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Guanella Pass Hill Climb / Updates
Its been a while since I’ve posted and I seem a bit backlogged when it comes to race reports. Since my last post I’ve done a few more Criteriums but finished only in the top 20. Last weekend I was set to compete in the Hugo Road Race but they decided to cancel it the day before. I was a bit upset to hear the news considering we do not have many road races here on the front range.
After watching Maija race up Lookout Mountain in the spring I did some convincing she should try a longer hill climb based on her past performance. Maija has this amazing hidden talent of racing up mountains on a road bike.
Guanella Pass is located in Georgetown, CO. The hill climb is slightly over 12 miles in length and reaches 11,000+ft of altitude! This was not an “A” race for me but I was excited Maija had decided to race. I signed up a couple of days before and the finial start list said 25 riders. Small groups are always interesting, especially on a hill climb. I had a feeling I would be riding the majority of the climb alone. Maija’s field was not going off until an hour after my start time. It would have been nice to warm up with her but there was too much of a time difference. We arrived at the parking area in Georgetown with less time than I had expected. The wind was blowing strong from the south and it seemed as if we would have a head wind going up the climb. As we sat in the car and I pinned our race numbers on our jerseys the car was shaking from the 30+mph gusts. I could tell Maija was nervous about the wind so I kept quiet. I attempted to warm up on the trainer but couldn’t find a flat piece of ground. I rode for about 15 minutes on the trainer before I decided to finish warming up on the roads. Our starting area was pretty relaxed as the riders sat around chatting before they blew the whistle. The start was neutral until we got through the majority of the small town. Right away the road started climbing up. There weren’t any sudden attacks but the pace was high and I was breathing pretty heavy. I kept my cool and tried to stick with the main field but once we hit the first batch of various switchbacks I was detached from the lead riders. I wasn’t upset or disappointed, I just rode at a slightly agressive intensity. I’ve never done this climb so I had no idea what to expect. The night before Maija and I studied the race course profile on Google Maps. We were able to determine when and where the switchbacks would be but when you are at 8,000ft of elevation and riding close to your limit, all those bits and pieces of information go out the window. The first section hurt pretty bad and I couldn’t wait until it was over.
After 15-20 minutes of climbing high in the sky there was a respite in the road gradient. “Finally!” I said to myself. I was a bit surprised how long the flat section was which ran parallel to a small lake. At this point I was accompanied by two other riders. I was familiar with both riders but for two different reasons. One of the riders I’ve raced against many times. The other rider was Alexi Grewal who was the first American to ever win an Olympic gold in road cycling. I felt like a kid in a candy store riding next to him! Alexi did a lot of the work once the road pitched up again. His style of riding was quite unorthodox from comtemporary cycling. He was riding what looked like an old steel or titanium bike with down-tube shifters. Also, his handlebars were tilted downward in a negative degree position. I didn’t fully understand why his handlebars were like this but after 30 minutes of riding with him I realized he liked to get out of the saddle a lot. Alexi rode in an inconsistent manner which made me feel like I was at the end of a race rather than riding a steady hill climb time trial. Every time there was a switchback he would attack and then slow down. I tried to maintain my own intensity but more times than not, I was attacking with him. This was making our overall time slower.
Notice how far down his hands are on the handlebars?
It looks as if he is reaching for a water bottle but he is actually shifting from his down-tube!
With about 5K from the finish I summed up enough energy to pass him. I gained some time between us but somehow he was able to bring me back. Alexi also had the record up Mt. Evans back in the 1990′s. A time of 1:47 to be exact. Alexi and I rode together the remainder of the climb until we hit 1K where I pulled ahead once again. He didn’t seem interested in battling to the finish so I rode in alone. I crossed the line in 1:03 and change. Not the best time but I was happy considering I had never done the climb before. Knowing a climb beforehand helps ones psychological state of mind.
It was cold and windy at the top so I started making my descent. I knew Maija was beginning her race but I wanted to be close to the finish so I could cheer her on and let her know about other women in the race. I was really excited for Maija. I had a feeling she would do well on this climb. After about 2K of descending I found a sunny spot on the road sheltered from the wind. I started to cheer people on and it felt nice to give others encouragement. A lot of people were asking me “How close to the finish?”. I swear over 25-30 people had asked me this same question. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who had never done the climb before. I would yell back “A little over 1K!”. A sigh of relief came over their faces. After about a half hour or so, I finally saw Maija coming up the road. Her cadence looked fast which gave me a good indication she was doing well. “I think I’m in first!” She yelled to me. “I think you are!” I responded back. Maija is considered a CAT4 since she doesn’t compete in mass start cycling races. Her overall time was 1:10:51! Her performance was amazing considering she only trains on the bike 1-2 times a week. Maija won the CAT4′s and had the 7th fastest time of the day from all categories including the pro women.