrick Photo

About Halfway - Credit: Philbrick Photo

By this point, the road was a bit narrow and twisty. The views were spectacular since the day was so clear: 360-degree panoramas of all of the craggy and green Presidential Range. By this point, I was having a fabulous time and knew I was going to make it all the way to the top, so I picked up the pace a wee bit. The whole way I was passing riders who were resting or walking, and now I started passing folks who were still riding. As we approached the summit, we entered some mist.

Final Climb - Credit: Philbrick Photo

Final Climb - Credit: Philbrick Photo

In the last mile, I started to go past a lot of spectators. There had been scattered fans all the way up, but as we got into the last half-mile, real crowds were lining the road. At about a
quarter-mile out, I saw that my brother had chalked my name on the roadbed! That really surprised me, and I clicked up a couple of a gears and accelerated, which caused a couple of spectators to hoot encouragement at me.

View of the last wall before the road narrows and the pavement deteriortaes

View of the last wall before the road narrows and the pavement deteriortaes

I came around the final big turn and saw the last wall, which is as steep as Cat’s Hill, but 50 yards long, with two hairpin turns and several big potholes. If those challenges weren’t enough, I saw that the road was only 12-15′ wide, and at the edge were not barriers or course marshals, but spectators with flailing arms and baby strollers. Yikes! I was reminded of
photos of Liege-Bastogne-Liege or the Tour of Flanders:

The Muur van Geraardsbergen in Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) for women. At least there's a rope between the riders and the crowd. Photo taken by Lander Vandergucht.

The Muur van Geraardsbergen in Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) for women. At least there's a rope between the riders and the crowd. Photo taken by Lander Vandergucht.

I had plenty of energy to put on a sprint to the finish, but I was scared. I stay seated, and moving my eyes rapidly between the spectators and the potholes, ground up the final climb. I bobbled in a giant pothole but did not go over. As I hit the first hairpin, I heard my family screaming, “GO ALISON! GO!” They must have been inches away from me although I hadn’t seen them.

Okay, it was hard.

Okay, it was hard.

Later on my family told me that: a) the woman’s overall winner Sue Schlatter had fallen on the same pothole while standing and pumping; and b) spectators had knocked over a unicyclist who was insane enough to ride up Mt. Washington. I’m glad I was conservative on the final bit as, hey, I already had road rash at the start! I rolled around the final bend and over the finish to have attendants grab me, put a blanket over me, and hand me water. Awesome.

I was 12/17 in my W45-50 category, which includes the top two women’s finishers. In retrospect, I could have gone about 10 or 15 minutes faster than my 108-minute finish, but I was nervous about the gravel section and the 22-24% finish and went quite slow at the bottom. My tracklog on Google MyMaps includes my warm-up as well as the race.

After the event, my family gave me a ride down, as racers were not allowed to descend. Hell, a lot of cars are not allowed to drive up!

Half the cars in New England have a sticker.

Half the cars in New England have a sticker

All in all, the race was a wonderful experience. I forget how beautiful New England is between visits. I totally recommend racing
in front of your family even if they are not sports fans.

For contrast, read men’s overall winner Phil Gaimon’s report. (Alison Chaiken)

SJBC Team Time Trail

| December 8, 2008 4:09 pm

Instead of racing today I decided to be on the other side of the camera and photograph the San Jose Bicycle Club Four Person Team Time Trial.  At first I was not sure where to upload the photos since I usually put the personal photos on our own SmugMug account and the ACTC photos on the ACTC’s SmugMug account.  I decided to install Gallery2 on my website and put them there. [See Photos]

I also installed a sidebar to show the recent albums uploaded.  You can see that in the right side bar.

I can embed thumbnails of images from the Gallery 2 photo album into this blog post, as shown below.

4X TTT_DSC1809.jpg4X TTT_DSC1810.jpg4X TTT_DSC1812.jpg4X TTT_DSC1813.jpg4X TTT_DSC1818.jpg4X TTT_DSC1819.jpg4X TTT_DSC1821.jpg4X TTT_DSC1823.jpg

300 Warriors – Tour of Utah

| August 16, 2008 10:00 pm

by Franz Kelsch

I finished, along with a limited group of 300 cyclists, stage 4 of the Tour of Utah, called the 300 Warriors. It was a great experience to ride a stage of a pro race on the same day when all the route signs were up (such as “KOM 5K”), and some of the people who had assembled early for the race cheering you on. Although the roads were not closed for us, we had a police escort for the first 15 miles.

