California PEZ: Hammered On Hamilton
It’s 4:21 and I’m settled into a comfy chair in the hotel lobby as I pen this report. Every muscle in my body aches, and the 2 beers I had with lunch did little to quench my thirst… but sure tasted good. Today’s ride over the 4000 foot Mt. Hamilton was epic – and perhaps the longest 3.5 hours of cycling in my recent memory.
I’m pretty sure part of my discomfort stems from a 12 hour travel day to get here, thanks to Alaska Air postponing, cancelling, (or both) all of my flights yesterday. At least I bagged 6 hours of sleep in a stinky ‘non-smoking’ room at the hotel. Perhaps not the best prep for a big-ass ride like we had planned for today- but then no one said Mt. Hamilton was gonna be easy.
Our drop point was the top of Mt. Hamilton, so we drove on the course route backwards from San Jose. The climb twists and turns for about 20 miles, and I new this would be my best chance to enjoy the view of the city.
I’m spending the rest of the Tour of California with the guys from LOOK Cycles-USA, and had the pleasure of saddling up the carbon 585 for today, along with my riding partners from Upland Sports Group – Gary, Rob, and Matt. They created the Capoforma line of high end cycling kit, and jumped at the chance to escape the office for a day of on-bike ‘meetings’.
Matt, Gary, and Rob from Upland Sports signed on as my gregarios on LOOK 585’s. It was just above freezing as we set off from the mist-wrapped summit.
In spite of our planned 7AM breakfast, things took longer than planned and even with Tom Orr’s (LOOK sales mgr) best driving, we didn’t actually rollout from the drop point until 10:30. No worries though, the new plan (hastily cobbled together at the Mt. Hamilton summit when the donut-friendly constable informed us the roads were closed) included a ‘warm-up descent’ off the summit, heading backwards along the route.
The simple plan: out and back, and then some. Start atop Mt. Hamilton, descend to the KOM turn around point, and climb our way back out… then descend the 20-some mils back to San Jose.
Our turn around point was 2 KOM primes away- about 13 miles. This descent would have been a great start – but the near freezing temps at the top made for a chilly ride down. Near disaster was narrowly averted when a road clearing grader with no lead vehicle surprised us on a hairpin coming up the road in our lane. We’re still scratching our heads over what genius signed off on that work order.
Our schedule left no time to take in the stage’s final haul over Sierra Road, but since I tackled it last year, I was up for yet another of the area’s great rides.
Seven miles later we hit the valley and actually started pedaling… and warming up. The views on the way down and through this country are pretty stunning – it’s an old west ranch country feel that is amazingly isolated- and desolate – being so close the California Pacific coast.
The stage profile doesn’t lie… that’s a lot of elevation gained… and lost.
• We hit the KOM line at San Antonio Valley Road around 11:00AM, and being sufficiently warmed up, we took a few seconds to stage our own prime while the fans chalked the roads.
This view looks back towards the hills that contained the stage’s first climbs.
• The climb up Hamilton is a great one. The road twists and turns, and most switchbacks reward with another stunning view of the valley below. The grade is around 8.6% average, gaining 2040 ft over 4.5 miles, with a couple steeper pitches near the top . The road surface is typical of the area – rough and worn old asphalt with plenty of cracks and berms in the turns.
• It gets tougher when you’re cranking a 39×25, and I’d much preferred my standard 34×25 for some more civilized ‘spinning’.
Rich Freggiaro of the Stockton Bike Club was one of many fans with kind words for us. Back at ya Rich!
Dave Aldersebaes mentioned this several times in his opening stage reports, and it was no different down here- the PEZ love was strong on the roadside, and I gotta say the shout outs and hellos from fans as I road by made the climb a little easier and a whole lot more fun. Humbling stuff for sure… Thanks everyone!
• The switchbacks afford plenty of good views and the fans were out in numbers on the higher slopes – and it ain’t easy to get here.
There’s plenty of grade to test the legs – so feel free to stand up and stretch it out…
After several miles of grunting and hard breathing in the noticeably thinner air, the chalked roads and appearance of fans yelling encouragement was a welcomed respite.
Captain Vasconi emerges like a spectre (complete with sunken, vacant stare) through the mists at the summit.
Ah yes… the satisfaction that only comes from a hard day’s work – a celebratory ‘thumb’s up’ at the observatory atop Mt. Hamilton.
After dropping a couple miles back towards San Jose, the fog lifted and our reward lay before us.
The descent was fast but tricky – the turns are tight and many are blind, so caution is well advised. One missed curve and you’re off like Evil Kneivel’s ill-fated Snake River Canyon leap. The area is pretty sparse of life forms beyond cattle, critters, and birds of prey. You’ll still need all your wits to navigate your way out, and with two small ridges to climb along the way, there’s not much rest until you hit bottom an hour later.
Seeing this climb first hand was a most PEZ-worthy way to start my stint on this Tour. It was easy to see how the climb featured in the race, as there’s no sitting in on this one, and the narrow twists make it harder for the group to travel fast, while favoring a lone escaper. If you’re in the are, this is one you gotta try.
Tonite we’re headed to San Luis Obispo, and tomorrow should see me taking that famous coastline as the race heads south from Seaside. Thanks again for reading – and see you tomorrow.
Special thanks to some very cool guys who made this day one to remember:
• LOOK CYCLES-USA