Monday, July 21, 2008

Mt Evans Disaster

Masters 45+ Hillclimb
2:37:07hrs, ~27 miles/7000ft vert, 44th/78

The Mt Evans Hillclimb was a "F" race for me, "F" for fun. Still though, I had a target finishing time in mind. Scaling how I did against Tom Danielson a few years ago on Mt Washington, I thought I could muster a 2:15 finish, good for around 15-20th place in the Masters 45+ category.

We arrived in Denver on Friday, picked up rental road bikes for the race, and went for a short spin on the awesome Denver bike path system. It was hot out. The bikes worked well but felt a little sluggish. Our rentals were steel frame Bianchi's, probably weighed about 22 lbs, and were a tad small at 54cm. I normally ride 56.5cm. When I spun up on a descent, something didn't feel right. The crank arms were only 170mm. I normally ride 175mm. But that wasn't the worst part. The Campy equipped bikes actually rode quite nice. The worst part was tire treatment. There were these really heavy strips inside the tires to protect against punctures. The strips were just like glued type patch material but wrapped around the outer portion of the tube. If that weren't enough, the tubes were filled with Slime. I think my rear tire was almost half full. I brought spare tubes and tires along just in case the rentals had touring tires. But the tires were so hard to get off, and the strips so messy to put back in, I opted to leave the stock tires on. We had to rush after the race to get the bikes back and pick up our MTBs before they closed at 4pm. There just wouldn't be enough time to swap things back over.

We got the bikes from Paul's Cyclery. Paul warned us these were not racing bikes. He also told us he had only one flat in his rental fleet last year. I supposed if you are a tourist or on travel and looking to squeeze a ride in, not getting a flat has high value. But all that stuff in there probably increased rolling resistance at least 4x. The slime in the both tires made them feel like they were on a magnetic resistance trainer. Paul is a super nice guy, and I would do business with him again. Armouring the tires makes good business sense. Had I known this, I probably would have taken one of my wheelsets with me.

Just over 1000 people were registered for the hillclimb. Apparently there was another road race going on that stole riders. Last year there were about 1200 finishers. Tom Danielson was supposed to race Saturday but didn't show. Being a 2+hr TT, I did not warm up rigorously. I lined up a little late and ended up at the back of the pack.

Finish at 14,000ft

The race starts off fairly flat, and it is definitely pack racing. Speeds of around 20+mph were held starting I think (no computer). Drafting was everything. The lead pack held together for the first 7-8 miles of the race. But I was dying. Many guys were casually talking in the pack for the first few miles while I was just killing myself to stay in the pack. I was freaking out. It had to be the bike. 7000ft altitude does not make that big of a difference for a low lander. By the 8 mile post, I made conscious choice to let lead group of about 30 riders go and ride at my own pace. I pretty much rode the remaining 20 miles of the climb by myself other than passing dropped riders from the field 15 minutes ahead of me. But even riding at my own pace became increasingly difficult. The bike was so sluggish I began to doubt I'd even finish this climb. With 5 miles to go and the steepest part of the race, I started cramping up. With 1km to go, I was having such severe cramps that I would slow to a track stand to keep hamstrings stretched out for seconds at a time. I finished, but not until most dropped riders from my field passed me.

Switchbacks to summit

I was in a pretty foul mood finishing. There was nothing but water up top (pure water, no carbs or electrolytes), and no food. I wasn't mad because of placing poorly. I didn't expect to do well here anyway. I was mad because of the damage I did to my legs at the beginning of a week of epic riding. I had so many screwed up muscles in my legs I couldn't even walk right at the top. My time of 2:37hrs is only slightly faster than when I rode my mountain bike up Mt Evans three years ago with knobbie tires at a recreational pace. This fun race turned into a death climb. With no nutrients up top whatsoever, the descent was going to be long. It takes better part of an hour to descend. A couple places required pedaling and my legs immediately went back into spasms.

Dave finished a few minutes faster than me in the 35+ category. He was on a similarly equiped Bianchi. Another New Hamshirite, Tom Ramsey, finished in around 2:27 in the 55+ category. Tom took his race bike with him.

Other than the racing being a catastrophe, the day was perfect. A little warm at the bottom, maybe 50's up top, and very little wind. It was clear and you could see a hundred miles in all directions. After the descent, it was warm. It nearly hit 100F in Denver nearby. We got the bikes back in time and grabbed our MTB's. Our next destination was Salida, CO for an Epic 54 mile trail ride at 12,000ft. I'll have to save how that ride went (fantastic) and today's ride in Taos, NM (fantastic but brutal) for another day.


Frank said...

Doug. Looked for you at Idaho Springs.Worked all I had to squeeze out 3:15.Went to summit lake on Friday for some comfadence.Used a big ring and 13/29 felt great.Different story on Saturday,by the 6 mile mark my HR was heading for the red zone.Had a hard time to drink with dizziness each time I missed a breath.At that I just wanted to finish.Should have not gone that high the day before.Great riding on Co.route 40.We rented a cabin near Echo Lake.Gotta try it again.Love to read your stuff. Frank Frain.

Anonymous said...


Certainly the higher Crr of the tires didn't help you but if you think that 7000 feet of altitude doesn't affect a flat-lander, you are quite unusual. I don't know anyone from NE that goes to CO or NM and can ride well the first day. Not only that but there's plenty of research data that says that there normally is a large decline in power and VO2max for non-acclimated individuals.

These figures are backed up with a lot of anecdotal evidence from people with power meters.

Steve Bonadio

Hill Junkie said...


The altitude certainly does impact a flat-lander like me. I didn't intend to imply it was a minor inmpact. That's why I was targeting a 2:15 finish time, perhaps optimistically. I podium most hillclimb races out east, and a 2:15 would be good for a 20th place age category finish on Evans.

Here's another tid bit. Another New Hampshire flat-lander did Evans on the 19th. Tom too flew in the day before. He finished in 2:27. Tom is in older age category. He never beats me at the local climbs but beat me by 10 minutes on Evans. So there are a couple conclusions you could draw from this. One is I suck a lot more at altitude than Tom or athletes in general. The other is much higher Crr of the bike. Tom took his high performance hillclimb bike with him, so it's hard to say precisely what went on.

Data suggests that it is better to race within 24hrs of arriving at altitude than waiting 2-3days. The body goes downhill the first couple days, then after several days initial acclimation is reached, which is better than trying to compete in first 24hrs. I would love to have luxury of tapering for a week at altitude, but the race doesn't mean that much to me to waste a week of potential epic riding in the best riding state in the country. And to race after 30 hrs of epic riding would not have been productive, or pleasant, either.

The chart you link is interesting. The difference between acclimated and non-acclimated is smaller than I thought (4-5% at 8000ft), and the difference diminishes with high altitude. Actually, at 14,000ft, acclimated and non-acclimated athletes are impacted almost the same. Surprisingly, the difference is quite large at the summit of our Mt Washington, 6200ft. I can't say I feel the effect of altitude climbing Washington. I certainly could feel the effect starting Evans at 7500ft.