Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ride 542 - Mt. Baker Hill Climb

I had my last race of the season yesterday and what a beautiful day it was. The weather was the best it's ever been for this event. This race a favorite of mine since I love to climb and there really is no pressure since there are no WSBA points on the line. This was my fourth time participating. It is not an official sanctioned race but it does bring out a lot of big hitters due to the large purse. It’s just over 24 miles w/ 4300+ ft. of climbing. Most of the gain comes in the last 10 miles. It starts in Glacier, WA and goes up the Mt. Baker ski resort to a place called Artist Point.
Race profile:

The race is self seeding but after getting killed by the pros last year in the Comp division (still had a good time) I decided to race in the Rec. My guess it that the Comp is mostly Cat 1,2 and some 3s and the rec is 4, 5 and non racers that are good climbers. With 330 riders you wanted to make sure to get up to the front for the rolling start or you would be caught in the pack and probably loose a minute at the start. I wormed my way up to the front w/ three of my teammates and was able to get clear when the gun sounded.
I think I was too amped at the start because after about 500 meters I turned around and was about 100 meters in front of everyone. I wasn't ready to do a solo break from the start so I held up and waited for the pack. Up to the 2nd mile no one wanted to take charge and we were rolling at about 12 miles an hour. This was frustrating but you had to go with it. Finally a guy on one of the Bellingham team, who was on a on a TT bike, got up front and started hammering for his guys. He had no intention of trying to win and was only going to pull really hard for a long as he could. We were now rolling at 26mph. Like I said, most of the hard climbing happens at the last 10 miles of the race. Around mile 6 there is a 2+ mile climb call Powerhouse hill and there is King of the Mountain prizes for the first to the top. When we got to the climb this insane guy on the TT bike had dropped all but 30 of the 330 riders. All my teammates were still there. At the climb he was done and when he dropped back and the pace started to slow. No one wanted to attack the hill, so I talked to my teammates I decided that I would give it a go and try to take the prize money. I took off and two of my teammates stayed in and slowed the pack down.
My plan was to go hard to the top and then regroup w/ the few guys that tried to hang on. I won the KOM and when I looked back I was surprised that no one was anywhere close to me. I wasn’t sure what to do. After that climb there is a short downhill and then it flattens out for about six miles until you hit the death climb. Hold up and wait or bust balls and go? I decided to give it a go to see if I could distance myself before I reached the start of the big climb. It would either be really stupid or a good move. When I got to the flats the road was fairly straight so I could look back and see where guys were. I was a little worried as I was pushing max and didn’t know what I’d have left at the climb. I was hoping that if I could get to the climb with a good lead I might actually have a chance to win my division. I got to the climb and I still couldn’t see anyone behind me so it was time to lay it out there and hope for the best. It sucked racing for about six miles on the flats with no one to work with while knowing that the rest of the guys knew I was out there and would be working really hard together to try to haul me in. Also, there was a fun ride that started an hour before us and I think the organizers thought they would finish before we got there. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and as I was weaving my way through them and it made it hard to look back and figure out who my chasers were. The cool part about catching the Summit ride group was that they were all cheering me on as I passed them so it gave me some motivation. The climb isn’t that bad as it is just over 10 miles and averages about 5.7% but when you’re at race tempo it hurts. I kept looking back, almost too often, to see if I was being caught and I could never see anyone. I got to the Mt. Baker ski area and this is where you realize how far 6K is when you’re climbing. I looked up and could see all the switch backs up to the finish and you can’t believe you still have to ride them to finish.
Since I had been on my own since mile 5, I wasn’t sure if I was going too hard or not hard enough. With 3K to go I was going around one of the switchbacks and I looked over the side and could see one rider passing people pretty fast. I figured he wasn’t out for the fun Summit Ride. One of the race motorcycles came past me and I asked him who was back there. He said one guy was really starting to make a move and five other were just behind. He said I still had a descent lead but wasn't sure how many minutes back they were. I started to hammer harder but I was “hurtin’ for certin”. At the next switchback I saw someone was getting closer. I tried not to panic. At 2k I still had the lead and didn’t see him on the switch back so I knew he was closing. With less than 1K to go, which doesn’t sound far but believe me it is when you’re at lactic threshold and still climbing hard it is brutal and feels like 5k .
All of a sudden I look back and out of no where, there he was. I was caught. He was smart and hung on my wheel until about ½K. I couldn’t slow up and play the cat and mouse game because I knew there were three or four other guys that could catch us and I liked the chances of battling it out with one guy instead of six. I just kept hammering. Right before the line he came out of my draft and flew by. I took 2nd overall but was bummed I got caught right at the finish. I met up with him and found out he was a 22 year old college kid that raced for Gonzaga so I wasn’t too upset about it. Two guys I know, Ritchy Strong, and my teammate Peter came in right after us.
We stayed and watched the pros come in. It’s humbling. Garron, you’ll like this. Ian McKissick, who is an international pro from Seattle rides for BMC, shattered the course record w/ a time of just under 1:17:00. Leah Goldstein, who rides for Team ValuAct and has won the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic three times, smashed the woman’s time with a 1:26:00 finish. She left after the race to do the Tour of Austria. Just to compare, my time was 1:39:00. It was my best time so I was pretty happy.

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