Sunday, July 20, 2008

A great day climbing Mt. Evans!

On Saturday Scott and I got up good and early to head to Idaho Springs for the Mt. Evans Hill Climb. I heard from friends who had done this race before that the climb up Mt. Evans was tough and from biking part way up and driving the other half I was expecting a long day of grinding up the long climb. Mt. Evans has the highest paved road in the country, with the race starting at 7,540 feet in the town of Idaho Springs and rising steadily over the course of 28 miles to top out at 14,135 feet. Since I like climbing, I figured this was a good race to target as the goal of the summer, and it would be a fun end to my mountain bike adventure with Scott.

We lined up at 8:30AM with the 72-person cat. 4 field. My goal was to stay with the pack for the initial 7-mile section that was a little flatter before the real climbing began with the first switchback. After a short neutral start people started getting shelled out the back as the pack started to pick up the pace. Near the first switchback I let the pack drift away as I settled into my own pace, but I was soon passing people who had also been dropped by the quickly disintegrating pack. Between mile 7 and mile 13, I passed a handful of people before settling onto the wheel of a guy who I learned later was named Bryce. Bryce set a really good pace for the next couple of miles as we passed the ranger station and rode above treeline, continuing to pass lots of citizen racers along the way. Since we lucked out with the weather and had perfect blue-bird skies and very little wind, sitting on Bryce's wheel probably helped psychologically more than anything else.
On a climb as long as Mt. Evans, it is interesting to see how you have moments where you are stronger and weaker. Right after Bryce caught me by the ranger station, I almost wasn't able to stay with him. After taking a few pulls above treeline, I decided I was going to blow up if I did more work and settled in to sit on his wheel (thanks Bryce for the pull!). A few miles later, I felt Bryce slowing and I picked up the pace and starting pulling away from him. A mile or two later, Bryce came flying by me sitting on the back of a three-person group that I joined and struggled to stay with over the next couple of miles. The last four miles of Mt. Evans from Summit Lake to the summit parking lot are definitely the hardest, both in terms of exposure, elevation and grade. As the road got steeper, I caught back up to the group of four and passed all but one of them as the summit neared. I was starting to feel a slight cramp coming on, but was able to ride through it with the help of a borrowed bottle of energy drink from one of the guys in the four person group.

As I neared the top I looked back and saw the lead car of the Pro womens field coming up behind me. A few moments later Jeannie Longo came FLYING past me, standing out of the saddle, absolutely crushing the hill. For those that don't know, Jeannie Longo is 49 years old and just qualified for the French olympic cycling team. This will be her EIGHTH (!) appearance at the Olympics. Jeannie Longo finished with a time of 2:10:10, 11 minutes shy of her course record set in 1998, but still nearly 7 minutes ahead of the next female pro finisher! The eternally fast Ned Overand also raced in the pro men's field and finished 5th, beating a bunch of riders who weren't even born when Ned started racing!

As the summit neared, I was able to catch and pass a few more people from the cat. 4 category and was actually feeling pretty good. Despite the altitude, it was the lack of power in my legs that held me back, not the lack of oxygen in my lungs. Nearing the top, I passed the 1 kilometer sign and thought for sure I had only a switchback or two left. That was the longest kilometer I have ever ridden; turn after turn, the finish line just never came into view. Finally, I caught sight of the finish line and kept a good pace across the line to finish with a time of 2:28:20, just under my goal of 2:30:00. With that time I finished 27th out of the 72 starters in cat. 4. Considering I had never been over 8,000 before this month and never done a climb this long, I really didn't know what to expect, but I was really happy with how the race went. It felt incredibly good to push hard for hours and finish on top of such an incredible mountain. I really felt like I was racing the whole way, which ma Here are a few pictures from the top. This one is of Bryce (left) and the dude from the group of four who lent me a bottle near the top:
The summit parking lot was covered by bikes, bodies and equipment as people recovered from their effort:
While I waited for Scott to finish, I took some pictures from the summit.
Sitting above the parking lot, just casually taking in the scene , was a furry mountain goat chomping away!!!
A bit later Scott came across the finish line and we took some photos on the top. Scott had a good ride on his rented bike, finishing in 3:32:14. This was only Scott's second race of the year, so he did a really solid effort considering the toughness of the climb. He's got a great base for kicking ass at the mountain bike races around DC this summer.
While hanging out at the top, I ran into a woman wearing a Putney Westhill jersey, which is a shop team I used to ride for in high school. I started talking to the woman, who is friends with the owners of the Westhill shop and realized that we had a really random connection. Two weeks earlier I was was in a shop in Boulder and started talking to a girl who mentioned that her parents had met while doing the Mt. Evans Hill Climb. Her mother threw up after the race and her dad stopped to help her and they apparently hit it off and eventually got married. This girl also mentioned that she was racing at mountain bike nationals at Mt. Snow near where I grew up instead of doing Mt. Evans.
Back to the woman in the Westhill jersey, when I started talking to her she mentioned that her daughter was racing at Mt. Snow that weekend. The details of her story started to line up, so I said to her: "this may seem like a strange question, but did you happen to meet your husband on Mt. Evans while you were throwing up. Also, does your daughter work at the North Face store in Boulder?" She looked surprised and said that yep, she was in fact the mother of the girl I had met earlier in Boulder and that she met her husband on Evans. It's a crazy small world!
The view from the top was pretty incredible:
Scott and I bundled up for the ride down. Scott seems to be a natural descender and flew down the road, with me taking it slow behind. We stopped to take a few photos along the way.
Scott with Sumit Lake in the background:Overall this was one of the most fun races I have ever done. Everyone was really friendly, the climb was epic, the views were breathtaking and to top it off, there was a mountain goat on top. Any race where there is a mountain goat in attendance is a cool race in my book. I definitely would like to do this race again in the future and try to break 2:20!


fuzzy said...

Wow, that's awesome that you saw Jeannie Longo during Mt. Evans!

Bryce said...

Hey Loren,
Great racing with you up that monster hill. Give me a ring or send an email if you're ever back in Colorado.