Friday, January 5, 2018

Race Report - San Bruno Mountain Hill Climb 2018


I don’t race very often anymore ... the old guys are just getting too fast for me. Once in a while, I do race the San Bruno Mountain Hill Climb on January 1. This gives me a good excuse to skip all the New Year’s Eve parties I get invited to. (It’s shameless how all the different hosts compete for my attendance ... so I find  it’s easier just to shun them all.)

My bike team has a tradition of food-centric race reports. What follows is my report to them, in small, medium, and large. If you’re looking for a summary of how the cat-and-mouse tactics played out in the Pro/1/2 race, you will have to look somewhere else.

Executive summary

Lunch was amazing. My race ... not so much. During the last month I focused so much on weight loss, I kind of forgot to train. But I dug deep during the race, managed an okay result, and (most importantly) had a glorious post-race meal.

Medium report

Breakfast: nothing. I didn’t want to ruin my South Beach success with a bunch of last-minute ballast. My final pre-race weigh-in was 173, not too shabby, and this was before my multi-session pre-race elimination protocol. I’m pleased to report that in that realm I’ve still got it!

Lunch: At a nice restaurant near the Berkeley marina, we started with some white-flour-centric focaccia. (My spell-checker has flagged “focaccia.” Note to Microsoft: get your head out of the sand! Focaccia exists! It’s probably more popular than Bing!) Then we moved into some mussels in this crazy Point Reyes Farmstead blue cheese sauce with bacon bits. There was so much sauce, we decided we’d better get some straws. On second thought we asked for more focaccia to soak it up with.

In other news, I was going to get a beer, because “Brilliant! Booze in the afternoon!” but they wanted $6.75 for a Lagunitas IPA. Celebration be damned, I wasn’t going to pay that, so Erin and I split a Kona Brewing Longboard Lager ($5.95, which is actually a worse deal if you go by ABV). Right after our toast, all hell broke loose (see full report below).

For my entree I had the Hangtown Omelette (buttermilk battered oysters, fresh spinach, root beer glaze, and “county potatoes,” which was a misspelling of “country potatoes”). I also ate a bunch of everybody else’s food (since they were stuffed on foccacia): lobster bisque with puff pastry; salmon; shrimp; cheddar grits; and fried green tomatoes. Of course we finished it off with a rich chocolate dessert ... I’m trying to remember what it was called. Chocolate Intemperance? Chocolate Dissolution? Chocolate Profligacy? Chocolate Debauchery? Chocolate for the One Percent? Chocolate Travesty? Chocolate Depravity? Whatever the name, it was thick and chewy and came with a goat cheese quenelle, raspberry sauce, and fresh berries. (How is it Microsoft’s spell-checker has “quenelle,” which is a word the restaurant probably made up, but not “focaccia”?)  

Note to world: my single New Year’s Resolution is to gain weight! South Beach is so 2017! Onward, to new heights in gluttony! I’m BACK!

Full report

The main reason I decided to do this race was to hang on my daughter’s coattails ... we’d both decided it was time she did her first road race. I feel like I’ve failed to bring much glory to the East Bay Velo Club, and this failure is probably based on poor character, not poor genes, so I might as well let my daughter pick up the slack. And if she’s going to the race, I figured, I might as well bring my bike too ... after all, it’s been more than three years since my last road race.

My other reason for racing San Bruno is that I needed a good excuse to lose weight, after some intensive calorie-therapy related to a lot of serious stress I went through this past fall. Of course there are many normal reasons to lose weight, such as improved health and so forth, but they don’t scare you into action like the prospect of a looming bike race—and a hill climb, of all things. It is widely known in the bike racing community that to be a good climber, you need to be so scrawny you can wrap your thumb and forefinger around your ankle. I’m still pretty far from that, but at least strangers no longer come up to rub my belly and say “Happy Buddha.”

This year I finally got smart and put the bike rack on the car the night before, and packed my race bag in advance. So we got there not long after registration opened and had plenty of time to pin our numbers, suit up, and warm up.

I have it on good authority that even in the WorldTour, the pro racers have to pin their own race numbers. Only a truly privileged racer, like my daughter, gets the number pinned for her.

We parked right next to our EBVC teammate Mike Wachter, just to show the rest of the peloton that we roll deep. Here we are warming up.

I want you to look very closely at this photo. Look in particular at my head. Or, should I say, heads. It’s amazing! I have two heads! And this confirms something I’ve always suspected, and in fact  felt deep in my bones: I have a doppelgänger, an evil double, a chimera (i.e., “vanishing twin”) like Tyler Hamilton had. This trickster has long plagued me: changing the answers on my multiple-choice exams, deciding to eat that second piece of pie, and just generally messing up my life in untold unseen ways. That second head is also that much more weight to haul up the climbs, even after I’ve managed to shrink down my (well, our) belly. And now I have photographic evidence, so if I ever fail a doping test due to “foreign blood population” I’ll have a good defense. (Spoiler alert: I was not tested after this San Bruno Mountain Hill Climb.)

I warmed up good and hard and for a long time, especially because there was some random car accident on or near the course so they delayed the race by half an hour just before staging was supposed to begin. By this point I was super sweaty so if I’d stopped riding, I’d have gotten really cold. So I just kept going, and via my warm-up logged almost five times the distance of the actual race. (In case “good and hard” is too vague a description of my warm-up, here are some numbers from my bike computer.)

