May 24, 2015 – The Mt. Hamilton road race is a classic in Northern California. Right from the start, the road tilts up and riders push themselves to their limit for least an hour ascent, climbing almost 4000 feet. Fail to do a good warm up and you’ll almost certainly find yourself just hanging on with your group as your body tries to get oxygen to your muscles. Achieve athlete Matt Adams was up for the challenge this year and ended up winning the Masters 35+ 1/2/3 race. Here’s his report:
My plan was to make the lead group over the top, don’t die or get dropped on the descent. If the group is big, make it hard over over the middle climbs to force a selection. Watch for an attack on the final downhill. Be smart and put myself in a position to contest the race.
THE MAIN CLIMB
A fairly small but pretty strong field of 23 lined up at the middle school. There were the expected strongmen – Cottell and Dapice from Specialized, Piers and a large squad from Thirsty Bear, Birky and Bell from Make-a-Wish, Peter Vaughn and several others. Right at the start, teammate ‘BBQ’ (who was racing the 3’s right after us) rolled by and pointed out his coach and said to watch for him. But I didn’t stress, I have been feeling pretty strong recently and brought my confidence with me, leaving behind the self doubt I usually pack for races. The race started uneventfully with Birky and Dapice going straight to the front to set the pace. The main climb is in three parts, separated by short descents. There were no real attacks on the first part, just a handful of accelerations to pick up the pace. It felt like the wind was a cross/head so as we climbed south, it was coming across from right to left so I did a good job of flirting with the centerline to stay out of the wind as much as possible.
On the second section, BBQ’s coach went to front and kicked up the pace. Not quite enough to shatter the group but it was pretty hard. He led most of the way and I was worried he was going to be the guy that day.
We hit the third section and an unattached rider went to the front and absolutely drilled it. No one knew who he was and Jeromy nicknamed him Fred so we’ll go with that for now. Gaps were forming left and right and I was starting to feel tired from the initial 45 min of climbing. But I stuck to my mantra of “if I’m hurting, everyone else is hurting worse”. Kevin Metcalf put in an attack and that popped more guys. I could smell the blood in the water as some of the stronger climbers looked to be suffering. I was generally sitting about third wheel and on two separate occasions, I took over the front to kick up the pace, hoping to drop even more guys. About 2/3 of the way through the final section, the group was down to 6 – Me, Fred, Jeromy, Josh D, Metcalf, and Todd Bell. Fred was on the front most of the time and was just killing it. As we got within the last couple km’s, Fred kicked it up again and Todd B got popped. I was hanging on at my limit but had settled into that level of effort. I was stoked that this guy was killing off all the strong men and had eliminated all of TB, all of MAW, and all of Squadra. As we made the final switchback and started the last km towards the KOM summit, I had no intention of going for it unless the opportunity presented itself. I was just going to not get dropped and make sure I was in the middle of the group on the descent. Metcalf jumped at about 500m to the line and I was the only one who went with him. So here was that opportunity and I came around him with about 50 m to go and took the KOM.
The five of us regrouped at the top and started the descent. Immediately Cottell, who can descend like a bobsledder, had a gap. then Metcalf, myself, and Dapice stayed pretty much together, descending conservatively. Almost as immediately, Fred was dropped on the descent and we never saw him again. About halfway down, Todd Bell had caught back on and flew past the three of us. At the bottom of the hill, Metcalf, Dapice and I got together and the moto said Jeromy had 40 sec and Bell had 20 sec. With Jeromy up the road, Dapice sat on and Metcalf and I worked well to catch Todd and eventually Jeromy. We all got into a pretty good rotation but Jeromy seemed to be sitting on and letting Josh do the work for the team. The miles ticked off and there was no real action. The head wind was pretty strong and our group was only 5 so I think everyone was resigned to wait for the Mines Rd climbs. As we got close to the feed zone at mile 40, Todd started skipping pulls and complaining of cramps. I wasn’t sure if he was bluffing or not but sure enough, he popped on the 1st Mines Rd climb after Metcalf attacked. We were all on him and as his pace started to slow I jumped to increase the pace to see if I could get rid of anyone else. Jeromy was gapped a bit and Metcalf, Dapice and I crested the 1st climb together (I think it was the first climb where this happened but maybe the second). Dapice looked at Kevin and I and said “uh oh, I’m in trouble”. But Jeromy’s descending proved valuable again and he was quickly back with us. The second Mines Rd climb was also hard. Dapice led us from the bottom and the pace was high. I can’t remember exactly what happened but based on my power file, I attacked once on this climb. But ultimately the 4 of us were back together as we started the run in to the finish. Over these last two climbs, I felt a cramp starting to tingle in my left hamstring so went all in on finishing my OSMO and my last ProBar chews and felt a bit better. But “if I’m hurting, everyone else is hurting worse”.
