Truckee cyclist gives pointers on Old 40 hill climb
Have you ever tried ridding your bike up Donner Summit? I have. I’ve been going up and down that thing for years. Sometimes fast. Other times slow. The Donner Summit climb rises for 3.2 miles out of the west shore of Donner Lake, snaking its way up the tumbling granite yard to Sugar Bowl Academy. Though not deadly, with an average gradient of 6.5 percent, this snakes does bite.Wanting to bite back, I went in search of advice on climbing and caught up with local cyclist Andy Scott. A strong, talented and training-oriented cyclist, Andy races with Truckee’s Marc Pro-Strava Cycling Team. This guy blasts off, up and over Donner in 16 minutes regularly. He may not hold the Donner KOM, but what he says is sage. Check it and ride:Q: Andy, how would you rate the Donner Summit climb? Compare it to other local climbs and or climbs in Norcal races.A: Well, firstly, I will say that is my favorite 3.1 miles of pavement to ride, in the world. Ninety percent of the time I am cruising, just riding and thinking. It’s always different. Maybe there are 20-foot snow banks. Maybe there is a 50 mph headwind and oncoming storm. Maybe the fall colors are blowing up and Donner Lake is glass. I’m watching rock climbers, scoping ski lines, seeing bears. It’s a beautiful spot.So, I rate it No. 1 for awesomeness. In terms of difficulty, it’s a lot shorter than something like Rose, and less steep than something like 267 on the Truckee side andamp;#8212; and very steady gradient, unlike Tahoe Donner. It is a great distance to be good at for Norcal races, as not many of them have climbs that are any longer.Q: What do you feel physically when ridding up the summit in 16 minutes? Does it hurt?A: Yeah, I think hard efforts at altitude always hurt more. The whole less oxygen thing gets a solid burn going in the chest. That said, if you want to talk pain, that would be doing the same effort indoors on a trainer.Q: When riding up the summit, what do you feel mentally? What’s your focus?A: Well, the beauty of the climb and relative solitude make it a great place to visit the proverbial pain cave for any effort. I’m just thinking about finding that spot right on the limit and making it steady. I haven’t actually timed myself on Donner Summit since getting a power meter a couple of years ago. My best time on the climb actually was me just being focused on holding a certain power threshold andamp;#8212; that steadiness translated to my fastest time last fall. I never even looked at the time/progress on the way up. There is almost always some kind of wind or temperature thing going on, so just accepting those variables and settling in and going steady are the keys for me.Q: And lastly, any tips on how to ride uphill faster, specifically up Donner Summit?A: On Donner Summit, punch it hard from Donner Lake to the green gate, but don’t overcook it. Recover a bit on the flat 100 meters or so after the gate. Then go right on the limit andamp;#8216;till the bridge, and open it up for that last kilometer so you explode right at the top but not any earlier. The wind is usually kicking through the summit notch right on your nose, so don’t blow to early.For any hill in general, be Jesse Miller-Smith (the crazy radical cyclists from last week’s interview). Lose 5 pounds. Seriously, for me the things that have helped are learning how to pace myself and be as steady as possible andamp;#8212; constant smooth power to the pedals. Accept the road and conditions. Don’t fight ’em. They don’t care. Sitting is always most efficient, Only stand to stretch the legs and kick/finish or deal with a super steep pitch. If it’s truly a long climb, like over 45 minutes, don’t forget to eat and drink. Wind resistance matters, too, even when going at climbing speed andamp;#8212; especially when the Sierra wind is kickin’. andamp;#8212; Team rider Ramsey Etchison is the author of this week’s Marc Pro-Strava Racing column, Spoke n’ Word. Marc Pro-Strava Racing is a Truckee-based cycling team focused on racing and local bike advocacy. For more information, results and upcoming events, visit http://marcpro-strava.com.