We were the citizen riders so we started at 6 am on Saturday, 4 hours ahead of the professional riders. The 99 mile course started the 14,788 feet of climbing in Park City, Utah, traveled over to Midway, down Provo Canyon, then up over the Alpine Loop. We went down American Fork Canyon, over Suncrest to the Salt Lake Valley, took local roads over to Little Cottonwood Canyon, then the last big climb, up to Snowbird Ski Resort.

The 300 riders started in the dark. Even though it was August, it was cold, around 42 degrees. The route took us from Park City over a hilly course to Kamas then to Midway. After making one climb we had a very fast descent. It was too dark to see my speed, but when I checked my HRM later, it was 41 mph in the dark! I was hanging with the lead riders then, but the group was growing smaller with each climb. I stayed with them for about 25 miles. I was too far back in the peleton on a climb when I noticed a gap was opening up ahead of the riders in front of me. I made my way around the riders who were dropping off but I could not quite catch the leaders before they went over the crest. From that point I rode the course mostly sole, occasionally getting with one or two other riders for a few miles. After 33 miles I made it into Midway, averaging 21.5 mph, which was fast considering we had climbed over 1500 feet.

Ann drove SAG but I didn’t feel she needed to follow the course. After taking us to the ride start, she headed over to Midway where she was was waiting when I arrived. I made a very quick stop, just long enough to fill my water bottle and remove some of the clothes I had been wearing due to the cold temperatures at the start. Since we had been advise to not have the SAG’s try to go over the Alpine Loop, she then was able to head home for a short period then head over for the second meeting place at mile 70 on the route.

I was able to catch two other riders leaving Midway. Since we had 11 miles on highway 189, with a lot of traffic, I was hoping to ride with others to be more visible, but I eventually went ahead of the others. The ride from Midway to the start of the Alpine loop was more rollers. I reached the turn up the canyon faster than I expected, averaging 21 mph. The climb up the Alpine loop took me 1:05. I was keeping my heart rate down to the mid 150’s, knowing we had a lot of climbing ahead. After reaching the summit, at over 8,000 feet, we had a fast descent down American Fork Canyon. We were being held up by some cars driving down and had to make our way around some of them when we had a clear view. A few miles after reaching the valley, I arrived at the second meeting place where Ann was waiting.

She filled my water bottles and handed me a PBJ sandwich, which I ate as I took off again.

I felt I had enough to finish from there and so she headed to the finish at Snowbird. I turned right up Suncrest and reached the summit in 31 minutes. It was then a steep downhill to the Salt Lake Valley. Once I reached Wasatch Blvd, it was the start of a lot of climbing as I made my way to Little Cottonwood Canyon.

From there it was a very difficult climb. The grade was a bit steeper than Metcalf, and it seemed to go forever.

Maybe it was the miles at speed on my legs, but I had to grind it out. It took me 1:15 to reach the finish.

I finished in 6:29, which was 30 minutes faster than my goal. The pro winner of the race came in at 4:15. Some other well know pros were Oscar Sevilla at 4:17, Tom Danielson at 4:19 and Tyler Hamilton at 4:27. Danny Pate, Will Frischkorn and Freddy Rodrigues did not make the time cut. I was happy I was able to complete the 98 miles and 14,778 feet of climbing under 6 and half hours.

After eating lunch, we headed back to the finish where Ann and I waited for the Pros to arrive and so we could take their photos.

This chart shows my heart rate and altitude (click to elarge).

Here are my splits.

