"Sprint" finish atop Sierra Road
Cycling, Exercise

2014 Low-Key Hillclimbs #2: Sierra Road

Saturday morning brought the second Low-Key Hillclimb ride of the 2014 season: Sierra Road. I rode this during Week 8 of the 2007 LKHC season, ascending the 3.66 mile, 1759 foot climb in 38:34. Based on my my performance last week at Montebello Road, I knew that I could beat that time; the question was by how much? I estimated that I would do about 33 minutes; if I was feeling especially strong, I figured I could make it to the top in 32 minutes.

LKHC Sierra Road: Adam, Larry, and Han

Larry, Han, and I are smiling now, but we’ll be gritting our teeth and huffing and puffing soon on Sierra Road. Photo by Alexander Komlik.

Originally, I was planning on riding from my house to the check-in point as a 8-9 mile warmup, but I ran out of time in the morning. So, I loaded the bike in the car, drove to a spot about 1.5 miles away, and slowly rode to check-in around 9:25. Stephen Fong was in street clothes and working as a volunteer for this race, along with Christine Holmes. Larry, Han, and Richard were raring to go, however, and after a quick warm-up, we all lined up in the back awaiting the ringing of the cowbell that signals the start of the race.

33 minutes up Sierra Road!

Took me about 33 minutes to ascend Sierra Road. It would have been faster had I not unclipped my pedals twice during the climb!

I had long forgotten the route, knowing only that it was over 3 miles and straight up! Sierra Road has been frequented several times during the Tour of California. It’s great to be able to ride up the same climbs that professional cyclists ride up during their races, even if we’re just tackling the final three miles. I shudder to think what my time would be like with 100 miles in my legs before reaching the slopes of Sierra!

My goal from the start of the race was to keep up with Larry. After half a mile, Han was already enough ahead of us that I was like, “I let you go!” I could see Bill Bushnell zooming ahead of us, the sleek, yellow canopy of his hybrid-electric recumbent glinting in the sunlight. Then, about a mile or so into the ride, my right foot unclipped from the pedal and I slowed to a crawl. In fact, I almost tipped over while trying to get clipped back in. Fortunately, I was able to save myself at the last minute. Several cyclists passed me as I worked to get clipped back in. Getting restarted on a hill is never a fun exercise. and the damage was done once I restarted my slow spin up; Larry and company were well ahead of me, and I wouldn’t see them until the finish. It’s doubtful that I would have kept up with them anyhow, but at least I would have had them in my sights.

What’s good about Low-Key is that you’re riding with people around your same ability. Having them slightly in front or behind you gives you the motivation to push harder and get better. Maybe it’s different at the front, but in the back, it’s not so much competition as it is encouragement. We’re all suffering. Why not suffer and help each other push, grind, and grit our way to new personal records up these hills?

I glanced at my watch several times during the race. Since I figured it would take me about 33 minutes to finish, I knew that I was at mile 1 when the clock read 11 minutes and 22 minutes for mile 2. When I saw 30 minutes, I knew we were near the end. And, when I saw the photographers (i.e. Bill’s recumbent and his camera), I knew I was close. Near the top, another cyclist pulled up alongside me, providing Low-Key the opportunity for a “sprint” finish. Sadly, my left foot unclipped from the pedal, and I couldn’t clip back in fast enough. Pedaling with one leg, I saw the guy pull in front of me and finish several seconds ahead. Pritpal Singh, we shall meet again! :)

According to Strava, I finished the Sierra Road climb in about 33:41, exactly where I thought I would be. If I hadn’t had a problem with my pedals, I probably could have shaved 15-20 seconds off the time. With the rolling start, my Low-Key time will probably be closer to 34 minutes, but that’s still a big improvement over my 2007 time of 38:34!

Update October 12, 2014: The official Low-Key results are in, and I still came in under 34 minutes with a time of 33:52.

Sadly, I won’t be able to attend next week’s ascent up Welch Creek nor the next several weeks of the 2014 Low-Key Hillclimbs Series. but I’ve got a good reason. Tomorrow, we’re heading back on a plane to Seoul, South Korea. There’s some exciting news to announce, something that’s been brewing for the past couple of years. We’ll share more when we return in a week’s time!

In the meantime, you can read my recap and see photos of the 2007-edition of LKHC’s ride up Welch Creek here. I organized that ride, and I remember that the roads are very windy and steep. Good luck to all next week!

Thanks to Christine Holmes and Alexander Komlik for providing the great photos. If I have find the time this season, I’ll bring my camera and volunteer as a photographer for one of the events. You can view previous LKHC races I’ve shot on my SmugMug gallery here.

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