By Michael Collier
You’d think that a double century that is one of the most storied in California would make prospective entrants shiver just reading the list of mountains and passes that riders must grit their way over to finish the event.
The Devil Mountain Double Century on April 26 starts with a climb to the top of the East Bay’s Mount Diablo, at 3,850 feet, followed by another summit on nearby Morgan Territory Road, a steep climb to the top of Patterson Pass east of Livermore, up and over Mines Road and up the long and tiring backside of Mount Hamilton to its 4,209-foot peak east of San Jose.
Surviving those climbs, while important, is not the moral of this bike odyssey.
Its Achilles heel is the appropriately named Sierra Road, which hits even the toughest climbers like going up Mount Everest.
It comes 156 miles into the 206-mile event and is insanely steep and narrow. So steep that it is trouble even for some professionals who ride up that hill as part of the annual Tour of California race.
Leonard Moore, who is in the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame for finishing 50 double centuries, said in a recent email:
“To me, the only climb that matters is Sierra Road. I look forward (warily) to that on every other climb.”
He told me to ride to the top of Sierra Road before the day of the event, to get to know how grueling it really is. I set out to follow his sage advice. I routinely ride all the key segments of an endurance event to prepare myself physically and psychologically for the challenge.
A few days ago, I made my first trip up Sierra Road, starting from the Olivera Egg Ranch in the flats and immediately rising like a jet taking off from an airport.
Dealing with stress
In the first five minutes, my heart-rate monitor started beeping, alerting me that I was nearing my maximum range. I continued, slowly, encouraged by a much younger rider who passed me on his way up.
The average grade on the 3.8-mile climb is about 9 percent, which means many parts are much more pitched than that. One of my bike club members said she had expected the ride up the back of Mount Hamilton would be the hardest on the course — until she got onto Sierra Road and walked her bike much of the way.
I settled into my saddle and worked on my breathing, which helped calm me a bit (a relative term under such duress). About 3 miles up, a guy who is older than I am came up behind me, chatted a bit and passed me before stopping at the top.
Feeling relieved at my accomplishment a few seconds later, I got off my bike and sent a text message to my friends and family. “Conquered Sierra Road!
While the climb is a killer, the scenery inspired me as I gazed at the verdant hills all around me. A veteran cyclist from my home club, the Grizzly Peak Cyclists, clued me in this week on another beautiful scene amid the overall misery of Sierra Road. If you are riding to the top in the post-sunset twilight, stop for a minute and turn around to view of the lights in Silicon Valley below. It’s a stunning scene.
Knowing the score
When I start the Devil Mountain Double in two weeks, I will respect every summit, including the ones that often wear out even the best riders.
But now I know full well which one of them is the real McCoy.