Tour of Utah Stage 4 – Actual Splits

Distance: 98 mile, Climb: 14,477 feet
Avg. Spd
Start in Park City
0 5:54 am
Main Str. in Midway
33 21.5 7:25 am
Start of Alpine Loop
47 21.0 8:09 am
Alpine Loop Summit
56 8.1 1:05 9:14 am
Start of Suncrest
70 26.7 9:48 am
Suncrest Summit
75 9.4 0:31 10:19 am
Start of Snowbird Climb
90 17.0 11:08 am
Finish Snowbird
98 6.3 1:15 12:23 pm

Tour of California from the top of Mt. Hamilton

| February 20, 2008 9:58 pm

by Franz Kelsch

This year’s stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California included a 103-mile route from Modesto to San Jose, with no less than five King of the Mountains climbs, including the ascent of Mt. Hamilton (HR-above categorization at 4360 feet) and the category 1 Sierra Road. This was the first time the tour went up Mt. Hamilton.

I decided that instead of watching the tour on Sierra road, as I had done on the last two years, I would go up Mt. Hamilton, a hill I have climbed many times from both sides. Before leaving home I made a quick check of the Lick Observatory weather gages on the internet to find a current temperature of 30 degree. I shoved some more clothes in my backpack on top of my digital SLR camera I was going to lug up the hill. I originally planned to start riding at 9 am, with the Nightriders, up Quimby. Only Chuck showed up but he could not ride that day. So I got back in the car and headed over to join the Hills R Us ride that was going to start at 10 am, taking the longer, but easier climb, up Mt. Hamilton road.

It had also been raining all night and the roads were wet. It was therefore no surprise that only two of us showed up for that ride up Mt. Hamilton. We left at 10 am and soon we were making the 20 mile climb to the summit. We kept he pace brisk because we were not sure if they were going to close the road. As I passed by Quimby road, an officer told me that they would stop us at Kincaid. I thought about turning around and biking over to Sierra, but decided to drive on. Around noon I made it to the summit where I was stopped by a sheriff who said we could not go further.


Several cyclists were waiting around to see what would happen when we noticed the sheriff was gone and people were biking through, so we jumped on our bikes and headed toward the back side. I descended about a quarter of a mile and laid my bike on the side of the road on the hill side, along with another 15 bikes that were already there.

It was not long before the sheriff came along and told us that all those bikes had to be moved and we had go down further if we wanted to watch. I headed down the backside for about a mile to find a spot to take some photos. It was a hair pin turn, so I figured that the riders would need to slow down a bit while I snapped the pictures.

It was maybe another hour before the riders arrived. There was a lead pack of around 15 riders.

Lead Pack

The lead rider was Ruberia with the Astana team.

Lead Pack

Also in the group is David Miliar with Slipstream (fourth in the white jersey) and Levi Leipheimer with Astana a bit further back.

Several smaller groups or individual riders then followed.

The climb had clearly done damage to the field. The peleton finally arrived.



The peleton was followed by more individual riders and small groups.

Maybe a total of 15 minutes was all that was needed from the lead rider to the last rider. I jumped on my bike and started to head back up to the summit. It was a fast descent back to the valley floor and I could feel the temperature increase by the minute. By the time I reached the bottom I was way over dressed. Too bad I missed seeing the riders on Sierra Road but I was very glad I made it up Mt. Hamilton.

See all the photos here.

Mega Monster Enduro 100 Mile Race

| February 9, 2008 7:06 pm

by Franz Kelsch

Yesterday we competed in a 2008 Mega-Monster Enduro 100 mile bike race as part of a 3 man team with Franz K., Jim W. and Doug R.  We called ourselves the Wheezier Geezers, figuring we might be comptetitive if we narrorwed downt he calissifcation enough that we elminate all other competitors.  What other group would there be will all guys over 55 years old?  The course started at Paicines and went south on Highway 25 all the way to the end, then back again. 

We had a total of 101.9 miles and 4,600 feet of climbing.

It was a grueling pace, especially with the climbing we had to do.

Here are our stats for the four legs.

Leg Distance Climbing Avg. Speed
1 32.4 2080 18.3
2 18.5 475 20.6
3 18.5 730 19.5
4 32.4 1320 18.3
Total 101.9 4605 19.0

We averaged 19.0 mph rolling with a total time of 5:34:59 and a rolling time of about 5:23, so we only stopped for 12 minutes total.