Saturday, August 19, 2006

Playing the field

Saturday, 19 August

I had a date today with my husband to do something I've done with five other men but never with him: race tandem. Up until the end of July, I raced all year with Martin, but when he moved on to other things, I decided to keep racing and play the field (Kerry has a name for this that I shall not repeat!).

Our challenge was the Mary’s Peak Hillclimb, southwest of Corvallis—the highest peak in Oregon’s Coast Range. The distance was 9.5 miles, and it was advertised as an average grade of 11% for the first 4-5 miles, a mile of descending, then an average of 10% to the finish. We were lucky to borrow a tandem from Co-Motion for this race, and they were originally going to give it to us with just a double chainring, but when I heard the gradient, I was pretty sure we’d need a triple. And we used it a lot.

We took the bike out for a (flattish) ride on Friday afternoon to make sure we could pedal in the same circles. We also got to ride Co-Motion’s new, one-off (so far) 24-pound tandem; we were a little shaky on that one at first, but we motored up Green Hill Road and managed to get down the descent without going into the ditch. It was kind of fun to just ride around on those great roads west of Eugene that I usually have to race on; I saw a lot of things I’ve never seen before.

60 riders turned up for today’s hillclimb, which isn’t bad for a course with such tough advertising. There hasn’t been a race here since 1998, but the promoter was able to tell us that the legendary/unwritten course record was 37:21—for a single bike. We started in our little chain ring and were glad to have it. We went around the first bend and there was our 30-second guy just up the road, so that helped motivation. The climbing in the first 2 miles wasn’t bad, maybe 8%. The next 2 might have averaged 10-11%, but we just stayed in the saddle and pedaled away. We were a little worried about the descent in the middle (Mick having a whopping 175 miles of tandem captaining experience, and none on this bike), but a moto passed us at the top so we could sort of follow its lines around the twisty bends. After that the road kind of flattened out, and there was a 100-foot gravel section, then it was back to small-ring climbing.

Kerry had told us that when you come out into a meadow you’ve got about 1 kilometer to go, so I got pretty excited when a meadow popped into view and we could cruise along in the big ring. But then we went up again, and there was no sign of the finish, and we had to shift down. We kept going hard, thinking we were almost done. Finally, after another mile or so, there was another meadow and we could finally see the tent in the parking lot at the top.

On the way up, we passed 10 riders. I think most of them were pretty startled to be passed by a tandem. The guy who started 30 seconds behind told us at the finish that he had never been beaten up a climb by a tandem before, and he had been certain at the start that he would catch us. What were we supposed to say, "gee, we're sorry"? Not.

Our time was 45:49, better than we expected but not fast enough to put us in the top 10 for the day. We were the fastest mixed tandem (OK, we were the only mixed tandem), and we beat the male-male tandem (OK, their stoker is maybe 13 years old). We beat the previous recorded tandem time by more than 10 minutes. The Oregon district hillclimb championship will be on this course in September (first time ever here); we’re sorry we can’t come but it will be interesting to compare our times.

Oh yeah, and we even got DOWN those 9.5 miles in one piece. Riders had to have a moto escort down the steepest part at the bottom to make sure we didn’t exceed the posted speed limit (30 mph)—which we surely would’ve done.

Race results are here.

No comments: