I left with the 5:00 group and took it easy up Diablo. On the descent, the winds were blowing me all over the road. I've never had to pedal so much coming down that mountain there was so much head wind. At the bottom I hooked up with Ken from San Jose, who rides doubles on his fixed gear (though not the DMD) and a couple of his friends and we rode together at a mellow pace toward Morgan Terr. The group gradually grew to about 15.
Once we hit Morgan, some of the guys started hammering up the small knobs on the early sections and I let them go. I was in a group of four, riding medium-hard, working, but not uncomfortable, when about a mile from the top four black cows bounded down from a hillside onto the road. Seeing us, they started running up, 8-10 feet ahead of us. We did our best immitation of cowboy calls to drive them faster, but they climbed at the same speed as our group and there was no telling what they would do. I rode through a fresh cow pie. Yeeew. After a minute the cows had had enough and veered off the road. By the time I reached the top I felt like I'd done some work and it was getting warmer. I was cautiously optimistic.
Phil Hornig, a 6:00 starter, caught me on the bottom of Morgan and we rode together. We let a foursome catch us and the six of us rode through Livermore together. While we waited at a light in Livermore a pair of Webcor guys caught us and as soon as the light changed, the Webcor guys blew off the line and it became a completely different ride. Several people fell off the pace, and I had to dig pretty deep to stay with this group, which I knew was stupid, but there was a mighty headwind and I wanted to have wheels to follow until we turned around and had wind at our backs. It was also stupid to have taken pulls. After results were posted I discovered that Phil finished 2d and another member of our group 8th, re-confirming that I was in over my head.
I let them go once we turned around. Let me say here and now, I hate Patterson Pass Road. Either you have a howling headwind or a slight tailwind. Neither is appealing. I struggled there last year, so I fully expected the same. That's what happened. Somewhere on the climb -- we're talking mile 85-ish -- my competitive juices stopped flowing, I was sweating profusely and felt pretty fried. I realized that I'd have to ride mellow, maybe finish an hour or two later than planned, but with 120 miles to go there was no reason to be a hero, I had no legs to be one anyway, but I wanted to finish -- I did not want my attempt to finish the Triple Crown Stage Race to die with a DNF of the first stage. I crested Patterson and rolled into Mines Rd. rest stop around 11:45. I planned to spend a bit of time at the rest stop taking in protein, caffeine, ibuprofen, and whatever other rhyming performance-enhancing substances they offered. Reasonably recovered, I left the rest stop after 20-25 minutes.
I also hate the first climb on Mines Rd. Just as last year, it was hot and we had a slight tailwind, so I rode in a personal sauna bubble with no relief from the wind -- and at my plodding speed, I certainly wasn't generating any wind chill. Several people passed me on the climb, but I didn't respond. "Ride within yourself and make sure you finish" was my mantra. Once the road flattened a bit and I began the slight descent I felt better and started my espresso-gel-washed-down-with-weak-gatorade regime. Don't laugh, it works for me. I became really good friends with my 50x19 and 50x21, depending on which way the 1% grade pointed. It was cooler, the road is very scenic, and I felt happier. I didn't stop at the intermediate water stop, just shouted my number at the guy manning the check point and rolled on, thereby passing several people who'd passed me on the climb, but were off their bikes now. I grinned. Competitive juices began dripping...
At the lunch stop I ate, recovered, and left fairly quickly in an effort to make up whatever time I would lose on the road by taking shorter breaks. Top of Hamilton lay 18 miles ahead and the climb began in 12. There were a few rollers of varying sizes on the way, but I got to the climb in good shape. Strangely, the climb didn't seem as steep as I'd remembered it, but it felt harder. I decided to employ my enjoy-the-scenery-rather-than-suffer strategy that worked so well last year. It didn't work THAT well this time, but I passed a bunch of people on the way up, competitive juices sped up to a trickle, and, again, I skipped the water stop just before the crest. As I rode past the stop, I asked a volunteer to douse me, which he did. With ice-cold water. That was quite a shock after small doses of tepid water from my bottle over my head, but it felt good and I made it to the top in good spirits.
Has anyone counted the hairpins on the south/west side of Mt. Hamilton? It wouldn't surprise me if it has more than Alpe d'Huez. You get to the top of Hamilton and think you're almost at the Crothers rest stop near the bottom, but NOOOOO. You have to descend for freaking ever with sore forearms and neck. And the damn hairpins keep making you brake. And then you have to climb out of two valleys. No bullshit, I prefer climbing the back of that thing to descending the front.
Finally, made it to the rest stop. Surprisingly, managed to leave at about the same time as last year. But this year I wasn't feeling as perky. I was pretty confident I'd finish and thought I'd get to Sunol in daylight. Sierra was Sierra. A slog and I was cramping toward the top, but I managed to pass four more guys. More competitive juices. Petted the goat, picked up my light and left. I rode completely alone to Sunol. Got there in daylight. Had two bowls of miso. Managed to get to Palomares in the dusk and about a mile into the climb, just around the first set of screaming peacocks, turned on my light.
After that it was a sensory deprivation ride over Palomares, boring burbs that's Castro Valley, 3.5 miles of get-me-the-hell-off-Crow-Canyon-Rd.-those-cars-are going-50+-and-the-shoulder-is-two-feet-wide-at-its-widest, another sensory deprivation climb over Norris (Norris was a real struggle, but, mercifully, it was shorter than I'd remembered), then on to the Marriott. I rode 0.75 mile of Bishop Ranch Rd. with my hands off the bars in a victory salute. I arrived at 9:42, 15 minutes later than last year, but an hour earlier than my most optimistic projection.Talked with a couple of guys I'd met riding doubles last year and then felt very, very tired. Possibly the most tired I've been after a ride.