Mt Evans, success and where to improve

Hi everyone!

Wanted to share my recent success at the Bob Cook Mt Evans Hill Climb, but ask the ultimate question of where/what to do better…so that if I chose to do it again, I would do substantially better.

I am 34 years old, I started racing in 2019, did 3 races, and did a bunch of online events on Zwift in 2020. Per Zwift I got my FTP up to 266 (or around there) but that was never sustainable, and could never seem to finish workouts. Plus I got sick.

I switched over to Trainer Road in November of 2020, and have seen my FTP go from 215 (2.86) to 251 (3.34)! Occasionally I have difficulty with workouts (Over unders cough cough) but have been enjoying the progress and I feel like 251 is extremely realistic for me to hold for an hour (more in the story)

Yesterday, I raced in the Cat 5 group in the Bob Cook Memorial Mt Evans Hill Climb. It starts at 7,678 ft and ends at 14,194 ft. 6,633 ft of climbing over the course of 27.21 miles. For reference, I live at about 5,000 ft.

I knew that the Cat 5 group would attract the random guys that only come out of the woodwork for hill climbs. So when I was with the front group at the beginning, I realized that I was going to over cook my legs and dropped back a group. This second group was much more reasonable, but was still having to do close to my FTP or above my FTP to hang with them. I stuck with them for about 20 minutes, before deciding to drop back again and hopefully meet up with a third group (There was about 54 guys signed up). That third group never came.

For the first hour, I held an average of 230 watts and climbed about 2,500 ft. (10,172 in elevation) But things started to slow down massively. I ate at the hour mark, but when I crossed a section, my cadence dropped about 15-20 and my power was down by 40-50 watts. It was very grindy for about 30-45 minutes, and then I was able to salvage my cadence…but ultimately my power never recovered. I averaged 188 NP and finished in 3:22.

Logistical stuff: I ate three meals, two gels and one chew. But when I got to the top, I had still about 40% of one water bottle and 50-60% of another the one with my skratch mix in it. The temp at the bottom of the climb was about 67, and at the top of the climb was 34. I had my normal kit, plus a mesh tank underneath, but nothing protecting my arm or legs…but I felt fine while cycling, it wasn’t until the race ended that the cold really hit me. I am riding a 2017 Specialized Allez Sprint, I have 105 11-32, and Shimano RS wheels, which are basically trainer wheels.

I finished 34th in my group. (1st place would have got 4th place in the pros, and 2nd place would have won the cat 3)

So my question is, what should I improve on? My goal would be to definitely get sub 3 hours next time, but I think I would love to do even better than that. I definitely will continue to improve FTP, but ultimately I’m talking what should I do to improve super long climbs that aren’t over in 1 hour, or even 2 hours AND goes up to crazy elevations.

Thanks for reading!

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I had some friends in this while I stayed in the Front Range and breathed all that trash air… feeling it today. A friend of mine did it in 2:35 yesterday and his FTP is the same as yours or maybe even a little less.

Nutrition is a big part of, so understanding your macro load per hour helps.

Altitude is always going to he a problem with this. You’re not going to make time up as you gain altitude, so you have to go harder lower because you’re not going to be able to attack or make up as you go higher. An attack at 12k feet to make up time from when you started in Idaho Springs (7500’ el) is going to be very short lived and you’ll probably never recover.

The other is don’t attack the steepest sections, and make up your time on the flats / false… if you think of it from a speed stand point, you want to use your power to cover as much ground as possible in the shortest amount of time… 50w on a steep section might result in 1mph gained, where 50w on a false flat might be 5-7mph. This is as much as a cadence thing as it is power.

As you know in Colorado, 5280’ is the new sea level, because just about anything you do is going to be higher.

Lastly, just practice climbing. My friends who are good at climbing, like climbing, and they do a lot of it. A few of them like Guanella Pass to practice climbing into high altitude.

Lastly, I suck at climbing, but a bunch of this is what I was taught by people I know who are great in it, but it works at lower elevations too (lower here being 6-8k’).

