Posted this in the main road cycling forum:
Today I did the Climb to Kaiser, which is an annual cycling event held in Clovis, CA which is a suburb of Fresno (located in California’s central valley), and is a gateway to Yosemite National Park and the Sierras. The ride is a 155 mile cycling event with ~15k ft. of climbing. The ride begins just above sea level in the central valley, goes to the Kaiser Pass (9200’) and then returns. More detail on the event can be found on the official website (see http://www.climbtokaiser
). I also wrote about the event last year on BikeForums in detail (see http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...10-Ride-Report
). My finishing time last year 9:48 (9:37 riding time) and my goals this year were to beat my time and also get under 9:30.
My girlfriend and I drove up to Clovis Friday night from LA. Picked up my number and then we met my riding partner and friend Erik for dinner at an Italian restaurant where I engorged myself on some pasta and garlic bread. The ride was to begin the next morning at 5:30am (early, so the slower riders can finish in the daylight) so I went to bed at 8:30pm. Didn’t sleep very well but it didn’t really matter because when the 4am wake-up call went off, I was ready to go. Was still full from dinner the night before but ate some peanut butter and bread just to the point where I was feeling sick. Filled up my bottles – three bottles with perpetuem (two on the bike, one in my jersey). Also took five gels, one clif bar and a bunch of endurolytes (I like to minimize my stopping time). Drove a couple of miles to the start line and lined up for the mass start (a nice novelty in these sorts of rides, which usually have multi-hour start windows).
As soon as we started, the pace was very brisk. Sierra Pacific, a local cycling team, led us out of Clovis toward the mountains. They drove the pace quite hard almost immediately for the 20+ mile jaunt across the valley floor to the first climb. They also had another agenda- to provide domestique duty for one of their pro riders who was competing in the event. Despite my drafting, it took a lot of effort to stay attached at the front, and my heart rate was averaging in the 170s before any of the 15k of climbing began!
As soon as we hit the first climb and as expected, the peloton splintered immediately and Erik and I wisely chose to ride at our own pace. Sierra Pacific drove hard on the climb, some riders followed and dropped us quickly. From this point on, we were alone or with a couple of others riders much of the remaining 135 miles.
First climb was Wildcat Grade. 3.2 miles with 942’ of climbing for average grade of 6%, a stair step type climb. Took us just under 18 minutes. HR averaged 174bpm, so probably pushed a little too hard. Bunch of rollers where I tried to eat more, but my stomach wasn’t cooperating as a result of the heavy pasta meal the previous night. We get to the start of Tollhouse Climb at mile ~35. 3619’ of climbing in 11 miles for an average grade of 6.2%. First six miles are consistent 7-8% grade, 7th mile has multiple 12-14% sections and then remainder of the climb is on highway 168 where the grade is quite variable (ranging anywhere from flat to 10%). Took us 73 minutes with an average HR of 167bpm. The top of the Tollhouse climb takes us into the small town of Shaver which is near a very picturesque lake (called Shaver Lake, pic below). After we crest, 14 miles of rollers from here 1350’ of climbing until we reach the infamous Big Creek climb.
Big Creek. This is a monster climb. 4 miles, 2k ft of gain (from 5000’ to 7000’) for an average grade of close to 10%. Climbing is very much front end loaded with a half mile stretch that averages 14%. Right before Erik and I started the climb, we stopped for the first time (around mile 60, after 8k ft of climbing) to refill our bottles. Big Creek was a lot easier this year. Took us just under 40 minutes to get the top, HR averaged 167bpm. Supposedly this climb is usually very hot because it doesn’t have tree cover and is exposed to the sun, but my Garmin averaged only 71F, so not bad. Last year, right after I summited Big Creek, both of my quads cramped simulateneously, but luckily I was able to massage the cramps out quick enough not to fall. The summit of Big Creek is at Huntington Lake, another picturesque lake up in the Sierras. We passed three riders here who were suffering from their Big Creek exploit. We continued down the road, circumnavigating one half of the lake, Erik stopped at another rest stop for a couple of minutes to refill his bottle again, and then we set out for the last major climb of the day.
Kaiser Pass Road. 7.25 mile climb gaining 2150’. Took us 55 minutes, HR averaged 157bpm. First 5 miles is pretty tame with 5-7% grades on a wide two lane road. At mile 5, the road turns into a one lane alpine like climb and the grades average 8-10%. These last two miles were pretty perilous. There was a ton of snow this year in the Sierras, and the melting snow meant lots of water and sand on the road. Reached the top of the Kaiser Pass in 5hr50min. Over 78 miles done, so basically halfway. Cumulative elevation gain at this point was 12,000’. Temperature at the top a nice 75F. Pretty good for 9200’ of altitude. At this point we turn around, and descend 7.25 miles and then turn left on highway 168.
You’d think that after summiting Kaiser Pass, it would be mostly a nice descent back to Clovis. No, as soon as you descend the 7.25 miles down Kaiser Pass Road, you are faced with 10 miles of four rolling hills called Tamarack Ridge with 1200’ of gain. Took us 42 minutes. Last year I remembered this part being hot but this year it wasn’t too bad. After cresting the fourth roller (aptly named Tamarck Ridge, 7600’), we descend back to Shaver Lake (7 miles downhill, we averaged 35mph) and then deal with a bunch of annoying rollers over 10 miles around the lake worth 558’ of climbing, and then head down to Clovis on Auberry Road.
With over 110 miles in my legs and now 14k’ of climbing in my legs, I had a hard time getting my HR up, especially powering over small grade. The weather was getting hot. The last 45 miles averaged 95F and the last 20 miles averaged around 100-102F. Erik and I were making great time, he was feeling great and did a majority of the pulling as we finished the Auberry Road descent.
With just under eight miles to the finish and in 100F heat, Erik and I, who are lanky, light climbers who are not great on the flats, got caught by five bigger dudes who were hammering at 22-28mph. Erik and I were hoping to just cruise into the finish and maintain a good rhythm but after we got caught the dynamic totally changed. We went from thinking 6th/7th place was assured, to feeling like we had to fight as hard as possible to make sure these guys didn’t finish ahead of us. Erik is better on the flats than me and was holding his own it seemed, but I was struggling for dear life to hold on. With about a mile to go, one of the bigger dudes made a break for it, and everyone want crazy. I lost about 10-15 seconds in the last mile but basically clocked in with the group. Not sure my official time, but I think it was 9:29, 1 minute faster than my goal and 19 minutes faster than last year. We got stuck at two lights a few miles from the finish, so it should’ve been 9:27 or 9:28! Riding time was 9:23.
Amazingly I wasn’t totally wiped at the finish. After spending a few minutes composing myself, I was feeling pretty good. Unlike some of the other hardcore events I’ve done, I had barely any salt on my face, which I viewed as a sign of doing a good job with the nutrition. Took a shower at the school where the event was hosted and then headed with my gf and Erik to a local pizza place. Headed home afterwards.
So this was my second time doing this event and I can’t stress enough how amazing it is. So much better than the climbing centuries in Socal. I love that Kaiser is significantly more challenging than your average century but not as long as a double century where you are looking at 10-12+ hours on the bike. The ride is extremely well organized, well supported (perpetuem at most rest stops, SAG motorcycles everywhere), challenging and visually stunning. Looking forward to next year.
Garmin data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/94846117
Standing at the start
Erik and I climbing a steep grade toward the top of the Tollhouse Climb
Climbing the steep grade right before Tollhouse Road meets 168
Climbing Tamarack Ridge
Descending Highway 168 to Shaver Lake
Feeling decent at the finish