ToC Preview: Climbing Sierra Road
Stage 3 of the 2009 Tour of California runs 104 miles (167km) from San Jose to Modesto, and unlike other years, tackles to steep and nasty Sierra Road right from the gun. Always a race breaker, it could be a launch pad for a long break this time. I rode the climb in 2007 and endured measurable personal suffering on it’s slopes…
This story first ran in Feb. 2007.
It was a simple plan – ride the final 40 miles of the day’s parcours on a shiny new bike. In the end, the plan was perfectly executed in plenty of time to catch the action (and the abundance of commercials) on the big screen at the finish. With LOOK-USA based in San Jose, this was also a perfect stage to join ‘em for a few days of riding and race watching, and log some miles on their TDF Green Jersey winning all-carbon 595.
• It’s cloudy, we’re wearing sunglasses, and we’re riding Look’s new 595 all carbon racer – first ridden at last year’s Tour de France by Thor Hushovd and his Credit Agricole teammate Pietro Caucchioli. It’s a race bike – built to both sprint and climb. I’m also sporting the new LAS Squalo helmet – which US distributor Trialtir custom stickered for PEZ – stay tuned for more on that.
The time is 9:08 AM, it’s chilly and the clouds threaten rain, but my ‘super-domestique Allan (from LOOK-USA) is ready to ride, and who am I to poop the party? This is a work day, so let’s get to it.
As my third ride in as many days – and just coming out of a cold winter back home – my legs took a while to warm up, but the pace was good for taking in some great scenery through the rolling hills just east of san Jose.
Here’s how it looked on paper: start the the Sunol/Scott Corner and ride it home.
• You never know who you’ll see at a bike race, but chances are you’ve seen ‘em before. We bumped into Thadeus and Mike on the twisty turns of Calaveras road – astute PEZ-Fansd will remember the guys from our Roadside Dave reports at the ’04 and ’05 Tours de Georgia. Mike proudly sports his own “PEZ” id with his creds badge.
The ride had constant up & down, but the second two climbs for us we’re not that bad, the real effort coming on Sierra Road.
The Calaveras Road twists a turns for miles, and the car traffic was non-existant. The LOOK 595 geometry is setup for fast response, and the bike rode stable and fast through the twisters… it feels like a race bike.
Once through the twisters on Calveras Road, a fast descent takes you down to San Jose and a left turn the leads to the bottom of the big climb of the day. After grinding into a headwind for an hour and half, the fast drop out of the hills was a welcome break and mental transition to get ready for some real climbing.
Oddly, the intersection at the start corner of Sierra Road could possibly be the last place in America with no Starbucks – or drive through espresso shop of any kind.
• The Sierra Road climb starts out with a straight pitch of several hundred meters that averages around 10% – maybe steeper. A left turn gives you a chance to catch a breath, for about 10 yards, then the pitch gets steep again and keeps going. In no time you’re high above San Jose.
As my first ride on the 595 I was surprised at how quickly I felt at home on the bike. The ride is stiff and quick, but much more comfortable than I expected. The road surfaces today were not great – mostly that rough tarmac that seems to last forever on California backroads, but after about 3 hours in the saddle, I was not overly fatigued or sore – I’ll give credit to the frame we fitted out with Shimano’s Dura-Ace wheels. Even the seat post, which I expected to be even more rigid than normal, seemed to ride like a regular carbon post.
I normally run a 50/34 compact crank, so I was not sure what to expect running a 53/39 on the climbs. Sure my cadence slowed down, but the bike climbed very nicely. It’s got a fat bottom bracket and the overall stiffness make this one efficient climber.
• The views from up here don’t suck – and the breeze keeps the bovine methane at bay. Climbing this in a 39×25 guarantees a slow painful death for any average rider, but for guys like me using the week to log some solid late winter training miles, the day was the perfect ‘heavy-gear’ workout.
Lucky for us we got the shout-out from several fans along the way, and if they had a camera I was more than happy to request a photo (and stop to catch my breath). Climbs like this should be savoured – never rushed – it could all be over before you know it and what fun would that be?
At around 4 miles, the climb is not super long, but unrelenting in its grade. True to the locale, lots of twists and turns make for an awesome way to the top, and provide the few spots to sneak in a few meters of recovery.
Gotta love the money shot – even if it took 2 takes. This is the summit of the Sierra climb just meters below the KOM line. Later on, I almost saw Levi lead the break over the top on the big screen, but the tv-progamming geniuses thought it might be better to cut to commercial as the break was just meters from the top. Sadly, the race coverage on the big screen at the finish was so full of ads and promos, that there was little left for race fans to enjoy, or to convert average citizens into race fans. Maybe next year they’ll get it right.
Levi leads the break over the KOM, but not before the race coverage cut to a commercial.
After our much bally-hooed interview with the Specialized Angel last week, she’s been conspicuously absent from reader-submitted Distractions. And then boom – there she was at the Sierra Road KOM – cocooned from head to toe in a blanket and doing her best to stay warm. After a quick hello, I decided we’d best not tamper with the fantasy – so no ‘pre-wing’ photos were taken. But let this be a call to all readers – send us your Angel shots!
The temp was cool, so we didn’t hang around and rode back down the climb as the fans were now out in full force, making the pilgrimage to the best spot for the day’s viewing.
• Stay tuned to PEZ for more on riding the LOOK 595, or get more at: LOOKCycle-USA.com