On the start line with my group (the Masters 45+ 4/5, mixed with the 45+ 1/2/3) was Chris Phipps, a name-brand racer with 44 career wins. He won San Bruno in 2014 with a time more than 2 minutes faster than my personal best. Why do I care, since obviously I will never challenge him? Because he dragged our field along pretty much from the gun. I don’t know how long he went on dragging everybody because, needless to say, before long I was no longer around to see it.

Really, my race was between me and my younger self. I was looking to shore up my fragile male ego by being faster this go round than I was last time, four years ago, which effort was, in fact, a disgrace. On the positive side, my towering disappointment with that race gave me hope that—the bar being so very low—I could do better this year, despite being four years older.

Well, I hung with the field longer than last time before getting sawed off. Fortunately, when I did, I took a bunch of guys with me off the back. This has always been my forté, ever since I was a junior. My friend and former teammate Peter described it thus: “When you go out the back, it’s like this giant vortex just sucking people along with you. I’ll be like, ‘What the [heck], where is everyone going? Oh, I get it, Dana’s getting dropped!” I derive a strange satisfaction from this—it’s like I have Command Presence or something, in this one tiny realm of my life. (Well, actually, there was also this time when I got lost walking through an airport, with my daughter in tow, and when I got to a total dead end, I turned around and there were like a dozen other people behind me. “Daddy, why did all these people follow you?” my daughter asked, perplexed. Beats me!)

Here’s a photo somebody snapped of me right after I got dropped.

Wait a second, that’s not from this race! That’s from the North Boulder Park Criterium back in 1981! But you know, it’s the right anguished expression. Not much has changed since then ... I just have a better helmet now, and a cooler bike. And shorter socks.

The great thing about bringing people off the back with me is that when they see their mistake and chase back on, I have one more chance—sucking their wheels like an anaerobic remora—to latch back on. Here I am right after two of these suckers re-dropped me:

Look at my damn elbows sticking out! I’m no better than Chris Froome, the rider I most mercilessly mock in my WorldTour race reports! God, I wish I could at least lose with dignity. I had no idea my elbows ever stuck out. I’m going to blame the high school mountain bike team for which I’m an assistant coach. We coaches are taught to accentuate how bent our elbows are, so the riders don’t fail to notice. Now let’s see ... who else could I blame? Well, my parents I guess—for marrying each other, instead of somebody with some damn talent.

Here’s an action shot. I include this for three reasons. First, it may be of zoological interest to some readers that, in order to take in more air, I’ve unlocked my jaw like some snakes can do. Second, it’s a pretty good photo my wife managed to get, notwithstanding how hard it is to photograph bike races. (I did help by going so slowly up the hill.) Third, at least I’ve tucked my elbows back in. Sheesh.

At the halfway point, I’d chased back down the two guys you saw above. (There was a short descent and a flat part, which I used to maximum benefit.) My average speed by that time was 12.47 mph. I’d calculated beforehand that if I averaged 12 mph, I could beat my old PR (set back in 2010). So I was still on track! But then two things happened: I got dropped again, and I started to die.

For the rest of the race my average speed dipped ever downward, slipping toward 12 and then right past it. Meanwhile, these last two guys who’d dropped me dangled out there just ahead of me, taunting me with their lack of actual superiority. Pete had recommended I do some interval training before this race, which surely would have helped me match their accelerations at key moments. Alas, I did not take his advice (intervals being the main reason I quit racing in the first place). I was sure regretting it now. Though I was definitely gaining on these two by the top, I ran out of road. Also, I suck.

Did I get a new PR? No. Did I at least get a better time than four years ago? Let’s not go into that. Instead, let’s look on the bright side: I placed higher, in sixth. Does this mean the field was weaker this year? Of course not. It was windy out there, okay? Plus, the field is cleaner now because of the improved doping controls. (I had a good race, honest I did!)

Here I am hanging out with another racer at the summit.

Huh, that’s weird, I think I pasted the wrong photo. That’s from almost 36 years ago, of me and my friend Aaron Pickett-Heaps. This time around, I actually had a slightly older person to hang around with post-race, with a very impressive radio antenna as a backdrop.

I won’t say anything about my daughter’s race because, like all teenagers everywhere, she’s working on her own race report right now. Mike will probably file his own report as well so I’ll stay mum about his race other than to say that he also, obviously, made the summit.

So, that bit I wrote earlier about all hell breaking loose at lunch? That’s actually a bit of an exaggeration. But right after toasting the new year with my wife, I was setting down my half-glass of beer to get my phone back from my daughter (who had just snapped our photo for a Beck’st), and I knocked over the glass, soaking the nice cloth tablecloth. Four cloth napkins later we’d mostly mopped up the mess, and the waitress arrived and apologized, like it was her fault, and told me she’d bring me another beer. I protested, but largely for form, of course, because if you do the math, I’d be getting a whole beer for free having lost just half a beer. It seemed too good to be true, but sure enough, a bit later another server brought out a whole second beer.

I managed—my poor track record notwithstanding—to pour half of this in my wife’s glass without spilling a drop. We finished those quickly and handily (because beer isn’t like a fine brandy you nurse all day) and presently our original waitress came out with another replacement beer and an extra glass. I told her, “Oh, no, another server already brought us the replacement.” She said, “Oh, really? ‘Cause I just yelled at someone over this! So you’re drinking it, I’m not taking it back!” So just like that, 2½ beers for the price of one! Needless to say, 2018 is off to a great start....

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