We kept getting reports that there was a lone chaser about 2 min back and a small group another minute behind him. There wasn’t much concern about the chasers but we stayed on the gas and all rotated well through the long slightly downhill section. With two Specialized riders, I was keenly watching and waiting for the attacks and counter attacks to begin but nothing. At one point, it appeared Metcalf flatted and we were down to three. With no support immediately available, there was no waiting and we pushed on. I was relieved that I was now guaranteed a podium spot but also now concerned because it was me vs. two strong Specialized riders and the attacks were soon to fly. But I guess Metcalf hadn’t flatted, and he got himself sorted out and then caught back on. But I was actually relieved, even though I’d have to fight for a podium, there was now one other to help chase any moves. But much to my surprise, they never came, we rotated smoothly all the way until the final steeper descent where again Cottell’s skills shined. He would get a gap through a couple of the tighter, fast corners, see that he had a gap, and hit the gas. I chased with Metcalf in tow and this eliminated Dapice from the mix. I caught back on twice and we finally hit the bridge at the bottom. In the one of the last couple turns, the inside if both quads started to cramp when I would point me knee in to the turn and I couldn’t shake it off. Any uptick in the pace cause pain and I was worried. I’ve never cramped before in a race so didn’t know how to react. But I had read enough race reports of guys pushing through so I figured it was just pain and there were only a couple min left. At the 1 km to go sign, Metcalf jumped and got a pretty good gap. There was no response from Cottell so I got out of the saddle, pushed through the cramps which had now spread to the rest of my quads. Jeromy was on my wheel and not helping at all. I closed the gap with about 400 m to go and we were set up for a sprint finish. I saw the rise ahead and was trying to do the math. I remember hearing from Oli that he beat Cottell by going early, but with an uphill sprint, 200 m is a long way. While still trying to solve the math equation, my legs decided it was time to go. I gave it everything and felt Cottell coming up on my left. Remembering my sprint interval workouts and that I can hold my sprint for longer, I put my head even further down and Jeromy faded. I never saw the finish line but have a vague image in my memory of a white “Finish” sign on the right side of the road. I let out a yell and the elation cured the cramps immediately.
It felt amazing to get the win and validated how strong I’ve been feeling lately. It was a really fun race and it couldn’t have played out better. I’ve always felt I can out-sprint climbers and out-climb sprinters so a race like this is perfect. Also, special mention to my Dad who drove me to the start, then fed me a bottle in the feed, and was waiting at the finish to get me home quick to take my daughter to a birthday party. This allowed me to uphold my end of the family bargain and not burn valuable husband points. But that’s Masters Racing! I look forward to racing with you guys soon!
*When planning my water/food consumption, I did my usual bottle/hr and 1 bar and 1 chew per hour. But when that hour is hard climbing, I have to increase that. I think that’s what led to my cramping
*I need to focus more on descending when racing. I can go faster but often relax and don’t ride as aggressively. Luckily, descents aren’t prevalent in too many races but I have to remember to “race” them when they are there
*I really like riding in a break/selection. It’s more predictable and easier to predict moves by the others. Plus, this was about as nice a group to race with as you could ask for.
Distance: 61.6 mi
Avg Speed: 20.0 mph
Max Speed: 43.6 mph
Avg Power: 260w
Max Power: 1067w