Intense Heat and Steep Grades: Hotter’n Hell Hill Climb, By Brian McCulloch

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

A lot of information can be gleaned from a properly crafted event name. So there was not much left to the imagination when I decided to sign up for the Hotter’n Hell Hill Climb up to the ski lifts at Mt. Baldy this last weekend. Having done this event two years ago, I already had an idea of the madness I was getting into and believe it or not, I was actually looking forward to it.

The weatherman did not disappoint those that decided to name the event as the forecast called for intense heat on the exposed steeps of Mt. Baldy Road. With a start time after 9:00am the temperature was already getting toasty when I rolled off the line with at my appropriate 30 second interval. After a proper warm-up I was off to hit the climb as hard as I could. I was joined by over 50 other riders that probably had as little or less regard for their tan-lines as me.

It did not take long for the climb to rear its ugly head as it was only about a five minute rolling start to the base of the hill and it was straight up from there! For those who don’t know, the climb to Mt. Baldy was included in recent additions of the Amgen Tour of California not for its picturesque views or stellar spectator accommodations. It was chosen because it is a brute of climb, with minimal traces of shade, steep pitches, a number of infamous switch backs and a precarious dirt/gravel road finish that made the last 600m of racing treacherous.

There is always a trade off on hill climb TT’s. You need fluid to stay hydrated, but every ounce you can get off your body or your equipment is less that you have to haul up the hill. By the top of the climb I was hoping I would have had two bottles, but given the 1:04:08 effort, ounces added up to valuable time, therefore I opted for one bottle. Oh how I wish that bottle was a Slurpee! Maybe that would not have gone down so well, but it sounds good from the comfort of my office chair today…

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

I am not usually known for my time-trial prowess, which is precisely why I was signed up to race. Train your weaknesses and race your strengths, right? Surprisingly though, I was riding well and was able to make my way past a number of riders that had started in front of me which was encouraging. At this time I should interject that the road was open to traffic as well as other cyclists that were out to brutalize themselves in their own daily training regimen that included some climbing masochism. These folks turned out to be a nice surprise as I seemed to be passing them when I was suffering the most and each of them offered an encouraging word…”good job, you are going to win!”

As much as I appreciated the gesture, I was suffering and I knew I was not going to win. But I did not have the time or the ability to reason at that moment. With my heart rate well above threshold and my legs screaming for some relief, the best I could muster was a thumbs up to acknowledge their kind words of encouragement.

In the end I finished strong with one rider that I caught pushing me all the way to the line just to keep me honest. I came to the line with a time of 1:04:08 on the day, enough for fifth place and more than a two minute improvement on my time two years ago. Now that makes for a successful day of racing!

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

An extra bonus was having teammate Sergio Escutia racing the event as well and we were lucky enough to have Oren Mitz at the race to help us get our bikes ready and make sure we were good to go. Sergio is a stud not only because he chose to do this event on his own accord, but he had never been to this road! He did the race “blind” not know what lurked around each switchback which actually could have been to his advantage. Ignorance is bliss, right?! Sergio finished a solid 6th just seconds behind me.

At the conclusion of my Mt. Baldy TT I did some ‘extra credit’ climbing as training for the upcoming climbing races I will be attending and attempted to get rehydrated and prepared for the final Ontario Criterium on Sunday.

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