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To become Drake Duel: become a Harvard Rower to build your base.

I forgot to add my buddy who did 2:35 did it on a gravel bike with gravel tires.

Altitude plays a big part in it. You do 230w down low because you’re not going to do 230w as you approach 14k feet el. You might be pushing 250w out of the gate and only he able to push 190w as you approach the summit.

Also it is usually very windy above the tree line, so your speed is going to suffer. All your time is made below the tree line.

For those who don’t know this hillclimb, it starts at 7500’ and ends at just about 14,000’. The road even beats Pikes Peak (a hour south) by just a little bit in terms of altitude.

Here is the Mt. Evans Hillclimb segment leader’s analyses. You can see speed / power / cadence drift down with altitude.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2567952372/analysis/0/6238

Can’t pace evenly, you lose oxygen the higher you go. 230 watts is easy to hold at home. It didn’t even feel like I was working that hard, and then it hit me. But thank you for your input.

I was thinking during the race, man Pike’s Peak is easier than this :joy:

Oh yeah, we rode up into a cloud, it was insanely windy.

Thanks for the info, I’ll be checking out that info!

I rode up Mt Evans yesterday as well. Take what I say with a grain of salt, as I’m not a climber, never done the climb before, not usually in Colorado, but acclimated in Denver for a couple weeks.

I think the two challenges are:

  1. the altitude (and weather)
  2. constantly grinding for the 3+ hrs without much of a break.

Like you - it hit me pretty hard after the tree line and It was difficult to know how much of it was from the altitude vs being tired after 2 hrs.

#2 you can work on, just sitting on the trainer for 3 hours.

Not sure there’s going to much to help with the altitude. I think your best bet, is if this is your A race - to go up and race/ride/recon just the top section of the climb a bunch and really get used to what the altitude will do to you without the 2 hour lead in. I think if I had a better baseline on how hard I could push at the top would’ve been helpful.

Also reconning in general and doing multiple reps always helps. You know where to push, where you can relax, where you need to mentally lock in.

some other random tips on my mind:

  1. I wouldn’t have worn vests or warmers at all and I would’ve dumped everything beyond my food/phone into the bag they drive to the summit.
  2. thought about riding the fondo? I found it helpful to be able to find more folks to pace with or find shelter behind at moments when I’m mentally out of it. You’re never alone on the mtn. It also seemed like the racers had to dodge a lot of fondo riders.

Good thing about climbs like these are if you’re on a good day, 10-15 minutes drops off pretty easily methinks.

Good Luck! Hope that helps!

Just wanted to say hi and great work. I was the second place guy in 5s and yes, out of the woodwork as I’m not a roadie and just bought a USAC one day for Evans. The first place guy has the world record for an Ironman competition (though hotly debated).
Evans is an amazing climb and we had pretty terrible conditions at the top, so kudos for getting it done on a hard day.
One other note: power drops precipitously at elevation. I was doing >300 fairly comfortably up to about 9000’ and the last mile I did about 230w or so. 14000’ is high.

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Thanks James, you flew, Oh yeah, past the summit lake it was completely miserable! But I mean how many people can say they finished a race in a cloud? That is really good to know that the power drops off that much. I’m hoping to pull my FTP up to 300 sometime next year, so that maybe I can stick with the front group with my legs exploding. Cheers, and congratulations on your second place!

Are you going to do Pike’s Peak?

Thanks man. It was a good day for me out there. I do wish I could have raced with 3s or 4s but that’s USAC for you.

No Pike’s for me, this was just a one-time thing. I am headed to Ketchum for RPI and that’ll be the end of the season for me.

Oh, and to your original question about improving, I would really focus on sustained power. Sweet spot and threshold work specifically. A 2-3 hour climb like this is all steady state work. Some of the higher categories are going to throw attacks and recover, but if improving your time is the main goal, riding steady will get you up the hill faster. Climb a lot (to me, real climbs are >20 minutes!) and focus on sustained TR workouts.