Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mount Diablo

On Tuesday I used the Tour of California's trip over Mt Diablo as an excuse to ride up that local landmark.

View Mount Diablo in a larger map

I started off pretty early, near 8 AM, in the car. I drove up to San Ramon, and parked at Diablo Vista Park. I started riding at about a quarter after 9. The race was coming up from San Jose, through Livermore, and eventually would come up Diablo via Blackhawk and South Gate. I would be doing only the last little bit of that, of course.

The Mt Diablo climb, from the south, can be divided into three parts: Mt Diablo Scenic Boulevard, South Gate Road, and the Summit Road. The Scenic Boulevard climbs unevenly through a neighborhood, with an average grade of about 5 or 6%. Apparently its pavement used to be a problem, but it was repaved for the race and was perfect.

South Gate Road running along the ridge
At about 1500 feet the road levels off for a bit, and turns into South Gate Road. The grade remains uneven, but with a reasonable average. Like many other climbs in the Diablo Range, there's not much shade. The trade-off is that there are longer views, in particular lovely views of the road climbing along the hill.

At about 2100 feet is the intersection of South Gate, North Gate and Summit roads. Since there's only one way up to the summit, the race passed through here, and didn't visit the summit. The KOM banners were already up, and folks were starting to take their places along the road. I continued up Summit Road.

Summit Road is also uneven, but still averaging 6 or 7%. Near the top the grade lessens, but then you hit the last few hundred meters that rise at perhaps 15%. Very painful, especially when there are hundreds of other riders about.

The climb as a whole is about 11 miles, averaging 5.5%.

Looking west from Mount Diablo, toward Mount Tamalpais
In the Santa Cruz mountains, you can't get to any of the highest summits. Diablo, by contrast, is entirely civilized. Not only can you get to Diablo's summit, but it's actually indoors (inside the visitor's center). There's a gift shop, water fountain, bathrooms, and even cell phone coverage. I looked around for a few minutes and then headed back down to the junction.

Spectators at the KOM site on Mount Diablo
S├ębastian Salas capturing top KOM points
I was planning to take a spot down the mountain, but realized that I could get a pretty good view at the KOM site. So I set the bike down and waited a bit for the caravan to pass. The crowd was having a good time. One of the guys dressed as a water bottle was there, but thankfully the guys in their Speedos were absent.

A four-man break passed through with a nine minute gap, then the whole of the peloton. No one was straggling, so the end-of-caravan SUV passed through just a couple of minutes after the riders.

I went down the same way I came up, among dozens of other riders. That was something of a new experience for me, but I was reasonably comfortable with it by the time I got down to the bottom.

Along the way I thought for a moment that I was in the presence of a legend. An old guy in front of me was riding a tall yellow steel bike with downtube shifters. Could it be Jobst Brandt, healthy and riding again? As I followed, concentrating on this guy more than the road, discrepancies accumulated. He was wearing a helmet. He had water bottles, in cages. The bike (and its rider) was tall, but not freaky tall. I pulled up beside him, and at a glance he didn't look the pictures. Still, it was a nice thought. Maybe someday I'll get to meet him.

Elevation profile
For me, the day's riding was just short of 31 miles, with 3700 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer, according to my arbitrary little program, was the one that ended at the summit. That's entirely due to the steep last few hundred meters; the part leading up to that is easy. This also ends my little dalliance with the Tour of California, but I learned a little about how to watch and photograph a bike race.

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