A Tale of Two “Kings”
The report as told by Dario Fredrick, NorCal Climbing Champion
Liquigas rider Ted King made it to our backyard this weekend. Make sure to keep an eye on him at the upcoming TdC. His webpage/blog has some great photos and stories of his training in Sonoma and Napa County. Hope to see you out again Ted.
Check out Tom Rosecratz’s Garmin
Photos by Michelle Deasy atop Pine Flat. Careful not to smile or I’ll have to add some more climbing next year!
Among Northern California’s cycling cognoscenti, “Grasshopper” evokes a variety of images and emotions ranging from mud-covered legs to heat-soaked, salt-encrusted jerseys, from fear and loathing to respect and joy. It’s the “Adventure Series” that promises true adventure each time, and today’s 70 mile edition which included two Giro-like, heinously steep (and long) climbs – Geysers and Pine Flat – was no exception. We were in for a treat in the heat, taking in two of the toughest climbs in Sonoma County, finishing atop Pine Flat which peaks out at over 22% in the most unforgiving final mile of a climb you could conceivably put yourself through, but only after warming up up with a mere 7000 feet of climbing first. Like my friend Adam says, what it lacks in shallowness it makes up for in length. It’s long but it’s steep. Mad scientist of cycling routes and master of Hopper ceremonies Miguel Crawford thus concocted an itinerary worthy of being dubbed the Somona County Climbing Championship.
About 100 or so of us rolled out of Healdsburg ready to meet our maker in the form of gravity, asphalt and dirt. Only somewhat familiar with the route, I had done each of the two climbs one time before, but on separate occasions of course. The pace was mostly cordial for the first 30 minutes and I spotted most of the usual suspects patrolling the front. However, one notable addition to this Hopper field was Liquigas-Cannondale pro, Ted King. Recently returning to the US from a full Euro Classics campaign, Ted was in town preparing for the impending Tour of California. I guess an unusually cruel adventure to us mere mortals is a training-worthy route for a world class pro.
As we approached the base of the Geysers climb, the front end of the field sharpened to a fine point. This was my cue to get up there. We soon hit the first dirt section where the road – if you want to call it that – was washed out to a narrow singletrack. I laughed as someone behind me yelled “hole” to warn others and we navigated at high speed through the technical, pockmarked stretch that had clearly been a mud bog only days before. Then the road tilted up and the games began in earnest. Dr. Todd “Watch me blow the field apart” Weitzenberg decided there would be no waiting game, no warming up, no whiners as he whipped up the pace and wailed at the front, out of the saddle up the first of many silly-steep pitches of the day. I followed, Ted came along, as did about eight or ten other brave souls. It seemed early to be going this hard, but I figured it had to mellow out at some point…the top of Pine Flat weighing heavily on my mind.
Ted went directly to the front and pulled. Hard. And just stayed there pulling until it put the group down to about eight. He mentioned “when in doubt, lead it out” as he explained that it was safer that way. My legs didn’t feel so safe, but I knew the front end was where I needed to be. The early part of the climb undulated quite a bit, and a few others ventured forth to pull as well. But any time the pace would slacken, Ted would make it “safer” for us. Very thoughtful of him…
Our front group was now down to five but I didn’t dare glance back at the carnage behind, for fear of my legs turning to stone. We worked together cooperatively up the relatively steady and gradual section of the climb, knowing that right around the corner was the fear-inspiring, steep badness that defines the Geysers climb. We soon turned onto the smooth asphalt that marks the beginning of true vertical suffering and Ted went right to work, accelerating away. I chose instinct over intelligence, recklessness over reason and went after him. What the heck was I thinking? Didn’t I know what lay ahead?
Ted and I immediately opened a gap on the others, as we were grinding away up the unrelentingly steep road. I was fully redlined when the elastic began to stretch. A few bike lengths opened up, then a few more. Not wanting to blow the motor, I had to stick with my pace. I felt there was still gas in the tank so I kept the the pedal down. After about ten minutes, I realized we were finally coming to the top of this savage steepness. I looked back and the others were out of sight. Ted was not too far ahead and I yelled up to him, hoping he was interested in some company. Not needing my help, but perhaps someone to share the view with, we regrouped just over the top and he went right back to his safety dance. I was immediately put into difficulty once again, wondering what the heck I was thinking, or if I was in for a nuclear meltdown on Pine Flat.
We descended like stones, and I was barely able to stay with my travel companion downhill as we navigated the washed out sections of road, high-speed stretches of gravel, and general vertical-ness of the Geyser’s backside. Il Falco flies again, this time in the form of Ted King. We finally climbed the last part of the Geysers and shortly after, stopped to bring water on board thanks to Jim Keane’s well-placed feed station. Then dropping to the bottom of the descent, I caught back up and we vaulted through the vineyards at high velocity. I ate and drank, praying for something left in my legs, knowing, anticipating, dreading what was next. We then made that fateful left turn onto the biggest badass of the day. Pine Flat.
Ted’s safety dance went on like a song that just wouldn’t end, and he just pulled and pulled at a ridiculous pace. It was like motorpacing for days as I kept reading the Italian phrase on the back of his shorts telling me to decorate my house. I guess I know where to get furniture next time I’m in Italy…Pulling me from images of modern living room elegance back to suffering and pain, Ted turns to me and mentions to just say so if I want to pull. I found this quite humorous, and just complemented him on his pace, content to have held his wheel for this long. Then I asked myself for how much longer I could stay with him up this final climb…
Going through the stages of hell, Dante’s inferno was Pine Flat with Ted King. But you’ve made it this far, so getting dropped is not an option. The stubbornness of my cycling insanity overtakes reason as I quell the raging protest in my legs with mental tear gas. Ted was benevolent and patient and seemed to help keep me on board, and I realized that pacing up a climb really does work when you’re at your absolute limits. The final section of the climb, a series of the steepest, most unforgiving brutality of asphalt gradients I could imagine kept slapping me in the face. Ted started calling out the gradient from his GPS, laughing when after seeing 22-23% it just stopped reading. He tells me this is what the Giro is like, climbs that have pitch after pitch of unreasonably steep segments that seemed to go on without end. Well, I guess this is the closest I would come to racing a grand tour stage…We finally make it to the top and roll in together, like teammates for a day. I am honored by a truly gracious professional. A few minutes later, a breathless Dr. Todd rolls in – on a rear flat no less – having blown his tire on the steepest pitch. As if the climbing weren’t hard enough.
Congrats to all who finished the day. Just riding that route was an accomplishment. Until the next sufferfest…