Mt. Evans Hill Climb Strategy

07/18/2013 | by Nate Llerandi

Evans isn’t hard due to the grade.  It’s hard due to (1) length of the climb; (2) gain in altitude; (3) staying hydrated due to drier air; (4) drop in watts due to altitude gain; (5) not realizing that burning matches the first half of the race will KILL the last quarter of the race.

Approach Evans the way you approach a TT — cut it in half, then cut the second half in half again.  The first half can either be smooth because an individual or team decides to set tempo, or chaotic like a Cat 4 RR.  My first time racing, it was chaotic due to stupid attacks and surges, and responses to them, that ultimately went nowhere.  I was fuming because it was so inefficient (and, ultimately, slow).  So, the next year, I got teammates to register and sign-up for doing nothing else but set a hard tempo for as long as they could on the front.  Just like USPS and Sky.  The first 7-8 miles was absolutely beautiful.  They buried themselves and I was sipping tea behind them.  Best of all, the pace was s-m-o-o-t-h, so a bit faster and a lot more efficient.

In your race, the first half distance-wise will most likely be smooth and fast.  This brings you to the ranger station right turn just after Echo Lake.  No matter what, sit in and do zero work to this point.  Ignore the surges, go at your own tempo and conserve.  Whether folks know it or not, the mountain is already eroding the pack.  I feel sorry for the guys at this point who are already panting like they’re at 13,000 feet.  Sucks for them; don’t be one of them (not that you would be!).  It may line out heading into the right turn, or it may not.  But, not long after the right turn, the fireworks will start.  The road steepens a little bit about 16 miles into it if I recall, right as the road switchbacks to the right with some sort of wooden structure to the left.  Depending on who goes and how many go, you will need to decide spur of the moment whether or not you should go.  You obviously don’t want to miss a move, but you also don’t want to burn a big match this early.  The thing to keep in mind is that the second half of the race takes a good 10-15 minutes longer than the first half.

So, this is when you’re in the 3rd quarter of the race and have to balance “going” with “saving” for the final quarter.  The 3rd quarter is arguably the most challenging to get right.  You start getting above treeline, the pack is thinning out (the mountain is doing most of its eroding here), you’re exposed to the wind and elements, and for the first time you get to see how frickin’ far away the summit still is.  I always think, “How the hell do we get THERE from HERE???” when I first see the summit looming in the distance.  Just be prepared for that mind f**k.  If you have riders around you at this point, use them.  Even if you feel strong and like you can drop them and forge ahead solo, don’t.  By sharing the load, especially this high up, you will save precious energy and gain a handful of minutes compared to riding solo.  Because the final quarter of the race is where you can unravel and go backwards, or drop the hammer and make up minutes on those in front of you.

There is one short descent over really rough, buckled road that leads to a high mountain lake and a sharp left bend right into a climb.  To me, this is where the final quarter of the race starts.  I’ve completed this final quarter in 25 minutes when I rode the race just about perfectly and then also in 35 minutes when I shot off alone the final hour of the race and cratered in the final 15-20 minutes (I still won, but it hurt like a mofo; sheer agony).  When you bend left and start climbing again, use your judgment.  At some point, you have to go all in, so assume a half-hour is left and decide when you can light your fuse, put your head down and go for broke. 

The most challenging part of the final quarter isn’t the altitude.  It’s all the switchbacks, like Alpe D’Huez.  Each one brings you closer to the top, but it feels like 1 step back for each 2 forward.  It’s not a tough gradient, it’s more like “When is this frickin’ grind ever going to stop?”  The mile markers started down at the ranger station.  When you hit mm14, you’ve got another half-mile or so.  You will come around a right hand switchback and then it’s about 100m to the finish.

It’s a power climb, not a true climber’s climb due to the easier gradient.  I’m using my 11×28.  Keeping light pressure on the pedals for as long as possible will bode well in the latter stages of the race, so better safe than sorry.  I’m planning on using my 50mm carbon clinchers, but may opt for my shallow front rim in case it is uber windy above treeline.  The weight penalty of the carbon clinchers is moot, IMO.  No more than 100-150g for the wheel set compared to my Stans No Tubes (which are 1,300/pr).  For something like Sunshine or Horgan, the Stans would be the ticket.  But, Evans is like 4.7% average so I’m not fretting over the minimal weight penalty; it’s more about control in the potential winds.

One big key will be drinking enough and eating enough.  Might want to consider eating at 30min and 90min and drinking extra to combat the dehydration from drier air at altitude. 

Hope this helps!
Nate